Jumping out of an airplane sounds like madness to many, but there are always those guys and gals ballsy enough to give it a shot. When the really nutty ones get together, crazy aerial shit goes down like it did at the 2016 Tribu Races – a multi-event freeflying competition held in Florida. EraThr3 is all about terminal velocity and teamed up with former world-record skydiver and freeflyer extraordinaire, Tom Baker, who made the select invite list for the Pro class.
“Flying in the Tribu Races was like no other freefly competition in the world,” said Baker. “The lineup of competitors was some of the best and fastest free flyers from over eight different countries all coming together to push the limit of speed and power of competitive freeflying. There is something about being around like-minded people who continue to progress themselves - not only our own skills, but help grow the sport as well.”
The 2016 Tribu Races were held at the Skydive DeLand facilities and featured four separate head-down events: The Hot Gates, Orbital, The Glider and Xpression Session. Each jump/race uses a set number of pylons – people equipped with a brightly colored streamer attached to their shoe and a camera on their helmet. The pylons served as the race officials, finish line, videographers and judges. Each event was judged on different criteria with winners in each class, as well as a combined overall ranking. This type of event is new to the competitive skydiving community and was met with huge enthusiasm from the participants.
Perfect weather conditions allowed everyone to throw down as hard as possible, and some fliers knew exactly where they would make their move.
“Everyone seemed to have their own specialty in each discipline,” Baker noted, “but this was a competition with an "overall winner." My game plan was to push as hard as I could, but still be consistent and smooth across the board. I had my eyes on the overall title.”
The Hot Gates is essentially a sprint to the finish between two racers. The pylons bail out first from 13,500 feet elevation and set up 40 feet apart to form the finish line, or finish gate. Seven seconds later, the racers jump out and streak downward as fast as possible. Whoever passes through the gates first is the winner. Baker put up a hell of a fight as the pro fliers reached speeds around 220 mph, but ultimately was knocked out of the running by eventual winner, David Reader. Carlos Briceno was second and Alejandro Ramos third.
Orbital is a different type of challenge entirely. Instead of maximizing aerodynamics and downward speed, fliers have to maneuver in a circular direction as they plummet toward Earth. The race begins again from 13.5K and this time three pylons head out and form a triangle. A head-to-head battle ensues with two racers who dive out immediately behind the pylons and start using specific movements with their body and limbs to move in a predesignated direction around the triangle. This is a complicated test of skill as the racers need to match their downward speed and trajectory with the pylons while also moving laterally. The goal is to keep the loop as close to the pylons as possible to minimize the distance traveled, without making contact with the race officials or the competitor. It’s been described as the NASCAR race of skydiving.
Once they cross 6000 feet elevation, the race is over and whoever is leading the orbit is the winner. Baker managed to survive the double-elimination bracket racing and square off against TJ Landgren for the final round. Wearing his white flight suit and Landgren in red, the duo launched into freefall above the Sunshine State. Landgren held a slight advantage out of the gate as they rotated counterclockwise, but an inside pass put Tom into the lead and he held on to capture the victory! Anna Moxnes rounded out the podium.
“The vibe among the competitors was epic in the beginning,” he said of the Orbital and overall event atmosphere. “It was really good to see old friends and meet some new ones. Most of us have flown together at some point in our careers, so it was a breath of fresh air knowing that we are flying with people we can trust. But as the event carried on, everyone's true colors and competitive spirit came out as we got closer to the finals and prize money. The drama definitely increased and started to come out.”
Next up was The Glider. Competitors had already shown their level of skill and depth of sack while diving straight down and slicing sideways, now it was time to see who could defy gravity and cover the most ground. A single pylon/race master exited the plane at 10,500 feet in the middle of two racers.
The trio would align themselves over the next thousand-foot drop and then the race master gave a hand signal like an underground drag marshal and the racers flatten out in an effort to fly as far and for as long as possible until they cross the 5,000-ft threshold. Whoever is ahead at that point, wins. Baker wasn’t quite as successful in this event which featured Luis Lopez and Tim Porter as the finalists. The extra drag provided by Porter’s ponytail was apparently enough to push him ahead as Lopez claimed runner-up and Luis Prinetto joined them on the box.
Xpression Session was the final piece of the Tribu puzzle, and possibly the organizers had saved the best for last. Every skydiver - freeflyer or not - every person who jumps into thin air is expressing themselves in some way. Not all skydiving is about setting speed records. Acrobatics, choreography, aerial dancing…
This event was designed to maximize the creative spirit of each competitor and challenge them to put it into a team context. Each team of three was chosen randomly with a blind draw and had 30 minutes to compose their routine. Two members would be performing the maneuvers while the third acted as camera-flyer. Where the other events produced fairly cut-and-dry winners, this would be judged by a panel of experienced freefliers in a much more subjective layout. It forced each person out of their comfort zone by putting them in tandem with someone outside their normal fly buddies. Basically, if you were slow as hell, this was your chance at redemption.
All of the competitors were recorded and the videos were considered for final rankings. Baker wore his heart on his flight suit alongside Alejandro Ramos and their seamless movements captured by Luis Prinetto were good enough to earn a victory in the event that may have produced the most smiles of the week.
Every flier who participated is hopeful to see another edition of the Tribu Races. Baker, who basically kicked ass the entire time plans to up his game even further with dedicated training.
"Remember to cherish,” he says. "Never lose sight of your goals, or the gates!"