SAN DIEGO — Bryan Buffaloe spends a lot of time doing what many fear: jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. But it’s not the jump he loves, it’s the parachute landing, and his passion led him to a national championship.
Jumping out of an airplane at 6,500 feet excites 34-year-old Buffaloe, who only within the last five years began skydiving.
“It’s almost a little meditation before you jump,” said Buffaloe. “You take a deep breath, you relax, you focus on what you know you need to do but no matter what the adrenaline is there so you learn to sort of harness it for your benefit in the same way we do with fear.”
Buffaloe jumps as many as 500 times a year and recently became the national champion of advanced canopy piloting, winning the overall advanced gold medal.
“The common sort of modern parlance for canopy piloting is swooping,” said Buffaloe. “It’s taking an ultra high-performance parachute and diving it at the ground as rapidly as you can — of course safely — and then competing in three separate disciplines: distance, speed and accuracy.”
Over the course of several hundred yards, pilots attempt to fly as fast as possible, as far as possible and aim to stop on an exact spot for maximum points, all while gliding just inches above the ground at speeds of more than 90 miles per hour.
“It’s definitely among the more dangerous of the skydiving activities but that’s why it’s for the more experienced,” said Buffaloe. “Yes, I’m constantly scared. I think that you kind of learn to handle the fear and use that to your benefit.”
At no point during the national competition in North Carolina do pilots free-fall. Instead, Buffaloe says the deployment of the parachute is almost immediate after jumping.
“If we get our parachutes open at 6,000 feet, I turn my parachute at 1,400 feet and that’s where I begin my dive to the ground,” he said. “All of that travel from 6,000 to 1,400 is about getting to that specific point so that you’re able to manipulate the parachute into the dive, to make it generate those speeds.”
By day, Buffaloe works as a Merchant Marine officer but the self-proclaimed daredevil plans to continue competing on a more professional level in the future.
“I kind of fell in love with this sport really early on and as a part of that I always knew I wanted to compete on some level,” he said. “It’s not my livelihood, you don’t make any money doing it. It’s just a really fun environment that you go get to be a part of and it tests your skills.”
And those skills appear to be pretty good.