Due to his professional career, Hari Ganapathy has been living abroad for more than a decade.
In 2007, Ganapathy had the opportunity to move to the United Kingdom (UK), and that is where he eventually found himself founding the 4-way formation skydiving team, ACM.
Prior to ACM, Ganapathy had been on a few other formation skydiving teams doing 4-way and 8-way.
Some of them were pick-up teams, but Raykipo was his first competition 4-way team.
“The first UK team I was on was a team called Raykipo. That was my first 4-way team; prior to this, I had competed with an 8-way team called Flight Risk, and I did a couple of pickup teams in both 4-way and 8-way in between all that,” said Ganapathy.
In 2015, Ganapathy formed ACM.
“It was with another person. We were looking to start a team. And we found a couple of other teammates and we did our first season, and then after that season, two people dropped out and we picked up one more person and our coach,” said Ganapathy.
In 2015, ACM was an outdoor team.
“That was a rollercoaster season because we had lots of challenges in terms of people’s time, some injuries, some other commitments that popped up during training camps that were already set, so, that wasn’t an ideal season,” said Ganapathy.
“We trained at a drop zone called Langar Skydiving, which is in the UK, that’s where we did most of our training jumps, but we also jumped at another drop zone called Sibson, which is part of a company called UK Parachuting, and then we competed at the national competition which has been at the same drop zone for as long as I can remember now, which is a place called Hibaldstow,” he added.
The following year, ACM then transitioned into being more of an indoor team.
“We needed to train in a different way, so, we decided to go more indoor. And also, we had lost two team members, so that was when we moved into a team where it was three of us plus our coach, and it was just easier for all of us to do indoor for that season. We still did some outdoor jumping, but that wasn’t our focus,” said Ganapathy.
Over the years ACM has been a team, one of the biggest challenges has been finding teammates to complete the team.
“The biggest challenge in 4-way is finding three other people that have the same time, the same money, the same commitment, the same goals, and bringing that all together is much easier said than done,” said Ganapathy.
In 2018 and 2019, ACM’s team was the most complete it had been for the first few years.
“The last two seasons we had, it was good, because it was the same four, it was consistent. When you train 4-way for so long, once you change one person out of four, the dynamics and flying changes, so to find that and rebalance it, takes a lot of time again,” said Ganapathy.
Throughout his time on ACM, Ganapathy has gotten the chance to go to multiple countries for competitions, with his favourite one being Norway.
“We did a European Championship in Voss, Norway. I think that was one of the more fun ones that we got to attend. They were all fun, but Voss was really nice, just the views, how we did on that competition, it was fun,” said Ganapathy.
“It’s a beautiful place to go and visit, let alone to go and compete, I’d love to go back there. Not to do tunnel again, but to do skydives outdoor because the views are fantastic,” he added.
In 2017, ACM began training at a wind tunnel in Lille, France called Weembi, and the team essentially became known as ACM-Weembi.
“Our coach at the time, he was mainly coaching in Belgium, so we were training there, and then he joined a team, which started training in Lille, which made it easier for us to get to and from London,” said Ganapathy.
“So, we did some training camps there, and one of his teammates was based at that tunnel, so, he suggested maybe looking at him as an alternate coach as well, which worked out really well for us,” he added.
With ACM being a tall team, three of them being over six feet, and the fourth member just shy of six feet, the smaller wind tunnels weren’t exactly comfortable for the team.
“I would say the standard wind tunnel is 14 feet in diameter, and we can fly in that, it’s not the most comfortable, but it’s manageable. The tunnel that we fly at in France, that’s 17 feet in diameter which is plenty of room,” said Ganapathy.
At the beginning of starting to train at Weembi, ACM would usually go train there once a month for four days. They’d leave London on a Thursday morning, get back on the Sunday night, and spend four hours training in the wind tunnel over the four days.
“I think that’s probably the most any team in the UK was doing at the time,” said Ganapathy.
As a result of training at Weembi, the tunnel began to sponsor ACM which is how they came to be known as ACM-Weembi. The team was also sponsored by SONIC Flywear for their jumpsuits, and Cookie for their helmets.
Throughout his time on ACM, Ganapathy has gotten the chance to travel around Europe and the Middle East for competitions. In 2018, ACM went to a World Cup of Indoor Skydiving in Bahrain and they placed seventh among 22 teams.
