Published: March 5, 2019
SA Skydiving Foosball World Cup
11:30pm, 23rd Feb, SA Skydiving, Langhorne Creek
It's dark. The air is tense. Brows sweat with concentration and the whole dropzone holds its collective breath.
A shot rings out through the night and it's all over. That was the precursor... only one was ever going to survive.
Disbelief turns to realisation, which turns to a cry of adulation. A piano arpeggio fades in through the PA accompanied by a tender voice. "I've paid my dues". It's the one and only Freddie Mercury. "Time after time." The room is truly electric now, the onlookers cheering, one half of the table hugging each other in celebration, the other side with their pants down in shame. After a long day and a long night, a victor is decided. A champion is crowned. The 2019 UPT Foosball World Cup is concluded.
And Freddie's voice rises as it commends them. "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS", he sings, with a bohemian gutful of emotion.
Earlier that day...
It was a 6:00am start for the first early birds leaping their way into a sunrise, and a 7:00am debrief for those spending their day with the one and only Jules McConnel, as she imparted us with volumes of canopy wisdom.
Much like Freddie, Jules is fabulous, knows how to party, and is an absolute master of her craft. Her every word was taken in and processed as we listened, learned, jumped, and learned some more, every individual pushing themselves to get just a little bit more out of their wing with each jump.
Although a little on the warm side perhaps, conditions were just about perfect. The wind started slowly, picking up to 10 odd knots throughout the better part of the day. The sun shone bright, and those highly coveted blue skies were clear and cloudless as we were offered the best of a summer day before the coming heatwave really kicked in. And Jules didn't miss a beat as she coached a dozen of us through our individual canopy journeys.
There was something else palpable in the air: the coming competition brewing. Mid-afternoon the teams were drawn - twelve teams forged from twenty-four competitors, with representation from all of SA's major DZs. The top movers and shakers were paired with the least experienced foosballers for an all-inclusive scrambles competition that no-one could predict. True competition at its best, sponsored by UPT Vector 3 who had an awesome give-away in store for us.
The Bonus Points Swoop 'n' Chug
As the evening drew closer, the winds picked up a little, but we had one more trick up our skydiving sleeve: an Icarus Canopies sponsored swoop 'n' chug to determine who entered the coming comp with an extra edge. Swoop City of course, is not an actual place, nor a wind reading, but a state of mind - a place that exists on the inside, in the heart of every skydiver. So, channelling this energy up we went, and down we came, one swoop at a time.
It was old-timer Brad Anderson, recently minted with a 4th digit to his jump numbers who showed the young'uns how it's done with his 8 second effort, although as he wasn't foosballing it was Jon McGregor, base jumper and wingsuit extraordinaire, who earned the competitive edge, a mere half a second off the mark.
And so it begins...
It was drawing nigh on business time. The wood oven was lit and a flicker turned into a flame, turned into a fire and into a feast. Over 40 exquisite pizzas were cranked out by our (non-skydiving) chefs Dom Hotich and Hugh Gockowiak who wanted only to join in the fun and start a squirrel fund towards their own tandem jumps: A noble and delicious cause.
The group stages began. 12 teams played across 4 tables and were whittled to 8, albeit not without a few near misses. For some, a lone goal was the difference between a quarter final berth and elimination.
Like any fierce and tight competition, it was easily turned on its head on a whim. It was Lauren Hatcher and Dale Hooper who qualified in the group stages as number one yet bowed out of the first quarter against Nic Fleet and Madi Wells who had scraped through the group stages on goal difference alone. Our youngest competitor, nine-year-old Harry Anderson, was not to be underestimated as he and teammate Alex Hanka pushed would be finalists to within a single goal before an eleventh hour rebound got the better of them. The victors, Vernon Wells and Jon McGregor, whose group stage had been aided by bonus points from the swoop 'n' chug win, progressed from this to meet and beat Jed Smith and Shaun Henderson in another heated match. Our talented chefs Dom and Hugh jumped from pizzas to foosball, moving from a canter to a trot as they earnt a semi-final against Nic and Madi and, really finding their stride, they won that to gallop into the final. It was all on the line now.
And so it Ends...
The first half of the final was neck and neck. Bets had been placed. Now we held our breaths and watched. Jon and Vernon were undefeated. But it was the pizza boys who were the dark horse. No-one had seen them coming, but now they were hard to ignore as they reared their equine head and edged into a lead through the back half of the game.
Maybe it was a chemistry forged in a furnace of burning logs and pizza prep... whatever it was they were a force to be reckoned with, as the pro held down the backline and the rookie in attack played out of his skin. A resounding strike took them to a 9-7 lead. Match point was the cry. Tournament point.
This was it, tensions were high. Shots were taken, deflected, defended. No one was gaining an inch. The pressure was on. And through the cluster and the chaos came a stillness, a hovering question mark over the fate of the tournament. Then a pistol whip crack, a precision shot to seal the deal, the little plastic ball soaring past the little plastic keeper to find the back of the net. The pizza chefs had done it. They came, they cooked, they conquered. Cue Freddie, tequila, and a few extra games for those unsettled scores...
A massive thanks to our official tournament sponsors Vector 3 by UPT and Icarus Canopies by NZ Aerosports for supporting our inaugural competition. Next stop, 2020!
Event organised and write up by Josh Haffer