Until just recently, I didn’t actually enjoy my canopy ride…it was simply a means to an end, to get me back to the ground so I can pack up and get back into freefall again.
I was scared of my canopy, I was scared of other pilots, I was scared of the wind, and I was certainly scared of the ground. But as my currency continues to stay high, I find that I’m enjoying myself under canopy more and more. Conversations with good canopy pilots, with swoopers and with S&TAs around the South has given me a greater respect for my canopy and what it’s capable of. One-on-one canopy coaching has helped me safely push the limits and learn as much about my canopy as possible.
As I continue to progress and understand the dynamics of canopy piloting, I find that I’m craving higher performance and more speed. This is surprising even to me, as someone who looks at swooping and shakes her head, not understanding why someone would purposefully practice a discipline that’s been known to – for lack of a better term – fuck some people up. But just as anything else within the sport, once you learn one skill it’s only natural to want to move on to the next…safely, of course.
I’ve been thinking a lot about downsizing. Even under a 120 I’m still not performing well in strong winds, and even though my wing loading is still fairly light and stepping down isn’t all that risky, I’m taking plenty of time to feel out my options. I find the more I play under canopy and push the limits of what my canopy can do, I’m craving more performance. I’m in no rush to swoop, of course, but having a higher performing wing seems like the next step for me in my canopy flight progression.
Chatting this weekend with some of the other freeflyer chicks at Skydive Carolina I realized that the time really has arrived. Turns out my canopy progression has been not only completely normal, but maybe even a bit conservative compared to my fellow jumpers. To each his own, but it helped me feel better (and completely justified) about my desire to go elliptical. On top of that, I was dealing with turbulence issues those on fully elliptical canopies were cutting right through. When uppers were cookin’ and wind on the ground was less than 5 knots and I was coming straight down, watching my canopy breathe and flex heavily as it bounced me around, I had to consider whether jumping was even a good idea – I’m tired of it and I’m ready to have a little more confidence under canopy (and let’s be honest, with my openings….Sabre2 off headings are not my favorite).
Thankfully I’ve got some friends in the area who fly the canopy I’m looking to get, so looks like this girl has some demoing to do.
So tell me, what’s your canopy progression looked like?
This is great advice for all aspects of life and something I’ve found makes most circumstances easier to tackle – but especially in skydiving.
When it comes to making decisions in life, we all have those moments where we hesitate, where we doubt ourselves but often push forward anyway. The problem with this is, if you’re wavering in your mind, that’s going to show in your actions. This effect is magnified in sports like skydiving. This is why when you’re on the plane you’ll often see jumpers with their eyes closed walking through a dive flow, preparing their muscles for exactly what they want to do – even something as simple as handle checks to keep that memory fresh so you can make the right moves at the right time as needed.
In short, make a decision and act confidently on it.
When you’re not confident about an exit, it’s going to show. When you’re not confident in the tunnel, you’re likely to hit the wall. Making low turns under canopy – whether aggressive or not – must be deliberate and calculated or you just might bounce. Visualize, breathe, dig deep down and find that part of you, no matter how small, that just knows you can do this and bring that to the forefront of your mind.
For a long time I had trouble with exits. There was never a reason why I wasn’t confident about it, I just wasn’t. Then I started wingsuiting and found that if you’re not completely solid and stable on exit, if everything isn’t timed just so, flat spins are likely – and let me tell you they’re not fun. After about 10 exits in a row that were complete shit (thankfully I was able to recover quickly so the skydive didn’t completely go to hell) I had to find that part of me that knew I could do it, that part of me that wanted it so badly I had no choice but to make it happen. Being deliberate was the only way and solid, practiced visualization helped.
I still find myself doubting certain things about a planned jump, but the more I push myself out of that comfort zone the more confidence I have in my flying overall.
At the end of the day you have to find what works for you, but the next time you find yourself with butterflies about a dive plan, remind yourself to be deliberate in your actions – you just might surprise yourself.
It might be a bit dramatic, but it got you reading…and sadly, it can be very true.
For most, this goes without saying. As skydivers, awareness and attention is pounded into our brains from day 1 in AFF (or Static Line, or whatever training program you pursued).
But as we progress in the sport and become more comfortable – as with most aspects of life – we tend to have a element of complacency about us.
Expectations that things are going to work out the way they “should,” that our main is going to work perfectly, that everyone will fly the landing pattern, that the winds will stay steady for us to tiptoe out that landing, even that our packer will be having a good day so we can get right back up and do it all over again are not uncommon.
Of course, it helps to think this way, to visualize that everything works out the way it should, so you can focus on the tasks at hand. In fact, there’s actually an element of safety in doing so. But you can still do that while remaining an active participant in the safety game.
Doing small things like practicing your emergency procedures in the plane (touch those handles before every jump, just to remind yourself), working out and sticking to a dive plan with your fellow jumpers, and keeping your head on a swivel under canopy are a few good habits to get into to keep yourself, and those around you, safe.
One of the other things I do is try to stay as educated on the sport as possible. Read the incident reports and why things happen. Watch videos, learn from the good and the bad. Use your downtime (literally) to keep yourself aware. The more your head stays in the game when you’re on the ground, the more you’ll be with it in the sky.
Remember that muscle-memory stuff that was pounded into our heads as students? Same goes for your brain. Keep it active in the sport, even when you’re not jumping for one reason or another. That way, you won’t have to work so hard on that next outing to remember the little nuances of the sport (“is it normally a left-hand pattern?” “wait, do I turn right or left when approaching another jumper under canopy?”), it’ll all be fresh in your mind.