“It was a really, really cool wind tunnel. All glass tunnel and it’s actually one of the longest wind tunnels,” said Ganapathy.
“So, usually, your standard wind tunnel structure, when you go into a room, you’ll see the wind tunnel and it will probably go up to 20 feet, maybe 25, but this particular wind tunnel, this was 30-40 feet. So, the actual visual of this tunnel, there’s no other tunnel like it that I’ve seen, that I’ve been to anyway,” he added.
The next year, in 2019, ACM travelled to France for a competition and had the chance to compete in the wind tunnel that they regularly trained at.
“Because we knew everyone there, we knew the tunnel and there was a level of comfort there which definitely translates into being able to compete in a comfortable environment,” said Ganapathy.
Some of the bigger competitions in skydiving usually happen over a span of three days, from a Friday to a Sunday, due to the fact that there are multiple disciplines in the sport of to compete in.
The competitions ACM went to in Bahrain and France were big competitions that went on for multiple days.
“So, for example, in my competition, there’s ten rounds that you compete in, and if it’s a competition from a Friday to Sunday, then what they’ll do is break that up into three or four rounds per day,” said Ganapathy.
“And then in between all these things, depending on where the location is, you’ve got free time to go and explore and see some of the sights, or, at the same time, there’s all sorts of other competition in other disciplines happening, so, you have other teammates that are representing your country, so you go and support them and you go and watch other categories of the competition, which is just as exciting because some of the other disciplines are pretty spectacular to watch. Usually at the start of all these things there’s usually a big opening ceremony where they introduce all the different country delegations and at the end of it, there’s a big closing ceremony with medals, and awards, and a banquet,” he added.
There is also a speed test which each team has to do before the start of their first round.
“Each wind tunnel is different in terms of how the fans work for the wind tunnel, in terms of speed, so, a speed test is usually when, we go in there right before our first round of competition, we’ll get into the tunnel, and we’ll fly for about 10-15 seconds just to feel the speed to see if we need to increase or decrease the speed that’s more comfortable for us,” said Ganapathy.
“And once we have that, then the people who are operating the tunnel will lock that speed in for us every time we go in for each round of competition,” he added.
Due to having three to four rounds a day to compete in, there’s also a rule that each team will have a minimum 45 minutes between subsequent rounds.
“We will come out of a competition round and we will go straight to what’s called a creeper area which is where we can prep the next round. So, we’ll walk through it, we’ll get on what’s called creepers, which are basically flat-bed rollers on the ground with wheels that we use to practice the next round,” said Ganapathy about what his team would do to prepare for the next round.
“So, we’ll do that a few times, and then move to a mock-up of the door of the tunnel to practice how we’re going to set up in the door for the entrances. We would follow all that, do all those things, and then if we still have time left, then we’ll just relax for a little bit of time and visualise the round we are about to do,” he added.
At a skydiving competition, teams are scored on how many times they can go through the formation for the round and repeat it. Teams have 35 seconds to try to get as many points as possible.
“There are a series of formations that are all set. It’s put into what’s called a dive pool, and at the start of every competition, they will draw out of a hat which formations you need to do in sequence for each round. So, you never know what they’re going to be,” said Ganapathy.
“You have set formations, which are pretty much standard and flat all done in one plane, or one dimension, and then you have what’s called block formations, which are done in three dimensions. So, how these all sequence in the draw when they do it, you’ll never know, but once you have it, you have to figure out what the best way is to do it and then you just have to go for it,” he added.
At their competition in Bahrain, ACM’S first round sequence was K,17,J,21.
“K is a standard formation, it’s flat, 17 is a block formation, which is done in three dimensions, J is a flat one-dimension formation, and 21 is in three dimensions. So, any of the letters are single flat formations and any of the numbers are formations where it’s in two or three dimensions, where the four of us will break apart and move around,” said Ganapathy.
“So, K is one point, 17 is a three-dimensional formation, so we’re going to break apart and come together, so that’s worth two points, J is one point, and 21 is worth 2. So, it’s a challenge of how many times can you go through all of this and repeat it, and repeat it within 35 seconds. So, at the end of ten rounds, they add up all your points, and divide by ten, and they give you what’s your average score and that’s what determines first, second, third, fourth,” he added.
