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Leading a Movement Jump – is it Really a Big Deal?

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YES!!

Angle, tracking and movement dives add many new dimensions in terms of risk and the possibility for collisions. Freefly coach Alethia Austin discusses hazardous situations and how to manage them…

Author Alethia Austin and Jesse ‘Tex’ Leos on a movement jump

I was recently coaching a student on a vertical skydive. We were static head up, second out of the plane after a moving group. I was facing my student, who was facing perpendicular to jump run. He seemed rather distracted and I thought to myself ‘he looks like he’s watching something next to me.’ I thought it was odd, but after a few seconds of him staring off into the distance, I turned to see if there was anything I could see him looking at. In fact, he was staring at a moving group coming straight for us. 

The group was close enough for me to notice a shoelace was untied.

We narrowly avoided the two people in the tracking group, as they continued to track straight up jump run. When I got down and spoke to the coach who was teaching tracking to a new student, he swore up and down he’d turned off jump run. Luckily, our GoPro showed two important things: 

  1. The exit: this student was barely a new skydiver. He messed up his exit, as expected, having such low jump numbers overall, and this fumble distracted his coach when his coach should have been focused on getting them off of jump run.
  2. The jump run: It was clear from our videos that we were vertical on jump jun, and as he tracked past us, he was still tracking straight up jump run.

The coach was, of course, apologetic and embarrassed. He realized he didn’t get off jump run, and that having such a disaster of an exit ate up more time than he’d realized and he ended up forgetting his most important first part of that jump: get the moving group off jump run. 

This situation is one of many I run into as a full-time coach experiencing different dropzones. From angle/ tracking/ movement groups moving up jump run, to people fresh off A license graduation now “leading” tracking jumps, to those undeclared solo trackers who didn’t realize they needed to present themselves as a tracking group when exit order was being discussed, even to the 800 jump wonders who can belly track pretty okay but who now want to take a bigger group with varying levels of skill and attempt something a bit more dynamic, not accounting for how that translates to moving off jump run, if at all.

Time and again when something weird happens at the dropzone, or when someone in the loading area is found out for having a pretty sketchy ‘plan’ for their experience level, I can’t help but think it’s not the fault of the jumpers – they’ve all got a license to be able to do whatever kind of freefall they want to do with their bodies. But the fault is actually with the dropzones who are allowing mostly anyone to join a tracking group and/or lead a tracking group.

Movement dives add many new dimensions in terms of risk
Photo shows Tex (Jesse Leos) leading a movement dive at an LSD Camp, by Argy Alvarez

Safe vs Unsafe

When I first showed up to Skydive Spaceland Houston and was at the loading area, I was approached by a couple of younger skydivers with a piece of paper in their hand. They told me they were also going to be moving, and that piece of paper had a map of the jump run and landing area where they would declare their flight path. I told them where I was taking my group, and where I was going to be opening, and we figured out where they would go with their group. I was shocked to see such a high-level planning going into the movement groups there, especially with the very brand new flyers. After two years of coaching there, I still continue to be blown away by the high level of safety and shared education and knowledge of skydiving that’s openly passed around to all levels of their customers and staff. 

By comparison, I was recently coaching at a dropzone where tracking is offered to anyone who just finished their A license. A new coach was taking a student who had +\- 50 skydives “tracking.” The student was trying to learn how to angle fly on his back. The coach was having him leave on his back from the door. I’d witnessed the student earlier in the week barely be able to leave stable as a static belly flyer. Yet here he was with a coach who was trying to teach him how to angle fly on his back. The coach saw no problem trying to teach this to someone who barely knew how to fly on his belly. The dropzone saw no problem trying to rush this kid past basic static flying into movement skydiving. Are we doing a disservice to the safe, proper progression steps by promoting the idea that a) It’s not necessary to become proficient at flying your belly b) Tracking/ Angle/ Movement jumps aren’t very serious – anyone can learn ASAP and c)  There’s not much importance to the fact that we’re the only groups moving on/ off jump run. 

If skydivers aren’t getting the right information from the beginning, then what is unsafe continues to grow as unsafe, creating many near misses in the sky such as the example I used at the beginning of this article.

And if skydivers don’t have the right information, then it’s a lack of attention to safety on our part as a community.

I have been to several dropzones where there is a minimum jump number required in order to start tracking – great idea. And at places such as Spaceland, there are requirements for anyone who wants to lead a tracking jump.

These rules might take away some of the wild west freedom we love in this sport, but this is actually just safeguarding us against incidents that could create a heck of a lot more problems for us in the end. What I see at a dropzone like Spaceland is that skydivers from A license up, on the average, are so much more educated on angle flying than skydivers with more experience than them at another drozpone where movement jumps aren’t openly discussed. So that means, the culture of the dropzone is much more open, much more aware, and because of that our skies are much safer for everyone.

