HOOP DIVE AWARDS
Hoop diving got its start in the early 1960s at Southern California drop zones. At the time, relative work was in its infancy and skydiving through a hoop was a hot novelty item because it looked great in the camera's frame.
As practiced back then, only one skydiver held the hoop. If a swooper missed, the hoop holder could give chase and lasso him or her from almost any angle or direction. Then, once a swooper had made it through the hoop –usually with a lot of help from the hoop holder –there wasn't much else to look forward to. No definite place to go, no one in particular to make contact with, no headings to hold.
Hoop diving's demise was largely due to its lack of RW formation structure. Gradually, hoop diving lost its appeal and became extinct around the beginning of 1964, when a newer form of relative work – the star – began to rise. The star, and the competitive environment that grew up around it, became the relative work attempt of choice. Hoop diving faded from the scene. But I remained fascinated with hoop diving and the special challenges it offered. In 1975 I designed a “new” hoop dive that incorporated all of the elements of good relative work – sequential, no-contact, and formation RW – into a single skydive scenario. This particular hoop dive is called the STAR CREST Skydiver Award, or SCSA. In 1978, the night version, or NSCSA was added.
Rules for the SCSA call for at least 10 jumpers – two to hold the hoop and eight more to swoop the hoop and then form an 8-way star or larger formation on the other side. The skydive has three major facets:
Stairway To Heaven Over San Diego, California 1978
Photo by Jeremy Mahony
1. It nullifies any advantage of a launched exit.
2. It allows each swooper to show off his or her skill at passing through the hoop.
3. It requires the hoop holders, the swoopers, and the building formation too maintain horizontal headings and vertical separations in relation to one another.
Hoop divive near Austin, TX Photo by Douglas Fleick
The SCSA skydive has proven to be an excellent test of individual skill and teamwork. It's night counterpart, the NSCSA also requires extraordinary mental fortitude. These two tests of skydiving ability have yet to catch on in the mainstream of contemporary skydiving, no doubt because they're just plain hard to do. Some of the problems encountered getting skydivers qualified for the hoop dives, are lack of an airworthy hoop - organizers not being sure of the rules or how to perform a hoop dive - trouble finding 10 skydivers willing to try the dive - and abandoning further attempts if the dive is not successful in the first few tries. Since 1975, current SCSA recipients number only 348, with the NSCSA numbering only 113 since 1978. These statistics remain at odds with the perception that skydiver skills today are far more advanced than their peers of previous generations.
If you've wanted to try hoop diving, but have had a hard time lining up enough hoop diving enthusiasts to go with you for the SCSA attempt, the Trade is another option. You can do some quality skydiving, and have fun with the hoop, with as few as 3 skydivers – or, as many who want to go along for the ride.
As illustrated here, The Trade can be accomplished with as few as three jumpers, but is more fun with four or more. Two jumpers hold the hoop while the swoopers pass through, making 180-degree turns, and alternately relieve the hoop holders. After being relieved, hoop holders rotate to the back of the line for their turn at swooping the hoop. (continued below images)
Pulling with the hoop. Now comes the stage in a hoop dive that a lot of people have questions about - how to pull holding the hoop. Although there is no known instance so far of a canopy tangling with a hoop on deployment, it is always a possibility. The bottom line here is to pay attention and be careful. Here are a few simple tips for deploying your main while hanging onto the hoop.
1. Formulate a flexible plan during the dirt dive, designating who is supposed to pull with the hoop, and include a margin for error. Make it clear that if the designated jumper doesn't have the hoop at the altitude you've decided to break off, say 3,500 ft., then whoever does have the hoop in the proper hand should wave off and prepare to pull. At wave off, all attempts at the hoop should cease, and the area cleared.
2. The jumper who opens with the hoop must be holding it in the hand opposite his or her deployment side. Stiffen the arm holding the hoop and position the hoop straight out at a slightly downward-turned angle from your body. It doesn't matter whether the hoop is straight out in front of you, or straight out to the side. Just make sure the top of the hoop is pointed away from you. You should now be in a good position to deploy your main.
