Wingsuit coach Flavien Mazzon unveils a Sneaky Bad Habit!
I coach in the wingsuit tunnel nearly every day. I have seen a lot of wingsuiters; students of mine, students of other coaches, complete beginners or absolute skygods. I’ve also seen every type of mistakes or bad habit; both obvious ones and sneaky ones.
The one I’m going to talk about is pretty sneaky because it is often not diagnosed and corrected, despite the fact that it is one of the most common problems (after stiff arms obviously). This is something that I struggled with during my own progression because I didn’t know what was my mistake. It’s a simple thing that prevents beginners from becoming good flyers and prevents good flyers from becoming machines ripping the sky.
It’s all about the ability to fly steeper.
I forgot how many base jumpers asked me to set the tunnel at a flatter angle because “you know I am very experienced and I glide a lot!”… then proceed to pop up and back to the ceiling without control, unstable and unable to fly down. When I ask, most of them know their max glide, but when I ask their minimum glide or their maximum speed … they usually don’t know! Have you ever flown at different angles?
This problem is tricky because you feel that you are flying well. You effectively have a good glide ratio… but, you have poor control and poor speed. This can be difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look.
So, where should you look and what should you change?
Body position mistakes
Usually, this problem comes with a head pushed very far forward, compared to the chest. Hips high and bent knees.
This is a position that is really ‘floaty’ and a bit more unstable because of the de-arched hips and flat chest, and also very slow because of the bent body shape, creating a lot of drag and the poor use of the leg-wing. And, when the time comes to dive in this position, it feel super difficult! The head tries to reach even more forward but it’s already fully extended, the chest is locked and you see the whole formation disappear down and forward. “My wingsuit is too big! I fly better than the base! They should fly more floaty!” …
… Or maybe you should fly faster?! 😉
General principles and better body position
The wingsuit is built to be flat. Most of the time, the most efficient flying position will be a flat one. Arms fully open and aligned with the body and, more importantly; head, shoulders, hips and toes on the same line; fully flat, with a spine as long as possible.
With this straight spine it becomes possible to choose your angle, by putting more weight on your chest, or letting the fully open leg-wing rise and tilt you into a steeper angle, where you will find you have much more control. You can keep using your hips to get a better arch/stable position or a more de-arched/efficient position, but always keeping a long, extended body.
As you start flying more steeply, your speed will greatly increase. More speed means more stability (exactly like a bike). Once the angle is set you can start playing with your arms: dihedral or anhedral to trade some efficiency for more stability and vice-versa; or closing the arms a bit to kill some power and match your jump leader’s speed. But remember, always with a straight body and keeping your head in line with your spine.
If you want to achieve this, try to put in some solo jumps where you slowly dive to reach your steepest angle. Just think about keeping your head straight and lean forward as slowly as possible. When you start to get unstable, slowly flatten your angle (very slowly! No over-piloting!). And find yourself a GPS! You will be able to put some actual numbers on the feelings you get, and seeing yourself improve your ‘high score’ in total speed will awaken the ‘gamer’ inside you! 😉
Fly with your chest as much as possible. Train for performance wingsuit competition. Use a GPS. Analyse your flights. Experiment with different angles. Optimize them. Even if you don’t compete in the end, you will learn how to exploit 100% of whatever wingsuit you are using. This will make you a better and safer BASE jumper or skydiver. You will start asking to be last in the plane just to show off how fast and cleanly you can reach the leader! You’ll discover that you can actually do massive flares or fly super-fast in formation. In short, you will have fun! 😄
So, enjoy and fly safe!