When the Poop Hits the Fan

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Tales of the Unexpected…

… During Competition!

I want to tell you about 3 experiences I’ve had in competition and how I dealt with them. I’m a cameraman on the British female 4-way team, NFTO and over the last few years, I’ve come to recognise that you need to train for when sh*t unexpectedly happens.

NFTO team during a 2018 training
Photo by Luc Van Britsom

1. Round 1 of the 2016 World Championships

It’s round 1, it had to be and I’m about to get on the airplane! As I climb the ladder, I feel a twanging sensation and realise the elastic of my right bootie has snapped. There’s no repairing it at this late stage, so I get on the airplane and roll the bootie material underneath itself as tight as I can.

Climbing out on the float rail, I can feel my unsheathed foot instantly getting cold and it makes me feel vulnerable. But then I remember, I’d done a few training jumps at Skydive Hibaldstow simulating exactly this situation and that helps me to relax. It’s no biggie, I’ve been here before and I nail the exit.

My broken GoPro clips
Forget the plastic GoPro clips. Choose metal!
Photo by Simon Brentford

2. Round 3 of the 2018 World Championships

Two years later in Australia, I manage to snap 2 GoPro clips en-route to the airfield in the bus. The team saw me snap the first one, so I swap my 3rd stills camera in and despite being careful, I manage to snap one of the legs of that GoPro clip too! Fortunately, it held in place and the girls didn’t notice. The girls had enough pressure as it was, so I kept that second failure to myself. Next year, I’ll eliminate that problem by replacing those plastic clips with metal.

Photo deliberately taken from flat angle to illustrate the hand--behind-the-bootie problem that can cost the team points
A bust that hurt… a lot…
Photo by Simon Brentford

3. Being on the Correct Side of the Formation

Again, at the 2018 World Champs, I came down from round 1 thinking, ‘Yeah, that was a great skydive, we rocked!’

But when the scores came in, I felt like someone had slapped me around the chops with a wet salmon. I’d given the team a camera bust right at the beginning of the jump because a hand was hidden behind a bootie. The judging was harsher than I remembered two years back! On the video slo-mo, you could see the reason for the penalty and there was little room for argument.

It wasn’t a case of unexpected equipment failure, but it was a problem to be dealt with!

Fortunately, for the past 2 years, I’d been training and thinking about which side of the formation I should be on. This was from the perspective of minimising grips hidden behind booties / helmets, rather than presenting formations neatly across the screen.

A “desirable angles document” I’ve created, showing the best angles to avoid busts on each formation. Thanks to Axis Flight School for the Dive Pool — by Simon Brentford

The drawback is that many blocks tend to flip 180 degrees (like #2 and #6 amongst others). Consequently, it’s not always possible to move around in-time and your only recourse is to present as steep an angle as you can, which you should do anyway. Moving around too much however also makes the video look dizzy, which the judges don’t like.

There’s an argument to say that it is up to the performers in the team to present the grips to me; but I disagree. I think there’s plenty of times where points can be saved, and I’m convinced I’ve done it already. At the moment, it’s a real work in progress, it’s not always possible and in time, I may abandon the idea altogether.

See bust on Round 1 at sec 22. A small shift in camera angle would have scored…

Training for Problems

During the course of a normal training season, I’ve got a list of jumps I do to simulate problems:

  • Jump without one or both camera wings off
  • Jump with one or both booties off
  • Practice for when I can’t see the exit count and the team just goes
  • Being the first team out at 10,500ft when the red light comes on and my camera helmet is not switched on or even on my head
  • Changing my stills to video whilst hanging on the camera step before the team can key the exit

The problem is that when something goes wrong, it can instantaneously rob you of your confidence and concentration, leaving you distracted and only operating at 90% instead of 100%. And not having your mojo is likely to be costing you points!

when something goes wrong, it can instantaneously rob you of your confidence and concentration”

There’s one area, you really can’t train for and that is competition. It’s the sense of anxiety you feel knowing it’s round 1 and you must perform. The best way to train for that is simply to do lots of competitions, entering each one over many years into the bank of self-confidence.

If you’re a performer in the team, a freeflyer or any other type of skydiver, you can train for problems too. For example:

  • Leaving a bootie off
  • Practice restarting a stalled exit count
  • Stopping the skydive mid-flow and doing a mental reset
  • Do a 2 minute tunnel session with your zip undone to simulate a blown zip in freefall
  • Doing a few lower 7,000ft exits. This happened around 2010 at the UK Nationals due to weather where the meet director sent an entire round with that reduced working time
  • Asking the pilot to run in faster for a few jumps. I’ve been at a few competitions where the run-in speeds have been ballistic and that can make a big difference to your hill work
The British team during the opening ceremony, 2018 World Meet
Photo by Matthias Walde

Extra Stuff

When I take part in a competition, I always take a load of spares with me. It’s more preparation than actual training exercises. These include: spare jumpsuit, goggles, backup video cameras, anti-fogging gel, memory sticks, camera shoe nuts, etc. I lent out 2 of my backup video cams when other cameramen had problems at the last world meet, it was good to help out.

A Work in Progress

You can train all the techniques and beautiful routines you like, but when the unexpected happens, that’s where you save a bunch of points. I’m constantly striving to think of more unusual situations, single point of failures and general hapless situations to knock on my door. The evidence suggests, it’s going to happen again.

In the first paragraph of this article, I wrote “for when sh*t unexpectedly happens”. Perhaps it should say “for when sh*t inevitably happens”.

Prepare for the journey, enjoy the ride and celebrate at the end !
Photo from medal ceremony World Meet 2018, French & English teams
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Meet: Simon Brentford

Cameraman for team NFTO since 2015
5200 Skydives, 1000+ BASE jumps, FS & WS coach
UK National Champion 4-way 2004 (as point with Wizards), 2018, 2019, 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion 8-way 2019 & 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion Speed skydiving 3 times
4-way at World Cup, Saarlouis, Germany 2011
Speed Skydiving at Mondial, Dubai 2012 (came 6th)
4-way Female at World Air Games, Dubai 2015 (came 5th)
4-way Female at World Championships 2016, Chicago, USA (took Bronze)
4-way Female at World Championships 2018, Gold Coast, Oz (took Silver)
4-way Female at World Cup 2019, Eloy, USA (took Silver)

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