Just as I’ve been known to do when starting a new journey, whether in the sky or on the ground, I want to start from the beginning talking about it here on the blog – if not to help others see the progression as it happened in real life, then simply as a reminder to myself where I’ve been.
This weekend I began flying tandem camera. No, not in the sense that I’ve got a full helmet cam set up and I’m in a rotation, actually, not in the slightest – I prefer to start this out slow rather than go balls to the wall in my usual fashion.
I was lucky enough to be working with a trusted tandem instructor and a couple of great camera fliers that didn’t mind my lurking on their jumps. Within a few practice jumps I was seeing incredible progress, thanks to some serious pep talks and lessons from my fellow jumpers. Needless to say, I had moments of frustration and moments of excitement when I could see improvement happening. I never thought I’d be this excited to jump with tandems, but there’s something to be said for capturing that pure joy that a new skydiver experiences in the moment.
Of course, this is just the very beginning for me, but I wanted to share a few lessons from my weekend in the sky with a camera on my head, serving a purpose greater than capturing my fellow freeflyers as they cheese the camera (as fun as that is)!
Lesson 1 – Spend time on your belly early on in your skydiving career.
For anyone who is thinks they might want to fly camera some day, heed this suggestion, spend time on your belly! As a young jumper I was told by so many more experienced skydivers to do work on my belly before transitioning to freeflying (and they meant more than 30 skydives, turns out), and it seems that I’m running into all kinds of situations in the sky where more belly time would have been helpful.
Now, I’m not saying you need to start a 4-way team or anything, but being comfortable and proficient belly to Earth is key when flying tandem video. Those things that are instinctual for people who have spent a couple hundred jumps working on their RW skills seem to take me a bit longer to get to in the sky – like stopping backsliding (hello Superman arms, those don’t get you anywhere but backwards). That said…
Lesson 2 – Be an all-around proficient skydiver.
This weekend, most of my fellow camera fliers were also freeflyers in their downtime. Being comfortable in a sit was key for me for a couple reasons.
1) If the tandem instructor is taking a bigger passenger, it helps to have some sit/back skills so you can contort quickly into these freefly positions to keep up if folding in half on your belly isn’t cutting it in terms of freefall rate.
2) You have to be ready for anything. When a tandem exits, for the first couple seconds they are falling with the weight of two people, that is, until the drogue is released. If you’re anything like me, exits are going to take some time to get down. What I found this weekend is that if I don’t leave just a split second before the tandem I end up above them till the drogue is out. Of course, that puts you in a position where you might just find the drogue coming at you! Yep, that happened. Luckily, I was able to flip to my sit just in time to get out of the way and get back in front of the tandem. Not every exit is going to be perfect, but you have to know how to deal with it and make it the best you can.
Lesson 3 – Start slow with your equipment.
After one day in the air with my new camera on my head, I woke up on day two with an incredibly stiff neck. I have to admit, I was surprised by this as my camera isn’t all that heavy and you practically can’t even tell it’s on your head in the air. That said, my neck isn’t used to any weight aside from my Bonehead REvolve, so any added weight creates strain, especially on opening. I’m so glad I didn’t add the weight of a still camera at the same time, I doubt I’d be able to hold my head up right now if I had.
Lesson 4 – Video editors are your best friends.
When you’re running to catch the next load, you head to the video room to drop off your SD card and let the editors work their magic to send the tandem student home happy with their footage. They make it easy for you to have work you’re proud of and allow you to drop your files and run. Granted, aside from a few seconds of footage, none of my work was sold this weekend, but after two long days at the dropzone, the last thing I wanted was to pick up my computer and start editing – hence, no video footage to share.
Hopefully in the next few weekends I’ll have more tandem video awesomeness to show.
Love and blue skies!