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Sky surfing

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Sky surfing simulator.

Sky surfing is a type of skydiving in which the skydiver wears a board attached to his or her
feet and performs surfing-style aerobatics during freefall.

The boards used are generally smaller than actual surfboards, and look more like snowboards
or large skateboards. The attachment to the feet is normally made removable, so that if the
skydiver loses control or has difficulty opening their parachute, the board can be jettisoned.

Sky surfing is a skill requiring considerable practice. The simplest sky surfing technique is to
stand upright on the board during freefall, and tilt the nose of the board down to generate
forward movement. However even this basic technique is a balancing act which experienced
skydivers find tricky to learn. The extra drag of the board tends to upset the balance and make
the skydiver flip over. The jumper must also learn to control the board and their body
position so as to open the parachute in a stable configuration. More advanced aerobatics such
as loops, rolls and helicopter spins, are more difficult still and are tackled once the basics
have been mastered.

Because of the possibility of dropping the board, not every skydiving club permits sky
surfing, and only a minority of skydivers have attempted this recent specialisation in the

When a sky surfer is filmed by another skydiver falling alongside them, the resulting film
gives the appearance that the sky surfer is riding on the air in the same way a surfer rides on a
wave. The downward motion is not very apparent and this creates the illusion that a sky
surfer is gliding on air currents like a sailplane or hang glider. In fact a sky surfer always falls
at a high speed comparable to any other freefalling parachutist. The competitive discipline of
sky surfing is a team sport consisting of a sky surfer and a camera flyer with a video camera.

The Sky Surf was invented by two French skydivers, Dominique Jacquet and Jean-Pascal
Oron in 1986 but it became popular and gained recognition during the 1990s thanks to the
efforts of the first few exponents to master the more complex aerobatics, such as the late
Patrick de Gayardon. The rise of sky surfing coincided with other new-age disciplines in
skydiving, such as freestyle and free flying. Freestyle skydiving is a balletic, mostly
individual style which seeks to extend the sport beyond the traditional belly-to-earth flat
position used by most skydivers who make formations with their bodies.

Free flying is also a form of skydiving using a variety of body positions, such as head-down
or feet-to-earth, while still building formations with others. These evolutions in skydiving
have taken the sport further away from the traditional image of a daredevil stunt.

Sky surfing reached its peak in popularity in the late 1990s. Sky surfers were featured in
prime time television commercials for major brands like Pepsi, AT&T and others.
Competitive team sky surfing was featured as part of the ESPN X Games from 1995 to 2000.
In 1996 and 1997, the SSI Pro Tour staged eight X-Trials qualifying events in both North
America and Europe. During this six year period, pro sky surf teams received a total of
$392,000 in cash winnings and the discipline garnered over 100+ hours of global TV
exposure without incident. After ESPN decided not to renew the sport for the seventh season,
skysurfing has become relatively rare among the skydiving community. Reasons for the
decline include the rise in popularity of free flying and wing suit flying, the hazards
associated with flying and releasing the board, and the dwindling number of experienced sky
surfers to train new pilots.

[edit] "Mountain Dew" Incident

An accident during the filming of the Mountain Dew "007" commercial directed by David
Kellogg and lensed by Janusz Kamiński resulted in the death of noted sky surfer Rob Harris.
The incident was not directly attributed to sky surfing, but rather an error made during an
attempt to film an "intentional cutaway" (where a skydiver intentionally releases, and falls
away from his primary parachute). Harris was wearing a modern sport parachute harness
containing two parachutes (a "main" and a "reserve") which was modified so that a third
parachute could be externally attached to the risers of his main parachute and be released in-
flight via an extra "cutaway" release handle (attached to his harness near the standard main
parachute release handle). It was the intention of the stunt to film Harris releasing his open
"main" parachute, dropping into freefall, and deploying his "reserve" parachute (which would
have actually been his real main parachute -- the one he intended to land -- while still having
a reserve parachute in case it was required. Skydivers are required by law to always jump
with one more parachute than they intend to deploy on any given jump -- and it is good
common sense. Since Harris planned to deploy two parachutes on this jump, he required a

It was decided the third parachute would be attached to the risers of his main parachute;
(risers are the webbing which connects a parachute's suspension lines to a jumper's harness
and are exposed on a jumper's shoulders while the actual canopy fabric and lines are packed
securely in the container on the jumpers back). In sport parachuting, a jumper typically has
just two handles on his chest (in addition to a third handle which deploys the main parachute
and is located elsewhere). Usually on one's right side is the main parachute release handle (or
"cutaway"). On the left is the reserve parachute ripcord, which deploys the emergency
parachute. Due to the special nature of Harris' jump, a second release handle was attached to
his harness near the usual one. Harris was to jump and immediately deploy the third
parachute, and then be filmed releasing that parachute, entering freefall, and deploying his
normal main parachute (completing his skydive in the usual manner).

Due to either an operator or rigging error, the wrong parachute was released when Harris
attempted to cutaway. The parachute that was disconnected was the main parachute still
packed on his back (which he had intended to deploy and land after the cutaway). Since the
third parachute was connected to the risers of the main parachute (which had just been
released) and not any part of Harris' harness, it began to quickly extract the main parachute
from its container in a disorderly, out-of-sequence manner. Neither parachute could now be
used to land Harris safely, nor unfortunately Harris was unable to disentangle himself from
the two partially open parachutes. Lacking clean air to deploy his reserve parachute, he was
eventually forced to risk deploying it with the others still attached, but the reserve also
entangled. His resulting fall-rate was not survivable.

The advertisement was aired, with the consent of his family, though the final jump was not
included; Harris's appearance in the commercial uses film shot several days prior to his death.