The take away here is that, no matter how skilled a skydiver you are, accidents happen. Luckily for us, there are a number of things you can do to help prevent these accidents from happening. What I mentioned above are just a few of the things you can do, recommendations that I’ve learned from my experiences. What other safety habits do y’all have?
Stay safe – and aware- out there!
Love and blue skies!
Being back in the cold and snowy weather of the Midwest has me pining for the sun, warmth and blue skies of Florida. I can’t help but day dream of the times spent in Ft. Myers, DeLand, Sebastian, Zephyrhills, and Clewiston.
Which is where I will begin my journey – the Everglades Boogie at Skydive AirAdventures.
This was the main event for us: the reason we chose Florida this time of the year as opposed to Arizona or Puerto Rico where other jump buddies were traveling this winter.
The Everglades Boogie caught our eye for a number of reasons: the high altitude jump, the skyvan, the Pitts biplane, and of course, the affordability of traveling to this state.
We kept our budget low by stocking groceries in a cooler and sleeping in our car most nights. Luckily our “midsize” rental ended up being a Dodge Journey.
Fold the back seats down and you’ve got the perfect sleeping arrangements… well, close to perfect, anyhow.
After spending our first day in Ft. Myers, walking along the beach, eating some mediocre seafood and watching the sunset over the Gulf, we headed to Clewiston for our first night around the bonfire.
(Sunset over Ft. Myers Beach)
To our surprise there was only one other group camping out that night – a couple guys who are regulars at Skydive AirAdventures. The following few nights were spent around the bonfire with these fellas.
Here’s video evidence that the times spent around the fire were quite entertaining:
Thanks to Rick and Lisa for the 8 kegs provided after hours. Oh the things free beer will entice you to do…
Anyway, back to the skydiving.
There are a lot of individual stories to tell from this event, but I’ll give you the basic rundown before we go into any specifics.
The first two days were beautiful, a little breezy, but nothing to worry about. The LZ was large enough where I didn’t have to worry too much about off landings. In fact, I only landed off once – into the packing area on the last jump of day 2. This made me think that it’s time to seriously start considering downsizing my canopy. With an exit weight of 135, it gets difficult to make it back to the dropzone on breezy days under my Triathlon 160. But that’s a topic for another day.
Thursday was the first day of the boogie and it was a little slower than anticipated, but by the end of the day the Super Otter was turning loads. To my surprise though, I couldn’t for the life of me get anyone other than Rick to jump on the sunset load. So I ended the day with four. Here’s a video compilation of these jumps.
I edited in a little commentary and music (Angels & Airwaves, one of my favorites!) for your enjoyment as this one is a little lengthy.
As you can see, we’re really working as a team to stay close and relative in our sit. Needless to say this trip gave us a great chance to practice … by the time we got to Zhills we were seeing incredible improvement!
Friday was another beautiful day. The skyvan showed up from DeLand too so our last three jumps were from a tailgate. It’s pretty fun to watch a huge plane poop out people like that.
The GoPro didn’t want to cooperate on Friday, but here are a couple of our skyvan jumps that day: another 2-way sit and a 4-way horny gorilla exit that looks pretty cool. Rick also had a close call with a swooper as you’ll notice at the end of the video. But it’s all good and everyone is okay.
Saturday was our last day at Skydive AirAdventures and the day we took part in a high altitude jump – and my first chop. Both of these will be discussed in greater detail later.
What I do want to take time to mention is how incredible the experience was at Skydive AirAdventures. The Everglades Boogie was run very smoothly, and though I’m sure it seemed like a madhouse to DOZs Rick and Lisa, they pulled it off successfully. There were a number of vendors there doing demos and selling their stuff including Performance Designs, EG Suits, Aerodyne, and more. I was incredibly impressed with the reps at PD…that’s all I’ll say on that for now.
Aside from the boogie, the atmosphere at this DZ is incredible. The regulars were welcoming and Rick and Lisa made us feel right at home. After my cut away Rick was quick to take me aside and make sure I was okay. Thomas is an incredible rigger who took the time to thoroughly check out my rig and repack my reserve as well.
This is definitely a DZ I’ll be visiting again in the near future.
The last evening there was spent around the bonfire, watching Jeff carve a block of ice into a closing pin shot luge. Not only is this guy an incredible wing suiter, he’s also an ice sculptor. Talents abound in the skydiving world!
(The finished product, ready for ice cold shots!)
We also met some fellow mid-westerners out of Missouri who we’re hoping to connect with again soon. If you’re reading, great meeting you Susan!
Thanks to everyone for making this an incredible boogie weekend. I was able to meet fellow skydivers and make some new friends. Can’t wait to get back in the air with y’all again soon.
If you’re ever in South Florida, I highly recommend heading over to Clewiston for a jump or two at Skydive AirAdventures. The staff will take good care of you.
I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the first few days of our trip – in Ft. Myers and around the Everglades Boogie. (All photos below by Ashley Mead)
(Looking out over the Gulf in Ft. Myers)
(Attempting to feed the Heron – notice the shirt!)
(This little guy kept dive bombing for food)
(Sharing a sunset at Ft. Myers Beach)
(The PD tent during the boogie)
(Jet rides were available)
(Last night at the bonfire)