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…
SpeedFly Safety Part 1
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.
The Two Most Common Ways to Die
Currently the two most common ways to die in skydiving are:
- Striking the ground hard after a maneuver made with too little time to recover
- Colliding with a fellow skydiver in free fall or under canopy
These are the reasons why either incident occurs:
- Lack of awareness of altitude
- Lack of understanding of canopy speed/descent rate/recovery time
- Lack of awareness of other skydivers
- Lack of attention to turbulence
- Lack of experience for the type of jump planned/unrealistic expectations
Check out the figures:
- 30,000 jumps = 1000 hours of Canopy Flight
- 300 jumps = 10 hours of Canopy Flight
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 too 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:
- golf swing
- in place turn
- landing pattern
- equipment check
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 Mistakes
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.
- If you see someone else recovering after making a low manoeuvre under canopy, use that as a warning for yourself.
- If you reach for the ground with one foot during your flare and end up diving your canopy off to one side, remind yourself: ‘next jump: must focus on a level flare!’
Extreme Performance Takes Years
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:
- Have a huge dream
- Start skydiving
- Become fully proficient in free fall and canopy flying
- Get an in depth knowledge of the equipment necessary
- Start wing suiting and gain proficiency
- Start BASE jumping and gain proficiency
- Learn the spots, exit point, weather conditions
- Plot the lines, angles and trajectories
- Survive all of that lot and maybe feel ready enough to step off…
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…
Where are you now?
- What is your level of experience/awareness?
- What is or feels too fast/slow to you at this moment?
- Can you already get 100% performance from your current canopy?
Check in with your state of mind and body prior to jumping.
Do a mental check, your state of mind, general and emotional.
- Ready to learn?
- Feeling stressed or angry?
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:
- Goal setting Goals can help you with motivation and the structure of your path through the sport.
- Breathing This is completely unconscious 100% of the time; however we can choose to use the way we breathe to help physically and psychologically prepare ourselves.
- Visualization What you see is what you get; the clearer you can visualize or feel what you are about to do the easier it is to achieve.
- Fitness Are you strong/flexible enough to perform the jump that you are about to do? Should you warm up prior to jumping? Maybe you have a couple of fun jumps planned with your buddies, or maybe you have a 20 jump training day or 3 hour tunnel session ahead, each may require different levels of preparation.
- Nutrition/hydration Easily fixed on a 3 jump day in the UK but your first training camp in 32 degrees might need you to rethink your usual plan.
- Hangover/medication As well as being aware of your own physical state, have a think about how your actions can aversely affect those around you, your friends, skydiving family – some of whom have kids.
Is the size and type of your canopy matched to you, your experience, your discipline, and what you want?
- Condition of lines, trim, slider, pilot chute
- Performance range, get to know your canopy in all of its flight modes. – slow flight modes – aggressive flight modes (turns, dives – approach, flare and landing
- Landing pattern Learn and always use a landing pattern. It is your responsibility to follow the rules of the road, we rarely fly on our own.
- Downsize intelligently Change model, downsize and upsize intelligently, with qualified advice
- Get coaching Often we are keen to spend many hard earned pounds in the tunnel but what about under canopy? If you don’t survive your landings, you don’t get to go back into free fall.