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Swoopy time in Florida!

Punxsutawney Phil may say it’s six more weeks of winter, but down here in the Sunshine State, it’s business as usual on the pond.

The 2014 FLCPA league has its first meet this weekend, and we sat down with league Director Albert Berchtold to get some insights into the glamorous life of a Swoop Mogul.

Q: Albert, you have been running the Florida swoop league for many years now, how many?
A: In late 2007, I remember nagging Chris Hayes(founder & league director) for the 2008 schedule of events. I nagged for 3 months straight because I was hungry for competition. In mid-December, he walked into the marketing department at PD and I nagged him a bit more “Chris, where’s the FLCPA schedule, where is it, huh?” Chris turned to me and said “Albert, I think you should make the schedule.” It’s now 2014 and I’m starting my 6th year running the league.

Q: This weekend sees the first meet for 2014 out of 5 – are those similar to past years or will we be seeing any changes in organization or execution?
A: This weekend will be the first of five meets in the 2014 season. The Fifth and final meet will be the weekend prior to USPA Nationals at the end of May which I expect will draw 60+competitors. The organization has grown from me running around like a chicken with my head cut off to what we now; a well-oiled swoop meet running group where everyone pitches in and helps make everything happen. It’s great that there are so many people who are enjoying helping out with the League. Sometimes I wonder who is having more fun, the Competitors, or the Judges.

Q: How many competitors do you expect? What is the distribution between pro and amateurs? Males and females?
A: As of this moment, there are 27 pre-registered (15 amateur, 12 pro), and I expect we’ll have around 45 by the briefing on Saturday morning. We’ve only got one female registered so far, but hopefully they’ll be more. There’s nothing better at putting the guys egos in place, than watching a girl fly right past them.

Q: Changes in rules from last year to this year?
A: A few small changes. We’ll eliminate the 1.5 meter gate 5 in accuracy. Removable visors can now be worn.

Q: What makes Albert the swoop director tick? Why do you keep on investing your time and energy in putting on these events?
A: When I took over the league from Chris there were typically 15-30 competitors at a meet. Some had even less. Now a small meet at the FLCPA has around 35 competitors. We are showing the skydiving community that this discipline is fun, and a great aspect of our sport. Second, I love watching people progress and learn. I can watch people get better at flying their canopy from meet 1 to meet 5. I feed on seeing real progression in our amateurs in such a short time frame.

Q: What is the hardest/least likable part of running a swoop league?
A: I remember when I took over the league, the hardest part was convincing the potential host dropzones that we weren’t all suicidal yahoos who were going to pound into the ground at their dz. That’s now turned 180 degrees. We now have such a great working relationship with our host dropzones that they can’t wait til we come back. The toughest part is watching people get hurt. As with anything fun, the risk of injury is there, and swooping is no exception. I accept the risk, but I don’t know that I’ll ever get comfortable with that part of our sport. Minimizing that potential is something that I’m always working on, whether its rule changes, course alterations, or athlete conditioning/training.

Q:Will 2014 be the year when Buddy the swoop dog finally catches the golf cart?
A: Buddy loves chasing golf carts. I remember when he was a puppy 5 years ago and I used to run him around the 2 mile perimeter of Skydive Palatka. I wish I knew that would turn him into a neurotic, tire-hating, short-legged hamster dog.

Q: Any famous last words?
A: If you’re thinking about competing, get off your ass and stop playing on the internet. The world is run by people who show up. Come on out and give it a go. If you’re not ready to run the courses, come help judge, then you’ll learn the rules so you compete next year!

Visit Swoopleague.com for more info, schedule, registration and all that good stuff. Or better yet, hit them up in Z-Hills this weekend!
All photos courtesy of Swoopleage.com

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