If you take a 15-hour flight south from LAX, drive an hour and a half north from Melbourne and then follow the trail of small wooden airplanes dangling from the trees along the road (avoiding kangaroos and wombats), you’ll find yourself at Skydive Nagambie in the quaint little town of Nagambie, Australia, population 1,800. On April 19, 132 members of the Parachutists Over Phorty Society (and subgroups Skydivers Over Sixty, Jumpers Over Seventy and Jumpers Over Eighty) made the trek to the rural drop zone for the 14th POPS World Meet, temporarily increasing the town’s population by 11 percent. The jumpers, representing 17 countries, spent 10 days at this outpost socializing, making fun jumps and competing in six events. Although many U.S. competitors could not attend due to a conflicting SOS record event at home, an enthusiastic group of 20 made the trip to represent the United States. DZOs Don and Louise Cross and their staff greeted everyone like family and made the attendees from far-flung corners of the globe feel at home.
A POPS meet is like a big, dysfunctional family reunion (but unlike at some family reunions, all the attendees are happy to see one another). Since this meet was a world event, some of the jumpers hadn’t seen each other for years but nevertheless greeted one another as if it had been yesterday. Most evenings, the attendees were free to have dinner in town with other competitors or just mingle with locals over beer at one of the pubs. On one evening, an international group of jumpers gathered to honor International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame Trustee and USPA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Larry Bagley, who had recently passed away. On another evening, U.S. TopPOP James Davis hosted a Team USA dinner at a winery, a celebration that is now becoming a tradition at international POPS meets since he started it two years ago in Germany.
4-Way Takes the Stage
The 4-way formation skydiving scrambles—each team consisting of members from different countries—kicked off the competitive action. Despite the language barrier and having never jumped together before the event, the teams put up impressive six- to nine-point averages over the four rounds. In a field of 15, Team 10 (Chris Betchley from Australia, Polly Chandler from the U.K., Erica Franz from Switzerland and Jim Mclean from New Zealand) took the gold with 34 points. A last-minute addition to the field, Team 15 (Alberto Alibrandi and Cindy Raible from the U.S., Peter Schmid from Switzerland and Robert Troegele from Germany), took silver with 30 points. Team 9 (Nicole Bagwell from the U.K., Davis from the U.S., Mal Ferrier from Australia and Charly Haeusler from Germany) rounded out the medals with the bronze.
Thirteen teams from eight countries represented their nations with pride in the five-round 4-way national FS event, which included POPS and SOS age groups. Many of the teams trained hard for this event, some for several years, so competition was fierce. Competitors have recently shown so much proficiency in 4-way that POPS is considering adding block formations to the draw that now includes only randoms.
The U.S. fielded two national POPS teams: Team USA 1 (Team America—Alibrandi, Randy Cutlip, Raible and Scott Wertheimer with camera flyer Jason Castellanos) and Team USA 2 (Hal’s Pals—Bill Baker, Leigh Estabrook, Mike Oolman and Mark Thomas), which competed in this one event just for fun, since POPS will award medals only to those who compete in two or more events. In a strong showing, Team America took the gold medal with 89 points. Hal’s Pals finished second, but since it was ineligible for medals, Team Great Britain took the podium for the silver, and Team Australia grabbed the bronze.
In the five-team SOS field, Team Germany SOS put in an amazing performance for the gold with 83 points. This was the team to beat regardless of age, taking second overall in the combined POPS and SOS rankings. Team Australia 2 SOS took the SOS silver, and International Team SOS took bronze. The U.S. did not field an SOS national team.
Classic accuracy—in which competitors compete for the lowest score by landing as closely as possible to a tiny electronic target on a 10-foot x 10-foot tuffet—ran concurrently with the FS events. In the six-round competition, Erica Franz from Switzerland came in with a single-digit total of 8 cm for the gold, followed by Sergei Trofimov from Russia with 14 cm for the silver. Roman Wejksznia from Poland scored 16 cm for the bronze. The U.S. did not field any classic accuracy competitors.
In the sport accuracy event—in which competitors also strive for a low score but fly smaller canopies to make a stand-up landing in a grid containing a central target square—POPS and SOS jumpers again competed in separate classes and their ages again proved irrelevant, as their scores were comparable. In the POPS category, Luis Huttinger from Argentina took first with an almost-perfect score of 140 out of 150 points, missing the center square only one time. Frank Conway from New Zealand took silver and Michael Lilja from Sweden took bronze. In the SOS category, Uli Sehrbrook from Germany scored 130 points for the gold, and Mike Dyer from Australia and Buzz Bennett from Canada took second and third, respectively.
Pausing for Remembrance
Halfway through the event, the drop zone paused the meet to allow competitors from Australia and New Zealand to celebrate Anzac Day on April 25, which honors the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ service in Gallipoli in 1916 and serves as a national day of remembrance of those who died during military service. Several military veterans from the POPS meet participated in the events the town held, which included a dawn service, speeches, a parade and a wreath-laying ceremony.
The competition resumed the following day with the three-round 8-way speedstar competition, in which teams vie to build a formation as quickly as possible. In this fun and informal event, the eight international teams, simply identified by number, battled fiercely for the top spot. Only a few seconds separated the top three teams, with Team 4 (which included American Pat Moorehead) taking the top prize with a time of 90.65 seconds.
Soon, everyone was preparing for the traditional final POPS event, hit ’n’ rock, a hilarious timed contest in which jumpers land, remove their gear, touch a target and run 40 feet to a big, comfy chair and sit. Olek Chlek from Russia took top honors in the POPS category with a time of 5.82 seconds, and Mike Dyer from Australia scored 9.08 seconds to take gold in the SOS category.
Following hit ‘n’ rock, competitors attended the awards ceremony at the DZ, scooped up their medals and then headed to a local winery for a farewell dinner. There, POPS World Meet Organizer Gary Zuiderwyk handed over the responsibility of the next world meet to Polly Chandler, who will host the 2020 event in Dunkeswell, England. Amid the hugs, handshakes and photo opportunities, everyone vowed to meet again in two years.
More information about joining POPS and its subgroups, as well as information about upcoming POPS events, is available at thepops.org.
About the Author
James “Guido” Davis, D-28216, is the current U.S. TopPOP. Those who would like to get on the mailing list for POPS events may contact him at email@example.com.