“Is swooping more dangerous than other types of skydiving?”
That was the question put to me by a reporter. I was stumped for the right answer. “Well, it can be, sort of, sometimes it is, depends on who’s doing it.” None of those answers were going to work for a response. As a DZ Manager you have to be careful how you answer reporters. You can’t dodge their question because the last thing you want to do is let them answer it for themselves. But you need to be as clear and precise as possible because often the answer you give them isn’t what gets printed. And the last thing I wanted to do was throw Canopy Piloting as a sport under the bus. Thinking… thinking… thinking… got it…
I told him, “The safest way to jump out of an airplane is doing a static line with a round parachute.” The parachute is almost guaranteed to be deployed and open at the selected altitude. It descends at a consistent and relatively slow speed. You can’t hook it. A canopy collision is almost impossible and if you do run into someone you just bump off of each other. There would be more busted ankles but that would pretty much be the worst of the injuries. Yup, if the goal is to jump out of an airplane the safest way possible then static line round is definitely the way to go. But, how much fun is that? Not much. Who would be a skydiver if doing static line round jumps was all we did? The last time I checked, having fun was the only reason to do something as crazy as jumping out of an airplane.
Any kind of skydiving other than static line round increases the risk factor. Freefall is more dangerous than static line. A 2-way is more dangerous than a solo. An 8-way more dangerous than a 2-way. A square parachute is more dangerous than a round. A small square parachute is more risky than a big one. Flying close to other parachutes is more dangerous than flying far away from them. Docking with other canopies is more dangerous than flying close to them. Jumping with a Wingsuit carries more risk than jumping without one. Doing a demo is more dangerous than jumping at the DZ. And on and on. Every jump is a calculated risk.
It’s all Relative
One of the fantastic things about skydiving is that there are so many ways to play. We choose how we want to fly based on our perception of the fun versus risk factor. Dave Hebert was a member of a canopy piloting team based at Skydive Perris. I was walking over to dirtdive a 16-way CReW [Canopy Formation] jump as Dave was getting ready to go swoop. I reminded him (as I often do) “Be careful with that swooping stuff.” He responded, “Shut the hell up, you’re going to do CReW!” I think the fun factor of doing CReW with 15 of my friends is way worth the risk. But flying my canopy at high speeds close to the ground isn’t. Dave wouldn’t even consider doing CReW, that’s crazy. But diving his canopy at the dirt is a blast.
Another time I saw Jeb Corliss on the drop zone training for some proximity terrain flying. I asked him if he was going to join the Wingsuit World Record jumps [going on at the time] and he said “No way! That’s far too dangerous.” Flying less than a foot from the earth or the sides of a crack is okay but flying in the wide open sky with lots of friends isn’t?
Maximize the fun to risk ratio
All of the skydiving disciplines have inherent risks. But it has been proven again and again that all of them can be done safely when approached with the proper training, experience, equipment and common sense.
- No matter how you choose to play, find an expert to advise you
- Use the right equipment, and maintain it
- Don’t overestimate your abilities
- Pick the games that look like the most fun to you
- Understand the risks involved and how to minimize them
If the fun outweighs the risk, have at it.
And don’t screw it up. It ruins your friends’ day when you hurt yourself. Takes all the fun out of it.
Article originally published on the PD Blog
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