A Femurous Activity
Working in gear sales you can spot an accident waiting to happen...
BASE jumping and skydiving are simple. That’s how we like it and that’s how it works. We get in a plane or on the edge of a structure with sufficient altitude, jump, open our parachute and land. Simple. This isn’t a complex process.
But, perhaps, we’ve made it too simple. And perhaps we’ve shown the world that it’s more simple and less complex than they think. It’s become too easy for people to enter these sports without fully appreciating some of the complexity and understanding the significant risks that they must mitigate.
In skydiving we police entry to the sport but, depending on which country you live in and which dropzone you are at, often this is only until students have demonstrated an extremely basic skill level and understanding. Sure, there is more training that they need to do but often they are let loose into the big wide world with a limited skill set and left to their own devices.
In BASE jumping, anyone can give it a go. There have been recent fatalities with people that have limited experience in the BASE environment that wouldn’t listen to their friends. There have been people that buy gear off the internet, make a handful of skydives and then head to a known BASE exit point.
Perhaps this is Darwin’s Law. But perhaps we could do something to stop this unnecessary death and the destruction of life that will inevitably bring a bad name to our sports. In my post on Preventing Death I highlighted that much of this can be avoidable. Our lack of understanding of the complexity of the environment that we operate within is a serious factor and a message that we need to communicate.
In the BASE community there has been much debate about whether manufacturers should police their gear sales. In the past, this was more strongly enforced. Perhaps this would help but these people will always find ways to get hold of gear. In skydiving perhaps we should include additional rules and regulations for the jumpers that have just progressed from student status; oversee and monitor them more closely and provide additional checks and mandatory briefings.
But perhaps we need to keep the policy simple. Additional rules and regulations take away the very freedom that most of us love about our sports. And many of us hate being restricted and told what to do. There may be a place for regulation and at some stage it may be forced upon us. If it’s forced upon us it is likely that it will be done in a way that is not of our choosing, by an external organisation, and not in a considered and self-imposed way – something we really need to avoid.
This lack of complexity in our lives means we are more likely to miss the obvious detail – I’ve been there
That means we need to clean up our act. We need to simplify the complexity in certain areas yet embrace and promote it in others. There is only so much that can be simplified – skydivers and BASE jumpers need to understand that these sports aren’t quite as simple as they might first appear. Keeping things simple can be a life-saver. But failure to acknowledge the complexity can also be a killer.
I believe that education is a large part of our way forward. I would much prefer to educate rather than legislate. Yet we must educate in a way that people want to be educated. This isn’t always done overtly in a traditional manner, but sometimes passively and innovatively. We can continue to educate people in a traditional manner and with digital content, but we shouldn’t stop there. We can educate people passively, not necessarily without them realising it but by creating quality content that draws them in and creates a thirst, yet has underlying educational content. In this manner we may be more likely to achieve longer lasting effects. Even if our message is small, if it’s embedded within quality content it is more likely to resonate.You can read more detail about this in another article, Educating for a Safer World.
KISS has been a well used – perhaps over-used – acronym and mantra for some time. Keep It Simple Stupid. If we could keep it simple, there was less potential of something going wrong. But perhaps that’s where it was going wrong. Perhaps we need to embrace the complexity and work with it rather than avoid it.
Back in 1981 a couple of psychologists asked a simple question: 'How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?' 81% answered 'two'. It wasn’t until later that 96% added that the animals were actually on the ark with Noah and not Moses. Our minds can miss the simple yet seemingly obvious detail. We often fail to focus on the entire landscape during our cognitive processing. Keeping it simple won’t necessarily help – when we’re confronted with simplicity we’re less likely to be challenged and more likely to overlook the detail. BASE jumping and skydiving can require split second judgement. Failure to focus on the landscape and missing a critical detail can be fatal.
In BASE jumping and skydiving, our lives have got easier. We can do back-to-back jumps using 2 rigs and packers. 20 jump days used to be unheard of but are now normal in a team’s training programme. Fast cable cars and easily accessible exit points create an easy opportunity. We can jump with much more ease than used to be the case.
This lack of complexity in our lives means we are more likely to miss the obvious detail – I’ve been there. If we’re keeping things simple we’re not questioning, we’re not asking the ‘what if’ questions, and we’re not looking for alternative answers and solutions that might just save our lives. Sure, we’re not completely brain dead, but it’s too easy to gloss over the landscape and not focus on the detail.
We need to embrace complexity. We need to create that challenge that keeps our minds active and ensures appropriate mental cognition. We need to challenge our brains and create mental complexity, forcing us to spot the flaws in the detail before it’s too late. We need to complicate the simple!
Is what we do really that simple? Or are we just ignorant of the factors involved? For example, in Preventing Death I highlighted how little most skydivers and base jumpers know about the weather, and then asked how expert we really were. Perhaps we need to re-invigorate the complexity and include this detail as a regular fixture within our routine.
We need to include the complexity: learn and understand the conditions, turbulence, updrafts, roll over, wind sheers, thermal activity, local conditions/advice, anabatic and katabatic winds, and a multitude of other factors that I’m just touching upon. Introduce these factors and considerations into your pre-jump routine. Rehearse. What are your actions for all likely and possible scenarios? Have you practiced them that day and before that jump? Rehearse. Make it complex. With added complexity it is harder to gloss over the landscape and miss the detail. With more to consider, you are required to invoke a deeper cognitive thought process and a more detailed focus on the overall environment. You become less likely to miss the finite detail. This complexity might just save your life.
Take time to understand the complexity of what it is that you do. Break down the components and consider them one at a time. Add these aspects into your planning and understand the second and third order effects of each outcome. It doesn’t matter who you are, how experienced or how much of an expert you’ve become, your brain can still gloss over the landscape and miss that life-saving detail. It can happen to you.
Whatever level you’re at, if you’re finding something simple then increase your caution and awareness, remove the complacency, add just a little more complexity and ensure you remain fully focussed while undertaking what can be an unforgiving activity. Good luck.