3. If conditions are right, or you've been performing hoop dives with the same people for a while, then you might try "buddy pulling" with the hoop. This is where you throw it out while your partner holds the hoop steady for you. Be careful on this one as you reach in to pull that you don't drop below your partners level.
So that's about all you need to know for now to get started skydiving through a hole in the sky. It may not be easy, but it's a whole lot of laughs and grins. Whenever you feel you are ready to move a step further in perfecting the precision of your skydiving skills, consider hoop diving. It's challenging… and it's fun! See if you can master it. Then let us hear from you. You may just like the experience of hoop diving enough to earn yourself a place on our SCSA roster.
Quest for the night hoop dive
In 1990, a few jumpers from Perris, California, decided to get a team together and compete in the next U.S. Nationals. While practicing for the Nationals and trying to get better - we needed a lot of work - we decided to try a hoop dive. We jumped together regularly and thought we were competent jumpers. We were no sky gods but how hard could it be? We tried a regular hula hoop first and it just wasn't strong enough. So we got a sturdier hoop, filled with sand for ballast, and it worked great.
Now for the jump: What a cluster f#@#. We couldn't hold the hoop still, we couldn't get through it and we couldn't make the round on the other side. As we continued to practice for the Nationals, we would occasionally try another hoop dive. We finally got relatively successful, but by no means could we get it every time. After a few tries we decided to concentrate on practicing our competition jumps. We got some great help from local instructors and the Golden Knights.
After the Nationals we took what we had learned and applied it to the hoop dives. The hoop holders were a big key. They didn't have to be the quickest or fastest skydivers, but they had to be solid and steady. They also had to be able to take hits and maintain a heading and a certain fall rate. The hoop holders, Randy Scott and I, took quite a beating the first summer. People hit us, the hoop and each other. We had someone lose their shoe once, one ended up hanging from the hoop and another even took it out of our hands.
The skydivers going through the hoop also learned that smoothness, not speed is essential. One team member even noted that the hoop appears to get smaller the closer you get to it, rather than look bigger as you would expect. On the ground you can pass the hoop over your head and know you will fit through there with room to spare. In the air you can't believe you will ever fit and it looks smaller the closer you get. Getting through the hoop was quite a challenge. You can't dive through it; you have to be horizontal and moving quickly. Your feet need to be on the same level as your head while keeping forward motion at the same time. This is where big way practice came in handy. Those skills of "sheep dogging", stair stepping and horizontal (with no vertical) movement is very important.
The exit: Randy decided the best way for him to hold the hoop on exit was in his left hand with the hoop over his left shoulder. He was in the rear float slot. The cameraman was in the middle and I was front floater. We tried it a few times with the cameraman on the step of the Otter, and both Randy and I held the hoop between us, (not legal for the award, however). But the exit timing was so critical it usually took us longer to get everything stable than to just have Randy hold it on exit with me flying over to him and grabbing it. It also worked best if he and I both held it in our left hand. This put us at staggered angles opposite each other which made us more stable, easier to keep our heading and we could withstand more stress on our little formation. The grip on the hoop has to be very firm but you can't be stiff. You need to be flexible enough to withstand the hoop oscillations, your wrists and elbows moving without losing the grip. The ted a little on the backward slant. Hold the hoop at 4 and 7 o'clock. We thought it would be steadier at 3 and 9 but it turns out the jumpers going through the hoop tend to want to be level with you and that grip is too high.
The hoop divers have a tough assignment: They have to go through the hoop flat and with momentum. The first one through the hoop needs to be quick, reliable and be ready to be the base of the eight-way. Debbie Turner was our first through. She once was even through the hoop before I got there. She then set up as base for the eight-way and had to hold the heading of the round formation as the other jumpers came through the hoop. As the other jumpers came through and docked on Debbie they formed a horseshoe formation and ALL kept an eye on the hoop to maintain distance, vertical separation and heading. This is critical for a night hoop dive!
