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EuroTrip/Al’s Amazing 2009 Swoopcation

by Albert Berchtold

When I had about 1,200 jumps, I bought my first used Velocity 111 from a friend of mine. From that point on I’ve devoted most of my time to the disipline of canopy piloting and doing my best to educate myself and those around me in the joys of canopy flight. I’ve been competing since 2005. I call Deland Florida my home, though I find myself jumping all over Florida, around the U.S., and ocassionally abroad. Swooping is my game! I enjoy it so much that when Chris Hayes retired from the sport about two years ago, I had the honor to take on his duties as organizer of the FLCPA). This was a real treat for me, as I have been able to help be a part of the growth of competitive swooping in my area. The downturn is that I find myself swimming around in the pond setting up courses, rather than enjoying competitions.

As an American there seems to be some reluctance on the part of my countrymen to just pick up and take off to a foreign land without a plan. Where will I stay? What will I eat? I don’t speak the language! How will I get from one town to the next? This summer I decided to take on the style of our European counterparts and “wing it” for my time out of the office. Three weeks swooping in Europe! There were three meets this August that were one weekend after the next. There was about 7,000 Euros in prize money between the three of them, and I had some vacation time built up so off I went. After the flight into Prague I picked up my rental car. For the low price of about $500 I was off and running around Europe for three weeks.

First stop was the Pink Skyvan Open in Klatovy, Czech Republic. This was also the Czech and Austrian Nationals. I turned up a few days before the meet to find a skydiver’s haven of a drop zone. All the facilities you could ask for and a clean bed for 5-10 Euro per night. After about three days in Klatovy, the hard drive on my laptop decided it didn’t like the European air and discontinued its life. So three weeks ahead, and I’m now unplugged. I think it may have been a blessing in disguise. I needed a little time away from work, and that is one of the few ways to get me to stop checking emails regularly and working when I should be relaxing. So I continued my trip “unplugged”. After the days of competition were over, I had finished sixth of 43 competitors from around the world. I decided to spend an extra day after the meet flocking with a dozen of the competitors. Then I piled my skydiving gear, my clothes, and myself into my mini car and headed across Germany.

Since I had a few days to spare before the next competition began, I decided to take a detour to a small town in Germany called Bad Wuennennberg. This small town in the valley is the home of Airtec GmbH) Not many people go to visit them, probably because they’re not on a great skydiving drop zone, but this was definitely a worthwhile stop on my trip. After another day of sightseeing around Germany I headed into Belgium for the Black Mountain Swoop Competition and Belgian Nationals. The trip got a bit interesting at this point when I realized that my TomTom (mobile GPS device) didn’t have maps for Belgium or Holland loaded into it. Uh oh. After a short delay to “attain” them, I was up and running again.

From what they tell me, “Zwartberg” is Flemish for Black Mountain. This name comes from the huge mounds that are around the city from excavating when this was a coal mining town. For the low price of about 16 Euro per night, I checked into a hostel with three Australians and two Danish guys who were also making a “swoop tour” of their own. We all quickly learned that there were multiple snorers among us. After the first night of taking turns waking each other up, we found that the ear plugs at the dz weren’t only good for avoiding the noise of loud aircraft. As the meet in Klatovy was, this swoop meet was also blessed to have two days of sunshine and manageable winds. This meet drew thirty competitors and again the competition for the top places came down to the last rounds.

From there, I again had a few days to rest my bones from another challenging meet. I decided to take in the sights in Amsterdam for a few days before heading to Teuge, Netherlands for the Lake Bussloo Beach Swoop Competition. For the low cost of ten Euro per night I checked in with my newly-found Australian friends for another canopy piloting comp. Lake Bussloo is known to be a challenging meet. I had heard stories about strong winds, turbulence from the trees and challenging non-traditional courses set up by the famous Henny Wiggers. This year I got to see it all first-hand for some of the most challenging swoops ever. Though we only finished two competition rounds, those who were able to negotiate good scores certainly earned their placings.

I’d urge those who are considering taking a skydiving/sightseeing vacation to GO FOR IT. For those swoopers interested, let me know, because if my boss will let me, I’d love to do it again next year and would be happy to share the enjoyment with others. Find a traveling companion and have a blast, you only live once—don’t spend it on your couch…

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