The ‘epic’ is at high-altitude, but you won’t see it

Epic: Skydivers performing one of their formations at the Makgadikgadi Epic
Epic: Skydivers performing one of their formations at the Makgadikgadi Epic

The ‘Epic’ happens about five kilometres up in the sky, hence most spectators miss out. High in the sky, inside the Botswana Defence Force CASA-235 aircraft, a group of 32 skydivers queue up after the hatch is opened. A cold gushing wind and droning sound add the chaotic soundtrack to the situation.

These daring stuntmen and -women- are dressed in colourful wingsuits, folded parachutes snugly  secured to their backs like suckling babies to their mothers’ backs.

They keep touching and checking these as in a few seconds their lives will depend on them. They have helmets mounted with GoPro cameras on their heads. Each one has an altimeter on their wrist, which they keep checking continually. They then perform their signature fist bump that looks like an explosion and get ready for their exit.

They are readying to perform a record-breaking 18-way formation and then go for an exit, which has been practised on the ground. The nucleus of the formation has to exit the aircraft together holding onto each other. They move closer to the edge of the aircraft hatch where the leader screams out the countdown.

Ready! Set! Go! Without any kind of delay such as hesitation, they all jump out. In 50 seconds while hurtling at about180 kilometres per hour, and before they open their parachutes, they have to do something epic. If no one messes up, delays the exit or flies in a different direction, they will come closer together, hold hands and descend in a beautiful formation for about 45 seconds.

In a different aircraft the PAC-750, romantic couples are preparing for the wingsuit rodeo. This is where the female skydiver charmingly rides on her boyfriend skydiver’s back like she is on some flying horse.

Still at five kilometres above the ground, yet another aircraft, the Atlas Angel is carrying tandem skydivers.

Three usually nervous people, who paid for this crazy experience, are strapped on three tandem masters ready to jump from the aircraft. The tandem masters have Go-Pros on their wrists filming the nervousness of these individuals. They jump, and since they are strapped together, with more weight they freefall at an epic speed of about 240km/h.

Below, however, the spectators do not get this view. From the ground they can only see the parachutes trickling down from the sky in unimpressive landings that fall far short of being epic.

Many who made the trip to Nata Bird Sanctuary are bemused. They dismissively ask: “Why the heck is this event even called ‘epic’?” As a matter of fact many start to wonder if ‘epic’ means the scorching heat of the Pans that is presently scrambling their brains as they stand watching the divers. There are no trees to get shade and no water to dip in. Perhaps the blinding dust that envelops them in whiteness is ‘epic’.

Their only close description of ‘epic’ comes only when they see President Ian Khama flying his rainbow powerchute above their heads. With yells of “Super”, the crowd bursts into uproarious applause.

The adventurous President, with his friend and youth, sport and culture minister, Thapelo Olopeng fly their rainbow coloured powerchutes over 3,000 people.

The pair are not wearing safety helmets or bulletproof vests and that is something the people on the ground can describe as ‘epic’ for lack of a better word.

At least a few top professional skydivers including the internationally acclaimed and Sports Emmy Award winner, Olav Zipser, Graham Field and Mike Rumble also provide some glimpse of the epic to the spectators.

They board the Cessena-206 for a short altitude jump meant to wow the spectators. The stuntmen perform proximity flights next to the tents at the drop zone, blow colourful smoke and fly Botswana flags in a spectacle many people clearly relish.

Although there are plenty of activities to partake in at the event, most of them fall short of the description ‘epic’. Neither the fun quad-bikes that riders are not allowed to rev and ride at top speed, nor the bicycles and horse rides fit the description. Not even the disappointing hot-air balloon that only rise 50 metres high while tied onto cars before returning to the ground, can be termed ‘epic’.

There is a spirited and live traditional music by Culture Spears, but even the hit-making group without the effervescent  Charma Gal, are just an average band and far from being epic.

The ‘epic’ is five kilometres up in the sky. The over 68 skydivers from over six different countries that made the annual trip to the Pans, a more or less equal number of individuals that braved the tandem jumps as well as Khama and Olopeng with their ‘flying bikes’, are the ones that enjoy the epic time at the second annual Makgadikgadi Epic and Skydive Boogie.

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