If skydivers aren’t getting the right information from the beginning, then what is unsafe continues to grow as unsafe

‘Safety rules might take away some of the wild west freedom we love in this sport, but this is actually just safeguarding us against incidents’
Photo shows Alethia Austin leading a movement dive

Making angle/ tracking/ movement jumps safer

How do we make angle/ tracking/ movement jumps better understood and safer for everyone getting out of the plane? 

Well, there are a few things we should consider, and naturally start to solidify in our culture. 

Dropzone rules

Let’s start with dropzones: check the requirements of your dropzone – if there’s not a minimum jump requirement around the 200 jump mark – bring it up to the DZM and see if they’re willing to safeguard their DZ against rogue moving groups. 

In addition, are dropzones having enough information? Unless a dropzone has sought the intricate information around leading movement jumps, or has a very experienced angle coach on site who has helped to develop an open, safe, intelligent culture around movement skydiving, how could a dropzone possibly have enough information? If a dropzone is lacking the right information, perhaps it’s time they reached out to some of our movement leaders in the sport for a consultation. There’s no shame in not knowing something – there’s shame in knowing you don’t know something and hiding away from receiving it due to ego. 

Education

Let’s further educate ourselves: Sharon Harnoy Pilcher and Luis Prinetto have put decades of experience and knowledge into a course that educates and outlines the ins and outs of leading angle jumps. This course should be taken by a DZ representative, and by anyone who is involved in tracking/ moving groups, whether you’re leading yet or not. 

There’s no shame in not knowing something – there’s shame in knowing you don’t know something and hiding away from receiving it due to ego


Looking to build – Photo by Daniel Angulo

Personal attitude

We, the skydivers. We have got to have a more open dialogue about tracking/moving. When we’re at the loading area and we see that 50 jump w/ rental rig crew going for an “angle jump” we have got to start asking questions in a friendly, open way. There can not be any room for judgement or ego here, this is an opportunity to help elevate the safety of our sky. 

When I bumped into an 80-jump skydiver who barely let it slip that he was going “belly and some tracking” on his skydive, and realised that although he didn’t want to admit it, that he was trying to go tracking to a side that already had two angle groups, we opened up a long discussion at the end of the day. The jumper realized through this open dialogue that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ which is mostly the problem with where we’re at with movement skydives.

If we can all help to open up the discussion on movement jumps to those new jumpers who have been poorly misguided and to dropzones who don’t have any rules in place to safeguard against movement incidents, then we can help people understand the things they don’t even really know that they need to know. 

The current attitude towards tracking/ moving/ angle flying is not quite where it should be in order for us to all safely participate in flying this discipline, leading this discipline and being on a load where this discipline is manifested. That’s not a fault of anyone, it’s a lack of us all pitching in to elevate this culture.

The dialogue needs to be open around what we’re doing on our jumps. We must be ready to share our plans and be ready to be challenged in those plans from a space that’s ready to learn. And those of us with that information and knowledge to share, we must remove our egos, take a breath and be ready to use every single opportunity to be able to help lift the level of those around us.

Ask questions. Ask questions for your own understanding. What do you need to know to lead a skydive? What, besides jump run, do you need to know? What else do you need to know? Why are you going to that side? Where are you opening? How much distance will you travel with these winds? What are the winds and how are they going to affect me? What should I know about taking this group in this flight path?

Ask questions to help those around us realise that there are big chunks of pertinent information they’re not yet aware of. What is your flight path? Where are you opening? What are the uppers? What are the canopy winds? What direction are you facing when you open? What is your cut off altitude for the dynamic movements? What happens if you lose a jumper? How are these winds going to affect your flight path?

And remember, the ego does not serve us in any way in this sport. If we can witness our leaders in this sport, such as Dan BC, Luis Prinetto, KaiKai Bucholz and many others, still walk without ego, how can we possibly show up to any situation in our sport where there is an opportunity to pass information with anything less than a humble bow. Let’s join together for the collective safety and enjoyment of this great, beautiful freedom with a pure drive to elevate together. 

A rising tide lifts all boats

JFK
‘Ego does not serve us in any way in this sport’
Photo shows Alethia leading a movement dive at LSD Camp, by Argy Alvarez

For more information about the Leading Workshop, check out Modern Skydiving Concepts.

You can catch up with Alethia at Spaceland Houston, or at one of my LSD Angle & Vertical Camps. 

Questions, feedback or just to say hello, you can find her on Instagram.


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Photo by Adrian Daszkowski
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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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