4-way formation flying also has positions (or “slots” as they’re referred to) which help each team member know what to do for each formation. On ACM, Ganapathy was the outside centre, Dave Rodgers was the inside centre, Marc was the point and Will Cooke was the tail.
“So, 4-way flying has what’s called, a front pair, and then there’s a back pair. So, the front pair is the outside centre and the point slot, and the back pair is the inside centre and the tail slot. And with all the formations that are in the dive pool, depending on what formation you’re doing, there are block formations where, the ones that are done in three dimensions, after you finish it, you are no longer in the same slot where you started, you’re in the opposite slot,” said Ganapathy.
“So, in the front pair, you have the outside centre and the point slot, and if there’s a formation we do where we end up switching, then I will end up in the point slot and Marc will end up in the outside centre slot, so when that happens, we are now flying in different slots, which means we need to know how to fly in the other position as well vs our own position. So, in the front pair, out of all the formations in the dive pool, the front pair have the greatest number of formations where we have to change slots (6-7 of them), whereas in the back pair, they only have two formations where they need to switch,” he added.
Over his time in the UK, Ganapathy and two of his teammates made a decision to found the British Indoor Skydiving Association (BISA).
“Wind tunnel flying has been growing over the last five to ten years, and skydiving in any country is usually governed by the country’s national aeroclub association, so, in Canada for example, you have the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association, and they manage everything for Canadian sport skydiving, and the UK has one, every country has one, the States has one,” said Ganapathy.
“And because indoor skydiving was getting more and more popular, and it’s essentially become its own discipline in itself, it was being managed by these associations, but because it was growing rapidly, some of these associations were not able to handle this, or chose not to manage the indoor disciplines so, they created their own separate organizations that manage everything that’s indoor only,” he added.
Because the British Skydiving Association didn’t want to handle the indoor side of things, Ganapathy and his teammates started BISA.
“We set up the British Indoor Skydiving Association as a non-profit, and we now manage everything indoor skydiving for the UK,” said Ganapathy.
In February of 2022, if COVID doesn’t end up shutting anything down, BISA will be holding and setting everything up for their first UK national competition.
“So, this is the very first one we’re setting up, so there’s work going on there, there’s partnership work going on as well, it’s not just me. There’s three other people that are working on this as well. They’re all back in the UK,” said Ganapathy.
“I haven’t really given it that much thought. There’s no need for me to go, per se, for the competition to run. I mean, my colleagues at BISA, the three of them that are based over in the UK, they’ll be there anyway for the competition, so that’ll be fine. But, at the same time, it would be nice to go, given that it is our first one, and it would be nice to go and see how it all runs out,” he added about whether or not he’ll go to the UK for that.
Before COVID hit, Ganapathy was back in Canada as ACM decided to take a break for a little bit.
“The guys on the team had other things they needed to focus on, so there wasn’t any time for team stuff. So, we decided to say we’ll put things on hold for about a bit, and come back and see what we can figure out, and then, that’s when COVID happened,” said Ganapathy.
While back in Canada, Ganapathy began coaching flyers at SkyVenture, a wind tunnel in Montreal, and while there, he also took the opportunity to help coach a 4-way team.
Ganapathy also travelled to a competition in the United States to compete on a pick-up team, and when he got back, that’s when Canada was put into lockdown due to COVID.
Ganapathy then began working as a tandem instructor at Parachute Montreal in June of that year, and then got a job as a Tandem Instructor at Parachute GO Skydive in the Gatineau-Ottawa region for the skydiving season of 2021.
Looking forward to the future, Ganapathy would love to get back into the competition side of skydiving, but right now, that all depends on where his next job will take him.
“I’d like to do both indoor and outdoor. Where I go to do it is sort of up in the air right now because I don’t know where I’m going to be in the next month or two months at this stage just because of my work situation, but ideally, I’d love to go back to the UK and get a team together and keep training in France again, because that was really ideal,” Ganapathy said.
Aside from Norway, Ganapathy also has plenty of other locations where he would love to jump in as well.
“Switzerland’s another place where I haven’t jumped yet, and then there’s exotic places as well, like places in the South Pacific. I’d love to go and jump in the Maldives, or the Seychelles. And New Zealand is also on my list, I haven’t had a chance to jump in there yet and the views are stunning.”