Flying Apologetically: For the Ladies

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My dear, sweet sisters in skydiving. I’ve got a few things to share with you, and I hope you’ll take this the right way…

Author Alethia Austin, freefly coach, has something to get off her chest

Please stop flying like you’re apologizing. Please put down the Ps & Qs and the learned behavior of fading into the background.

Show up. Be here and be here with strength.

What I’ve learned over these years of coaching and running skydiving events is that we can glean a lot from flying with and learning from other women in the sport.

There’s so much to gain in your experience about learning body awareness, mental approach, body position, technique, and canopy flying when you’re learning from another female. So, sisters, if any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to seek out some of the female coaches out there and learn some of the ways in which you can grow as a complete skydiver.

We can glean a lot from flying with and learning from other women”
Photo: The Project 19 team by Ewan Cowie

Our Brothers Are Amazing, But There Is A Palpable Difference Here

Tons of gratitude for the men before us and currently leading our sport for blazing the way in nearly everything about our sport from the gear we trust and fly, to disciplines of flying, to dropzone builds and piloting, to safety. Those men in the sport have led the path in so many ways. And for that, we can be so proud and grateful.  

However, there are palpable differences in the way we show up to a skydive as a woman in this sport. In a skills camp with a mixed group of flyers, in my morning brief when I ask what everyone can fly and what they’re working on, the females nearly always will underrate their flying skills, while the men will oftentimes be accurate, if not a little bit overrated.

In the sky, I’ll see the women linger in the outside spaces of a line, tip-toeing their way from exit to the ground. While the men will be racing to the line, getting inside like their lives depended on it, and showing up on the ground confident and knowing they smashed it (even if maybe they didn’t). 

So the way the men coach is generally reflective of that natural male instinct of being the alpha. Which we could definitely learn a lot from. Sometimes, however, it means that the softer, more submissive females retreat to the background, don’t glean as much out of the day, and continue to linger in the space outside of the jump because they haven’t fully stepped into that masculine side of their personality or their flying. 

Inka Tiitto and Alethia Austin flying
Photo by Daniel Angulo

Self Talk Can Steal Your Day 

Too many times a female student of mine suffers from an undisciplined, overactive mind. She didn’t set the right expectations for her day, because well, immediate perfection is definitely not attainable for most of us when we’re learning something new. She also doesn’t deal with the feeling of sucking as well as she could if she’d just allow herself the time to be in the somewhat uncomfortable learning stages of flying. So, when expectations are unrealistic and there’s no space to allow for imperfections while truly learning something new, I’ll see a woman go from showing up excited to fly to wearing a heavy coat of disappointment and shame.

Listen, ladies, you are showing up on training jumps, coaching days and events looking to expand your flying skills. That in itself should be an exciting embrace of showing your “failures” and errors in order to learn where you can improve your flying. It’s hard to coach a perfect flyer, so the more you show up with some rough spots, the more we can work to shine those parts up together.

So you had a shitty jump? Yeah, it happens. That is precisely what you do when you’re learning and building on something new. Suck it up and move on. The next jump awaits and if you’re not exiting that door with a fire inside of you to feeling your body, feel the wind, do better on this jump than the last, well, you’re missing out on some true power. Use those upsets and those “failures” to your advantage, don’t wear them and collapse under their weight. 

Use those upsets and those failures to your advantage, don’t wear them and collapse under their weight

Women learning from other women
Image from the Mexican Ladies Record 2022, by Norman Kent Productions

You Don’t Need Permission To Fly

So often I’m leading a jump and my arm is getting tired from waving over the woman who has been flying the whole skydive with me, but just 5 slots away. I have to tell my students time and time again to join me in their slot. That flying the whole skydive 5 slots away shows me they can fly on the inside, but they choose not to. It’s a mindset. It’s as if I have to personally invite my students to fly right next to me, even if it’s scary. Even if they might have an awkward line, even if they’re flying noisy. I rarely get this with my male students. They’re working the whole skydive to be as close as possible to the leader. They’re not waiting for an invitation, and often times if another isn’t in their slot, they’ll take that slot to be closer to the leader. Vs my female students, flying coy, waiting for permission to fly better, and waiting for me to personally invite them in, tell them they’re great, tell them they can do it, etc.

Ladies, you have the permission. You paid the same jump slot price as the next guy. You’re paying the same coaching as anyone else. Fly like you know this and fly like you mean it. Are you going to make some mistakes? Yes, yes you are sister. That’s what we do. We’re humans and we aren’t perfect. Be safe as F, but fly like you deserve to be on the inside, not a spectator.

Which leads me to: find your fire!

Find Your Fire!
Photo: Melissa Nelson-Lowe by Kayd Miller Photography

Find Your Fire 

I get to participate in 1-2 events a year due to coaching and running events full time, in addition to my many days throughout the year of hard core, ugly training days.  So, when I show up as a paid participant, I get to practice what I preach in the words here. I put away the pressure to be perfect that I put on myself, since I’m a paid skydiving coach and the self-imposed idea that I can’t show up and expose the areas I’m working on in my own personal goals. I put those unrealistic expectations away and commit to the suck. I show up for the jumps in the morning after creating some time to get into the mindset I need in order to fly like I mean it.

So, I throw on my headphones, put on the music that absolutely helps ignite my fire, I share my smile and poise with those in my group, but with that music in my headphones, as I quietly look around the DZ at my competitors in my group, I think to myself “I’m going to fly faster, stronger and closer to you all day.”

I keep my female softness & politeness on the outside, but on the inside I’m staring at my male & female competitors, building the competitive heat I want and need to be able to be the strongest flyer in my group. Spoiler alert: My ego is okay with admitting that I’m not always the strongest flyer in the group. But, I definitely show up flying UNapologetically, on the inside and without any invitation whatsoever. That’s the power: I enter the skydive with fire ready to battle and ready to learn.

I enter the skydive with fire

Hannah Parker coaching
Photo by Ewan Cowie

I know there are many more male coaches out there than there are females, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of females out there. There are a plethora of women around the world leading great skydives at dropzones and in the tunnel. That you don’t know their names, well my sweet sister, that’s on you. Do yourself a favor and get to know the women leading those jumps. Get to know the women who are in our beloved sport who have something to share with you. Go fly with a female coach, feel that sisterhood. Feel the feeling of really being understood by a similar body type and someone who probably has a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to learn as a female.

Don’t leave out our male counterparts and all of their value, but do yourself a favor and go fly and learn from some females to balance it out.

And if you need some recommendations on some of the women shredding in our sport, give me a shout. There are far too many to list, and many I won’t even know of.

Hope to see you all around.

Love and connection, my sisters. 

“Love and connection my sisters”
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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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