It is not how fast you are or how good you can dive. The important thing is being able to get to your slot - stair stepped directly behind and a little higher, shoe level - of the jumper in front of you. Being close the guy in front of you is MORE important than being fast. If you can be inches from them and go through directly behind them there is no faster way. This also relies on no errors made by the jumper in front of you.
Going through the hoop is its own challenge: You must go through flat and with enough momentum to carry you through. If you are too high you will catch your heels or back pack on the hoop. If you are too low you can catch your chest mount altimeter. We did both. Because you need momentum to go through the hoop, once the first person is set up and the line starts moving don't stop. As each person comes down the stair steps and gains forward momentum, and when you get to the altitude you need to be, relative to the hoop, your legs must be straight so they don't get caught on the top of the hoop. Usually when you put your legs straight out they go up in relation to the rest of the body. To counteract that, bring your elbows in and your hands under your shoulders and the shoulders a little rounded. This will keep the feet and torso level and continue your forward motion. It might seem like a good idea to put your arms in the Superman position. This is counterproductird speed and will slow you down. We even had one person going through the hoop in the Superman position stop and back out of it. Once through the hoop continue to the formation. Dock in a "U" formation and the last person through closes it. We found this to be the fastest. We got the (daytime) SCSA in October 1991.
We competed one more year and practiced the hoop dive more and more. It was a lot more fun now that we could do it regularly. Bill Saksa suggested we do a night hoop dive. This encouraged us to practice ever harder. We got to where we could turn 4 points on the eight-way after going through the hoop, so we decided to go for it. See Perris Hoop Dives, March '93 video.
On the night dive: A new set of challenges came into play. How can we see the hoop? Where will the base be and how can we find it? This is why it is so important to be directly behind, dogging the person in front of you. You can't see the hoop. You can't see the base and it might not be where it is supposed to be. Mike Dimenichi came up with our solution. He wrapped the hoop in small Christmas tree lights and powered them with a 9 volt battery. Debbie Turner, as base, wrapped herself with the same lights under the harness. Now we could see the hoop much better and see Debbie when she set up a base. This really helped.
The jump worked. The biggest challenge was to keep the hoop on heading. No lake or drop zone to see but the moon was the biggest help. We did not hold heading, or the formation slid - we ended up 90 degrees to the formation, rather than in line, but the swoopers made the eight, going on a 9-way. And we got it on the first try! Thanks to Craig Ratliff shooting video we got great shots of the formation so it truly would be a record.
Our NSCSA qualifying hoop dive was in October 1993 and we were the last numbers under 100.
We learned a lot about skydiving in those two years and that was what made us successful. The lessons learned were:
1. Hold the hoop at 4 and 7 o'clock, at staggered angles and the hoop slightly tilted.
2. Base maintains distance, vertical separation and heading with the hoop holders.
3. Hoop swoopers stay on the heels of the person in front of them.
4. Skydive through the hoop flat, arms in, hands under the shoulders and shoulders rounded.
5. At night, lights are a real help; Mike Dimenichi rigged the hoop lights to switch from red to green. Go and no go.
Hoop jumps are really fun. A lot more difficult than one would think. It includes skills you would also use in big formations; relative work, sequential and no contact - plus night skills. But it takes lots of practice. If you don't get it the first time, don't give up. If you plan on doing a night hoop dive, be really good during the day first. Good Luck.
By Bill Newell SCSA #11
with Jan Works SCSA #99
and John Miller SCSA #282 & NS
Pictures provided by Rick Thues
Star Crest Magazine
Hoop Diving Update
Bill Newell with wife Cathy preparing for a hoop dive at Taft, California - 1975. This hoop was electrical conduit steel tubing - rigid and fairly heavy. Newell had a hard time finding anyone to try the dive; even his Arvin buddies didn't take it seriously.
But some Elsinore skydivers did on July 26th, 1975, making the first official SCSA dive. The second dive was made two years later at the USPA Nationals at Tahlequah, Oklahoma on which Newell earned SCSA# 11.