Falling into the record books

TRU student seeks a spot in skydiving world record attempt

Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω

Nick Byers takes his friend on her first jump over Queenstown, New Zealand in the spring of 2012. Photo by Erika Dufort

Nick Byers takes his friend on her first jump over Queenstown, New Zealand in the spring of 2012. Photo by Erika Dufort

When Nick Byers first came to TRU from his home outside of Toronto, he was a self-described ski bum. He was registered in the tourism program, a program which he said allowed him to spend as much time as possible on the ski hill – more or less the entire reason he moved to Kamloops.

But then, a short while after arriving in the city, he went skydiving for the first time. It was a life-changing experience, and after that first jump he hasn’t seen much of the ski hill since.

“When I was 18 I thought it would be really cool to give [skydiving] a try. I didn’t know anyone who had done it before,” he said. “I tricked my parents into giving me a skydive for my 18th birthday and did my first jump with my dad and my brother and haven’t really looked back.”

Now more than ten years and 4,169 jumps later, the 29-year-old Byers is still jumping. He’s now a coach and instructor on top of being a recreational diver and is responsible for starting the TRU skydiving club — a means of making skydiving accessible for students on campus. He gives lessons and provides coaching at little to no cost to otherwise cash-strapped students, hoping to open the door for everyone to be able to participate in what is otherwise an expensive sport.

This winter break he’s hoping to add a world record to his list of skydiving achievements. Byers will be travelling to Eloy, Arizona on Nov. 29 and will be attempting to be part of the first world record for “Sequential” skydiving.

Sequential, or big way, skydiving involves divers jumping out of a number of planes, syncing up during free fall and linking themselves together to make formations. In order to set the world record, Byers and his fellow divers will need to perform a minimum of two formations in a single jump, though they will be shooting for more.

And it won’t be just three or four skydivers linking up to perform these manoeuvers. Instead, Byers will join about 200 others, all of whom will be coming together mid-air to make a single formation, to set the record. The group will be jumping from between 18,000 and 20,000 feet and will perform as many manoeuvers as possible before pulling their chutes.

The group will make a number of jumps throughout the course of their week in Arizona, first splitting into two teams of about 100 divers, competing against each other to set an original record. Then, the teams will join together in a group of more than 200 and attempt to best the original record both in number of jumpers and number of formations performed.

Byers lands a tandem jump as an instructor in the summer of 2013. Photo courtesy Nick Byers.

Byers lands a tandem jump as an instructor in the summer of 2013. Photo courtesy Nick Byers.

The world record attempt will be the culmination of a number of years of training for Byers. Big way skydiving has been his focus for about four years now. It was about that long ago that he first hooked up with the group that is organizing this world record attempt. He started off performing smaller formations with groups of four or eight people, learning how to properly fly his body and be in the proper position during free fall, and has slowly become part of larger and larger formations. After many dives and countless hours spent training in wind tunnels, he’s on a short list of people who are qualified to take part in a world record attempt like this one. Byers said that between 300 and 500 people apply to be part of an event like this, with only about 200 being successful in this case.

“I’ve spent countless hours and skydives and dollars, training with people in Canada and the U.S., in other parts of the world, just to work on my skills to get better at doing this, so I could one day get a world record.”

Despite the inherent dangers involved in hurling himself out of a plane week after week, Byers has been hooked on the sport of skydiving ever since his first jump. He said the variety of opportunities that skydiving presented, along with the different disciplines available — big way, small formation, flying wing suits, participating in team competitions — really drew him in, and has kept him coming back again and again all these years later. Byers now studies sciences at TRU and is hoping to go to medical school one day. Despite the high costs involved in something like skydiving (he will pay between $3,000 and $3,500 to be a part of the world record attempt) he’s always found a way to make it work.

“It’s not really a feeling that you get anywhere else. Jumping out of an airplane is just really, really cool,” Byers said. “The people in skydiving are, for the most part, pretty frigging cool. They are some of the friendliest, just the nicest people that you could know.

“Combine the nicest people with one of the coolest things you could ever do and why would you not keep doing it?”