Breckenridge man joins wingsuit flock for U.S. record
Breckenridge, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – A local guy joined a flock of 68 wingsuit pilots who descended like flying squirrels in a diamond formation this month to pierce a U.S. record above Southern California.
Simon Repton, 35, of Breckenridge has skydived over Mount Everest and hiked the Grand Canyon in both directions in 24 hours. His latest challenge involved traveling across the country and taking more than 100 wingsuit jumps this summer in preparation for breaking the record Nov. 11 for largest number of wingsuit pilots in formation.
“You want to be really comfortable with something you do with 67 other people,” Repton said. “Nobody wants to be the guy that screws it up.”
Wingsuits include fabric between the arms and legs – often with air pockets – that slow a skydiver’s descent and allow for more maneuverability. Repton said a wingsuit can extend a dive from 55 seconds to more than two minutes.
Four planes dropped Repton and fellow wingsuit pilots above Lake Elsinore – not far from Los Angeles – as they moved into a geometric diamond formation to break the record. On the seventh try, the mix of people from 16 countries including Japan, Russia and South Africa succeeded.
Repton didn’t take up skydiving until he’d spent some time piloting an aerobatic plane in Texas in the late ’90s.
“I wanted to know how to use the emergency parachute,” he said.
The plane hobby became expensive and he liked the “more personal” feeling of skydiving.
In fall 2008, he and 31 other skydivers made history by skydiving over Mount Everest.
“That was just a good goal – a good excuse to make it happen,” Repton said.
At that time he’d only put on a wingsuit a couple times. Repton says he sets goals for himself each year to accomplish such extreme feats.
He’s a scuba diver, skier and climber, and he said hiking a volcano in Mexico could be the next goal he sets for himself.
The wingsuit jump came as a random decision when he was at a skydivers’ meet in Chicago.
He zipped up a suit and gave it a couple tries. Unlike skydiving – traveling 120 mph down a “funnel,” wingsuit pilots are able to steer themselves up to 6 miles from where they’re dropped. And the longer ride pays off.
“Suddenly you’ve got a better value for money as well,” Repton said.
Mid-air precision at 68 mph
Repton said skydivers are a “close network” of a variety of people. When performing a formation stunt like the recent wingsuit jump, “everybody’s got to be in their assigned spot,” he said.
Photographs are analyzed before a record is announced to determine every individual is in his or her proper position relative to everyone else. With different body types, suits and flying ability – and turbulence – the pilots must maintain control as they fall at about 68 mph.
“The best wingsuit pilots are always tall, skinny, light guys,” Repton said, adding that he’s not real tall or skinny.
He said that though wingsuit pilots can slow to between 30 and 40 mph, there’s more control at the higher speed.
When in formation, the pilots are about 10 feet away from one another. They practice on the ground to have their respective positions in mind during the dive.
“We spend a lot of time dirt diving,” Repton said. “It looks stupid.”
The pilots jump at 13,000 feet above the ground, which is the same as a normal skydive. Competitive skydivers without wingsuits must jump from a much higher altitude to because they’re not able to glide.
“One of the most dangerous parts is getting away from everybody,” Repton said of the landing.
After the formation, the pilots break off from their groups and make sure they’re clear before pulling the parachutes. The wingsuit doesn’t allow much flexibility for the arms and legs, so the pilot must unzip both the arms and legs to steer the chute and to land.
Repton said he’s tried landing with his legs zipped and the jump ended in a face plant.
The Nov. 11 jump raised $5,000 for a Los Angeles program to help at-risk youth.
“It becomes more important than just skydiving,” Repton said. “Skydiving on its own doesn’t really benefit anybody else.”
City Year is a nonprofit that offers tutors and mentors to help kids pursue success. Repton went to California a week before the jump and met with people involved.
“It motivates kids and brings out the best in them,” he said.
Back in Breckenridge, Repton makes a living as a computer specialist with payroll systems. The work involves traveling but some can be done from home.
He’s completed the Imperial Challenge race at Breckenridge and has jumped out of an airplane more than 400 times.
Setting extreme goals gives him “an excuse to get outside” and accomplish “something kind of significant” every year, he said.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.