Denver-based skydiver Nick Batsch wins third USPA Canopy Piloting Nationals
The mere thrill of jumping out of a plane wasn't enough for Denver-based skydiver Nick Batsch, who took up the sport of canopy piloting (where the action is closer to the ground) ten years ago. Batsch just won his third United States Parachute Association (USPA) National Skydiving Championships of Canopy Piloting over the weekend at Skydive Spaceland, south of Houston, adding to a trophy pile that also includes his first-ever world championship title at the Canopy Piloting World Cup last month in Czech Republic and a new world distance record set earlier this year in Longmont.
Photo by Dq Israd, courtesy J. Walcher Communications Nick Batsch coming in hot at the 2011 USPA National Skydiving Championships of Canopy Piloting
We caught up with him to ask about what kind of cojones it takes to parachute into a canopy pilot course at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, just inches off the ground.
Westword: First things first... Can you explain where the sport of canopy piloting comes from, for Westword readers?
Nick Batsch: People get bored with what they're doing, no matter what it is, so they naturally go to the next extreme, thinking, "What can I do to have more fun and make this more exciting?" Canopy piloting comes from a group of skydivers who were getting bored with the larger, more conventional parachutes, and realized that smaller parachutes create more speed, which creates more lift and allows for more precision control at high speeds. They started to learn to turn to the ground to create more speed, then started to go flying across the ground. When they first started, 30, 40, or 50 feet was a big deal, but eventually as more people got into it and as the technology and new equipment have caught up we've been able to really push it. I recently set a new world distance record of 220 meters, about the length of two and half football fields.
How do you measure it?
In canopy piloting distance competitions we have a 10-meter wide, 1.5-meter gate -- that's 33.3 feet wide and about 5 feet tall -- and on the top of that gate there's a laser. When you go through that entrance that's the start of the course; the distance starts when you fly through the laser beam, and then you fly as far as you can, which can be 8-10 seconds of flight time, before touching the ground.
What does it feel like to be coming in that fast, that close to the ground?
It's a lot of fun but it can also be scary, depending on the wind conditions, because we're coming in at 80-90 miles an hour, sometimes closer to 100 miles per hour, just inches off the ground. It's a very technical sport without a lot of room for error.