Pilot in Command – Take Control!
Flying a parachute confidently is far safer than being timid...
Imagine, if you will indulge me for a moment, that you are a sprinter at the Olympics, ready to run the 100 meters. You have practiced powering out of the starting blocks hundreds of times. You know how important it is to fire from your prone position, like a jet-powered rocket. You deliberately shake off each calf in turn and carefully place the heel of your foot in full contact with the blocks; you put just the right amount of arch in first the left hand then the right; you take the weight of your body.. ‘Ready’ says the starter… you raise your butt in perfect balance… ‘Set’… and wait for the starter’s gun…
You will be looking at the precise place you want your body to explode to from the push of your legs, like a pilot from an ejector seat. You will have trained to clear your mind of everything but the race right now. Last week’s injury has gone, your concern at your rival’s top form does not exist for you right now, all that is in your mind is complete focus on the task at hand – to begin the race like a catapult and channel every ounce of strength and desire into the ultimate speed you are capable of. Then and only then can you give your maximum to the race.
This moment of being ‘On Your Marks’ is directly analogous to lining up in the aircraft ready for the moment of - not an exit - but an entrance, the start of the skydive, the 'race'. The key to bring out your best performance is to begin in the perfect state; physically prepared, mentally ready and concentrating on your objectives.
You should be looking to the person giving the count. Nothing should be in your mind but complete focus on your exit goals
I was prompted to write this article on the 2-year anniversary of the Women’s World Record and the re-circulation of this lovely Parachutist cover, which had so many people commenting on my facial expression. It’s clear in the photo I’m relaxed, focused and ready for whatever the dive may throw at us. Also called ‘on the line’, ‘the flow’, this is the state of perfect focus; fully alert and completely tuned into the moment. There is no past or future, you are totally in the now.
Here are some steps to help achieve this state of nirvana! ;-)
You have rehearsed the dive on the ground and visualised in the aircraft so you are 100% confident in what you need to do. You have total trust in your team, and faith in your decision-making abilities, those you will need in the next 3 minutes. You have absolute confidence in the equipment you jump, your packer, your emergency drills and your survival skills. You have checked your gear when you put it on and before exit. You cannot be in the zone if you are worrying about your landing and whether you are going to have a malfunction! If you do have any doubts you need to deal with them on the ground (change your packer, rent more suitable gear, talk to your plane captain about the girl who flares out 1,000 feet high) so you can leave your worries on the ground too.
As the exit count is given, I take a deep breath so that I exhale as we step off the plane… this helps me remain calm and focused during the first few critical moments
You have done some stretching or exercise in the morning to warm up your body, so your muscles are ready for every extreme action, and in good shape to take your landing without strain. You have focussed on your breathing to help your calm, relaxed but focussed state. Ideally you have timed your breathing so you exhale on exit to help you relax and concentrate 100%.
You have visualised the exit in ultra slow motion and in real time. You know absolutely what you want to achieve. The same position in the door that you took on the mock-up, you know the flow of your section of door-jamb, ie, who is where and the order of getting in the door. You know the precise place in the door where your head/legs/arms will exit; the exact angle of attack of your body on the relative wind. You know whether you need to give others priority in your peripheral vision, who is giving the count and your line of sight to that person. You know when you will close your helmet and do any other gear checks/adjustments, such as dealing with oxygen hose. You have a clear break-off plan, a deployment plan and a canopy flight plan. Being so prepared means you are also ready for the unexpected.
“Gosh we’ve been here a long time, I wonder if they’re waiting for a cloud to – Oh f*ck!
A trail 'entrance' adds a different challenge because you cannot see the count so it can be almost a surprise when the exit signal comes, especially if it is not from where you anticipated. I see many people startled by a shout of ‘go’ and hesitating before they leave, wasting valuable seconds and pissing off the people behind them. When you are preparing to get into the door of a trail plane you should be ready for anything, aware the signal could come before you are lined up, and poised on a knife-edge to pile out the door and get moving. The signals to go (generally) are any of the following: you see the exit from the lead plane; you see the exit from another plane; one (or more) of the floaters leaves; an audible ‘go’ from a late diver (who is looking at the other planes); as a floater, you feel a (gentle!) push or tap from the inside divers (who have heard the audible count you have no chance of hearing). Any of these should have you instantly firing out/off the door, to your pre-imagined place on the slipstream.
I find it helpful to have a mantra when I get in the door; a cue to remind me of my primary goal when I start the skydive. On big-ways it could be “Dive, dive, dive”… (late diver) or “Kate, Kate, Kate” … (floater on trail plane, Kate is the base) or ”Tight, tight, tight” (mid diver wanting to keep the exit tight). On an 8-way jump it's often the puzzle ‘H, J, 6, 8’ or in competition ‘Calm, calm, calm”. The brain can fool the body – and the body can fool the brain – so you can use both resources to fool yourself into a state of calm! Having a mantra is especially valuable in the trail plane because it stops the mind wandering (Wow we’ve been here a long time, I wonder if they’re waiting for a cloud to – Oh fu*k they've gone!”). With a mantra, whenever the exit happens, you are on it!
Nothing should be in your mind but complete focus on your exit goals
In a big-way scenario, you should have a clear flying target so as soon your body hits the slipstream you are working towards it. As we know, the goals on exit are to present, identify the base, intercept it. Practice will speed up the time between these steps. Being mentally prepared for where your target is likely to be helps a great deal. On run-in/climb-out you can assess the position of the lead plane so you know more accurately where to look for your clue. Having a plan for your initial dive or float towards the base and getting going in that direction immediately after exit works, provided you are quick to spot the target and adjust if need be. (If you exit roughly level with the base, this isn’t a good plan, identify before moving.)
Above all, you should be ‘on your marks’. Like the Olympic sprinter, a coiled spring of pent-up power ready to shoot into action. Many times I have smoked people on a big-way especially off a tailgate, because I had a great exit and got going straight away while they were still figuring out where they were. (“Yes Dan, I know I’m not supposed to pass people but if the exit ‘happens’ to put me in front of them there doesn’t seem any point in hanging around! ;-)” ) Those first few seconds out the door in a big-way are generally the time to fly HARD! If you don't you’ll find your separation massively increases, whereas getting going like a bat out of hell will make your job a whole lot easier by closing the distance. Don't have the attitude of 'I'll get out and see what happens' .. I'll tell you what will happen, you won't be where you want to be! Get out and go like fu*k! Hmmm, there's a good mantra . “GLF, GLF, GLF”…
Placing 100% focus on exit will get your jump off to the best possible start, which will reflect in the rest of the skydive. On your marks… Get set… GO!