Freefly Breakoff

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Breakoff requires ultimate awareness and efficiency in flying

Breakoff in Mexico by Sergey FFRacoon

Breakoff and deployment are two important moments in a skydive where we really need to be on our A-Game. In this two-part article we’ll cover breakoff techniques and deployment…

The goal of breakoff

The goal of any breakoff should be to separate from the group and create as much distance as possible from other jumpers within your airspace to ensure a safe deployment from others. Within that are several things to consider.

Use momentum to create vertical and horizontal separation

At the bottom end of a jump you’ve likely generated a lot of speed. It’s at this point in the skydive where we can convert this speed into separation speed and lift. If we can fly efficiently during this moment through to deployment we can potentially give ourselves an airspace open and away from others and even gain a bit of altitude for deployment.

Head down breakoff by Daniel Angulo

So, how do we use that momentum?

In a vertical skydive, turning a 180 from the center of the group efficiently and tracking away on your back progressively. Meaning: once you make that 180, you don’t pop immediately onto your back, blasting up into the universe putting yourself on an entirely different level, losing horizontal momentum and potentially popping into someone above you.

Angle breakoff by Argy Alvarez

In an angle jump, we used to consider breakoff to mean “turning” 90 degrees from the center when you hear your audible. Now, the safer breakoff is to progressively open the space between each flyer, away from the center line/leader so that by the time you’re ready to deploy, everyone’s line has opened up far from each other with the outside people around 90 degrees from the center line. Back flyers in slot generally hold those lines closest to the center, unless they’re much lower in which case they’re breaking off before the rest of the group (due to their audible going off sooner), and could be taking the outside line for breakoff to ensure they’re in clean airspace sooner.

Backflyers also need to focus big time on their transitions. This is a time when a back to belly transition should be done cleanly, to not lose horizontal momentum as well as maintain the correct heading (vs accidentally turning on transition crossing other lines).

Walking the breakoff
Photo by Barb Zermeno

Stay aware of everyone else

It may sound a bit basic but I see a lot of flyers on breakoff get completely focused on their line or solely on the leader that they omit the important task of looking ahead, behind, above, below and next to them when tracking away. Ideally, we keep our head on a swivel to be sure we’re still flying safely away from others as well as to be aware of anyone we weren’t expecting, such as people who weren’t in their slot on breakoff or people who transitioned off heading and took an unusual line. Staying aware of everyone else will help you stay safe for deployment. 

Work on transitions and angle flying to ensure a safe breakoff

It’s not uncommon for a really good vertical flyer to not be a really good angle flyer, or for a really good back flyer to not be a really good belly flyer. However, tracking away at breakoff will ultimately result in tracking on your belly. When we are flying vertical, we track away on our back, transition, and then track away on our belly. So, the only realistic way to make a safe breakoff is if we know how to efficiently fly on our belly and back and transition on heading safely.

Every skydiver should be putting in time learning how to safely transition on heading without also losing horizontal momentum. They should also be learning how to safely and efficiently track on their belly and back to set them up for safer skydiving.

I see angle flying as an important discipline everyone should know how to do at one of the most important moments in a skydive. Even if you’re not wanting to become a proficient angle flyer, you’re tracking on nearly every skydive you make, so you should be training this skill for efficiency. If you’re a ninja on your back, but don’t transition well, chances are you transition off-heading, losing momentum and putting you in a dangerous space potentially behind or above other unaware jumpers at deployment. Take some time to put in the work on learning angle flying and transitions to make the sky safer for yourself and all of us. 

You’re tracking on nearly every skydive at breakoff, so training this skill should be a priority

Harness all the momentum at breakoff to help you separate from others

Pulling early is not a breakoff

I watched a video a few years back of a group jump where at breakoff, one of the jumpers deployed just a few seconds into the breakoff, as a way of breaking off, only to have another jumper who was still chasing the formation blast through his canopy. I’ve seen early deployments as a breakoff happen more than I like. This idea of pulling early as a breakoff technique poses a few risks. One risk is that without clearing your airspace, deploying puts you at risk for a canopy/body collision. This also creates new risks when you’re suddenly deploying at a higher altitude than was expected for the exit order. Let’s say you were in a group meant to be deploying around 3,500 ft. You broke off at 5 and pulled at 4.5 to get away from the group. But now, if there’s a group behind you with any sort of drift into your airspace who might pull at 3.5 or even lower, you run the risk of close openings/body passing you under canopy. The role at breakoff is to get your separation by way of vertical and horizontal separation. This is most safely done through predictable and efficient flying – not by deploying early as if it were an eject button from the group.

Breakoff is a time when we need to focus everything on flying efficiently, safely, and trying to outrun all of our friends to an open air space that’ll set us up for a safe opening. Let’s commit to doing whatever it takes in our flying to be sure we can track and transition safely and efficiently. Thanks for helping make our sport safer! 

Coming Soon!

Next week: Deployment: understanding how to fly all the way to canopy opening, by Jesse ‘Tex’ Leos.

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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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