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An article in the Spaceland Safety Series
Ah, the feel of freefall on your face, your hair whipping in the wind, fantastic!…
…wait a minute! If you have long hair (past your shoulders), hair whipping around in freefall is actually a bad thing.
Aside from the Gordian knot that results from 120mph of wind whipping your hair around, hair that is very long can actually cause a malfunction when you deploy your parachute. This is highly unusual but it has happened, and to very experienced skydivers; here’s one jumper’s story of a hair-main entanglement that turned into a hair-main-reserve entanglement…
“So I taught AFF that morning, and thought the weather would be bad, so my hair was down. The weather got good enough for fun jumps, so I threw in one long braid down my back, and went for a fun jump. I tucked it in for exit. I knew the strap on my Z1 wasn't doing its job very well lately, but no big deal, right… never been a problem before!
“It obviously came out during freefall. When I deployed, throwing my pilot chute powerfully to the side like I always do, I felt my head get jerked. I reached back and felt my braid COMPLETELY wrapped in bridle and risers. My d-bag was banging around on my right shoulder. I reached for my handles, and thought, “this is going to hurt”. I was fully prepared to have my hair ripped out of my head. After I cutaway, I felt it towing from my head. I'm not sure if my three rings released. So I thought, “this is all I've got” and dumped my reserve into it, and it inflated quickly and beautifully. Then all of my stuff, my risers, bridle, bag, and hair wrapped around my right reserve steering toggle 2 or 3 times.
“I was so busy with that mess, I forgot to pay attention to my handles. I eventually had the thought “Did I keep my handles?” I saw that I did, and I put them both in my left hand, and released my left toggle to steer toward the DZ. I was over the SW intersection with many obstacles. I put the left toggle in my teeth to fly straight back to the DZ. I worked on the right toggle and got it out around 300 feet. My landing was pretty uneventful. Karl quickly realized what happened, and came over to help untangle my main-reserve-hair entanglement.
“My hair still hurts quite a bit, but mostly I'm grateful.. I know I'm lucky to be here… I almost always had two braids, with my hair parted in the middle. If that had happened with a small braid I'm fairly certain it would have torn it off. That day I had only one bigger center braid, and that's the only reason it didn't I think. I lost some hair, but not all of it!
“What is to be learned? Tuck your hair in, every single time, and be sure it will not come out. I now have extra wide hair bands that I have sewn for myself and my friends to make sure that will never happen again.“
Report by Merriah Eakins (D 22063)
Tuck your hair in, every single time, and be sure it will not come out.
Luckily, Merriah was eventually able to clear the mess and land her reserve safely with only some scalp soreness, but it’s an experience no one would want for sure.
There are a couple of ways to capture your tresses safely and comfortably for skydiving. Trust me… tucking a long braid down the back of your jumpsuit is not comfortable under a rig, nor does it always stay in place. And a braid whipping around in freefall can be a significant distraction from that important stuff like checking altitude, deploying, etc.
1. Braid it and pull the braid up straight up over your head under your helmet (you are wearing one, right?). If you have been jumping with your hair out of your helmet and switch to pulling your braid in, you might find that you need a size larger helmet to fit everything securely.
2. If your hair is super long, you might need to wind the braid(s) around the crown of your head to contain it all.
3. With short or long braids, consider using a stretchy skullcap (ideal) or bandanna to keep everything neatly contained and your hair out of your eyes. These are also really useful at the wind tunnel, and you can get them at most any sportswear store for $15 or less. There is also the currently popular Buff-style head/neckwear, which you can usually get for free or very little as a branded promotional item from a skydiving gear manufacturer, drop zone, or tunnel.
4. Another option is to wrap your hair into a bun, tie that with an elastic, and tuck the whole thing under your helmet liner.
If you've been jumping with your Rapunzel locks in the wind and we've convinced you to contain them, awesome! But be advised: Your helmet may or may not fit with all that hair inside! When I kept a long braid, I needed a helmet a size larger than I needed without it. If you find your helmet doesn't fit anymore with your hair in it, perhaps this is a great time to sell it and upgrade.
If you don't own a helmet yet or if you're shopping for a replacement, take your chosen hair containment option to the gear store when you start shopping for helmets. Don't pick out a helmet that's just perfect with your hair down, then try to stuff that mess into it. At best, your helmet will likely be tight enough to give you a headache (especially during long tunnel sessions). Some helmets will work better with your long hair than others; try all the available ones and pick out what works best for YOU.
Now that you have your hair/helmet taken care of, you can focus on rocking out your skydive instead. Blue skies!
Article originally on Skydive Spaceland Houston's website here. Incident and article printed with permission, thanks Christy and Merriah!