In 2010 Italy had its worst year ever for skydiving accidents, a true 'annus horribilis' with 10 fatalities. At the end of this period a friend sent me this request:
“…after a really bad year that caused too many incidents, a group of people felt the need to talk about safety and rules. Often people think about rules like a compulsory activity that coerces skydiving into a cage, reducing the concept of freedom that is linked to our sport. Also for this reason we want to talk to the people not by forcing anyone into doing something but rather building their minds and souls.
“Obviously we are not poets or philosophers but we firmly believe that our campaign must touch at the same time technical concepts and awareness, consciousness and responsibility. We need your experience also to harmonize the above mentioned concepts and to find the best feasible and suitable way to divulge this message because safety and knowledge are not rules but overall needs for all of us.”
With the financial and technical support of Speedfly – GianLuca Caciagli – I put together a presentation and during the winter months of 2011-12 we drove to every DZ in Italy (bar 2), fuelled by espresso in a Fiat 500.
The presentation was in Italian, and just in notes. This article expresses the same concepts in written English, for the benefit of all and to save on espresso…
We only have to look around us to see friends dying in our sport – rarely because they did not open their canopy or that it malfunctioned – but under fully opened, incredibly well designed parachutes, and after receiving training that gave them the information they needed to survive.
Currently the two most common ways to die in skydiving are:
These are the reasons why either incident occurs:
Check out the figures:
As a kid I expected that when I reached 100 jumps I would be a sky god and at 1000 jumps I assumed that a Nirvana-like state awaited me
Now let's think about how many hours it takes in another sport to be considered an expert, 1000 hours of practise would not take you to the top of many sports, in fact 1000 hours would barely be a couple of years of full-time practise on a tennis court. When we learn to drive, we are nervous and make mistakes but after only a short while, more than 10 hours, we learn the basics, our awareness and ability slowly increase (and driving is a very normal everyday activity). However if someone asked us to drive a Formula-1 car at top speed in traffic after only 10 hours of driving experience, we might ask them if they were insane.
Considering the high speed environment that we now fly our canopies in, people often downsize way too soon and are quickly faced with 3 dimensional traffic issues.
As a kid I expected that when I reached 100 jumps I would be a skygod and that when I thought about reaching 1000 jumps I assumed that a Nirvana-like state awaited me. In fact the opposite appeared to be true, at 100 jumps I was still scared enough to be aware of many of the dangers but at 1000 my mis-guided self-assurance got me into more dangerous scenarios.
It did not take me many more jumps to realise that we never ‘arrive’ at the peak of this sport; there is a constant upward learning curve or inverse pyramid. The majority of my jumping has been FS and I therefore feel relaxed in most FS situations, however as a newby freeflyer I am quickly pushed outside of my comfort zone if the group becomes too big or the speed to fast.
More awareness of self and others, specifically during canopy flight. Awareness of an environment comes with experience.
The only way to become experienced is to have experiences! Therefore if we wish to avoid painful mistakes we should learn the correct habits as soon as possible. For example, as a tunnel coach, when I am faced with an individual who has thousands of jumps and no tunnel time, who wishes to re-learn the basics of body flight it often takes way longer than teaching a non-skydiver the same skills.
at 100 jumps I was still scared enough to be aware of many of the dangers but at 1000 my mis-guided self-assurance got me into more dangerous scenarios
We learn best by repetition of the correct movements, for example:
Remember on your first jump course, how when you were faced with the challenge of checking your gear, how hard it was; however after you learned and practised a logical sequence, it then became second nature.
Find mentors, someone that can coach you and communicate well with you. This will vary from person to person as coaches each have their own distinctive style and method, what works for one group may not work for another. Coaching is vital in all sports. Canopy skills are not best learned by trial and error.
Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. For example if you were shooting at a target with a pistol and you fired too far to the left you would automatically notice the result and fire further to the right.
When we see someone at the peak of their performance (Jay Moledzki, Michael Jordan, Valentino Rossi etc), what we are seeing is the result of years of practice and dedication. For us to assume that we are capable of achieving the same result with little or no training is crazy! However we CAN learn from these masters by modeling their training methods.
When you see someone at the top of a cliff in a wingsuit about to step off and engage in proximity flying, ask yourself; did they just arrive at this moment? Or did they practice and build experience over tens of years and thousands of jumps? Let's have a think about the steps that might have brought the wing suit flyer to the cliff top:
In order for great jazz musicians to be able to improvise, they will need a wealth of experience and outstanding ability from which to draw their own ideas into music. Let’s make sure that we have our own experience and ability before we start drawing our own lines…
Check in with your state of mind and body prior to jumping.
Do a mental check, your state of mind, general and emotional.
How was the week at work? How was the drive to the DZ? Are you relying upon the act of skydiving to relax you, or should you take a few deep breaths before you walk to manifest?
These tools can help you reach the desired state of mind:
Is the size and type of your canopy matched to you, your experience, your discipline, and what you want?
The second half of this article looks at ways to reduce your chance of being in a collision and can be found here