The History of the "Boogie"

How a Skydiving Cultural Classic Came About

Looking for a huge plane, full of other skydivers? Get your boogie on. Image © Joel Hindman

It’s hard to imagine that, not too long ago, a skydiving get-together was a rare thing indeed.

Today, of course, there are hundreds of these skydiving meet-ups: called, kookily, “boogies.” (More on that later.) They’re hosted at drop zones around the world. In fact, almost every drop zone, no matter how small, has at least one official yearly boogie to celebrate its local jumpers. Some of these events are immense, filling the skies with dozens of wildly various aircraft, hundreds of skydivers and a whirling smorgasbord of skydiving disciplines. Others are comparably tiny. Despite their differences, most boogies are a reliably good time.

It stands to reason that a group of skydivers would find any excuse to come together in a frenzied combination of daytime skydiving and nighttime frivolity – but when did the first one take place, and how did it come by such a goofy name?

Read on.

The Birth of a Boogie

The modern skydiving boogie may owe its existence to a film: specifically, the first major skydiving film released to the public, called Gypsy Moths. Shortly after the film’s much-lauded debut, one of the skydivers featured in the film – a prominent skydiving athlete named Garth “Tag” Taggart – was asked to put together a “just-for-fun” skydiving event in his home town of Richmond, Indiana. Until then, skydivers only gathered for USPA-officiated competitions at regional and national jump meets. In September of 1972, Garth arranged that seminal event, which is recorded in Pat Work's fascinating record of early skydiving, entitled "United We Fall".

Where Did the Term “Boogie” Come From?

The term “boogie” derived from a comic motif developed by fringe cartoonist R. Crumb. The motif features a “boogie man” striding confidently across an abstract landscape with the phrase “Keep On Truckin’” emblazoned above. The word “boogie” doesn’t appear anywhere within the motif, but the story goes that Garth Taggart was inspired by the meme. He was also probably influenced by use of the word in New Zealand skydiving circles, as well as by its use as a then-trendy name for a wild party. In any case, Taggart picked that moniker to describe the Richmond RW Festival on its event t-shirts, and the term stuck. Firmly.

Hilariously enough, those historic shirts didn’t actually use the word “boogie.” Due to an unfortunate misspelling on the hastily-printed giveaways, they described the event as a “boggie.”

The First Boogie Kicks Off

However confused the naming, that event brought together more than a hundred skydivers from all over the US to practice the then-relatively-new relative work discipline. The Richmond City Boys’ Club hosted the event, making significant revenue by charging non-skydivers an admission fee.

That first boogie (or “boggie,” as the case may be) saw some formations that were, for the time, pretty groundbreaking.  In "United We Fall," Pat Work notes that the athletes “made several big stars out of a Twin Beech and a DC-3.” Work goes on to remember that “[a]ll the self-styled, super-hero RW types made three tries at a 30-man, and succeeded in FUBAR-ing all three in front of the lens of Carl Boenish[, a very historically significant early skydiver and the founder of BASE jumping].” The botched jump didn’t cripple the event, however. “Everyone else just giggled and went up and made 18-mans […] with no problems[.]” That night, the skydivers and some lucky spectators enjoyed a raucous bonfire, dancing and screenings of some of the most seminal skydiving videos on record.

The Boogie Evolves

In the years immediately following that first boogie, the quickly growing sport of skydiving started to earn a bad-boy reputation. For several years, the city of Richmond out-and-out banned skydiving for fear of its hard-boogieing excesses. By the time the 1970s were drawing to a close, that original boogie had become very official, turning into the USPA Nationals.

Boogies Today

The phenomenon of the boogie holds to the much same spirit as Garth “Tag” Taggart’s founding principle: fun. These days, however, they’re also used as a venue for major skydiving competitions, world records, vendor demonstrations, charity efforts and locuses for training.

Across the board, these events retain one important historical value: the nominal “boogie” itself. We come for the party, and it rarely disappoints.