On the ground and also at 4,000 feet in the air, Charles Bryan is the father of free-fly skydiving as a competitive sport. The 33-year-old Mississippi native holds the speed record of 327 mph. He won the world championships in 1996. And he'll be one of 32 "swoopers" and paragliders to compete for the $16,000 purse this weekend in Red Bull Wings Cleveland, outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To Bryan, swooping is white-knuckled exhilaration: It involves jumping out of a plane, free-falling almost a vertical mile, parachuting into a sailing pattern 10 feet above the water, then landing on a platform placed off the shoreline. The swooper who sails the farthest scores the most points. "When we huck our meat at the ground at 70 miles per hour, pull up at the last minute, and stick it on the tiny barge, people dig it," says Bryan. And he knows his hucked meat: He won last year's Red Bull Wings competition in Chicago.
The action starts Friday with the first round of a paragliding aerobatics battle -- an aerial competition in which routines are judged on precision, maneuver control, and degree of difficulty. By noon, the first two rounds of swooping take place, followed by more paragliding. Local rockers Trendy, Abdullah, and Sindust keep fans revved up between rounds with performances at the Rock Hall. Saturday features third- and fourth-round competitions and gigs by the Sign-Offs, Keelhaul, and SoloFlyer. Awards are handed out Saturday night. "What [Red Bull] Wings will do is show people that all those other extreme sports, like the Gravity Games, are child's play, compared to paragliding and skydiving," says O.J. Lawrence, the event's founder.
Lawrence chose Cleveland for this year's competition because of its breathtaking view of the Rock Hall and its shoreline location. "The Rock Hall is a super-cool venue on the water, and rock and roll is all about opening eyes and showing people new things," he says. "You will be guaranteed the rush of your life."