What is Competitive Canopy Piloting?

April 16, 2021

Canopy Piloting (CP) is a discipline in the sport of skydiving that is based on the parachute flying skills of the skydiver. There are three main categories that are judged in competition; speed, distance and accuracy. All events are held on a specific course with regulations on length, width and the presence of a body of water also known as a "swoop pond." 

The speed event has one main objective; fly through the  230 ft course as fast as possible! The course is a set of  5 "gates" beginning with floating buoys in the swoop pond and ending with gates extending 33 ft  beyond the water and into the grass or turf. The competitors time begins when a portion of their body passes through the first gate and the time ends when they pass through the last gate. Every single gate is 5ft in height (except for gate 1 in the advanced category) and the competitor must fly through each gate with a portion of their body in order to receive a full score. Canopy pilots who are in the pro (open) category can fly through the course in under 3 seconds!

Competitors fly through the first gate of the course which is in the water and as far as they can beyond the last gate which is 164 ft from gate 1. Open class competitors are required to "drag" or touch the water before passing through the first gate. They do this with a toe or the side of their foot being careful not to slow themselves down too much or dig into the water which would cause them to crash. Competitors must land inside the boundary of the course and their distance is measured from the entry gate to the first point on the course that was touched during landing. 

a parachutist drags his toe in the water as he flies over it.

Competitors drag through four water gates over a distance of 144 ft and then land as close as they can to a "center zone" which is 230 ft away from the first gate! The landing zone is full of pea gravel or sand to make their landings as soft as possible.  Each water gate is assigned a point value and each zone in the landing area is also given a point value. The center zone is worth the most points. Each competitor receives score that is the sum of gates they passed on the water as well as a score for the zone they land in. Ten point are deducted if they do not perform a stand-up landing. 

A parachutist attempts to land in a scored zone. For a National-level CP event, the competitors will make 9 jumps over the course of the competition which is three jumps per category. Medals are given out for each event (speed, distance, accuracy) as well as medals for the combined champion who has the highest number of points from all of the events. 

A separate canopy piloting event is often held in conjunction with a standard meet and this event is known as CP Freestyle. In the Freestyle event, the competitors navigate through the performance area contacting the surface of the water in the manner dictated by their predetermined Freestyle move(s) and end with a stand-up landing. They are given three rounds to compete and scores are based on presentation of their performance as well as the technical difficulty of the move and landing.  

a parachutist drags his hand in the water as he flies over it.

Watch an interview with competitive canopy pilot Justin Price HERE

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