I’ve only been hearing about the drone racing scene from friends and by occasionally bumping into a video on facebook. At first I thought it’s just another guys racing tournament which probably populates the regular douches who like car and motor racing (you got it right, I think car racing is an infantile sport). I apparently was wrong.
Drone racing is different. It is still a nerd subculture that grew out from the FPV community, mostly comprised of skilled drone pilots who modded their gear and spontaneously started to explore racing with each other. Those miniaturized aerial “dogfight” competitions quickly became popular, and attracted everyone from traditional radio car racers and flight simulator gamers, to newbies who bought their hobby drone and wanted to level up.
It’s a young, geeky, diy, maker community. Several professional leagues have been formed over the last years, but unlike eSports, drone racing is a smaller next-gen sports niche. Though money is now flowing in, with hopes to make it the new F1 challenge.
She isn’t the only woman in the drone scene, but she’s definitely the top one. Ranked 2nd on freestyle, winning racing competitions (de-facto the no.1 US female drone racer), building her own gear (the Zat 109 she has developed is the world’s smallest FPV racing drone) and teaching others – she is indeed the queen of drones, as Vice titled.
Her story of how she got into the whole thing and pushed to be a pro is inspiring. Here’s what she said in an interview to The Drone Girl website:
I was really, really sick. I had to go through a lot of different surgeries. I was bound to my bed for a good 2 years. I was depressed. My friend told me, ‘You need a new hobby.’ I went to the hobby shop. I found a micro drone. Then I got a larger one. I saw videos of people flying FPV on YouTube, and thought, ‘I need to do that.’
It took me 2-3 months from hearing about it to flying FPV, because I had to build it myself. I never soldered anything in my life. I had to teach myself to do that.
Then I started winning races.
While still racing, Zoe now focuses more on freestyling, or the 3D flying. A less stressful competition type, where you perform tricks and maneuvers in the air, rather than racing against others.
I like to think of it as being a ballerina in the air. You are quite literally dancing in the air with your drone. You are doing tricks in the air over trees and objects. With racing, it’s just going around a track and the fastest drone wins. With freestyle, every pilot has their own signature style.
And as drone racing is on the verge of breakout, Zoe is working her way to be a recognized pilot, in the same way eSports teams have become global icons:
I see more and more money getting poured into it, and a lot of TV projects are trying to bring drone racing to the mainstream. It will be an interesting climate to see how that develops. It is either going to work and become a popular sport that people will invest their time in to watch, or it’s a thing that a bunch of nerds will get together to watch on the weekends….
…We’re going to start to see the ‘rockstar pilots.’ Even the rockstar pilots are pretty niche right now, but that could change now that drone racing continues to grow.
Lots of women in tech and geeky male things, like in eSports, are coming for the posing. Zoe is the real thing. Got into the hobby as somewhat of a way of redemption, and got herself to master it.
With a good sponsor and the right management, I think she has a good chance to become a unique icon in the years ahead. Go Zoe!