Sensory Acuity

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Sensory acuity

the extent to which one is able to detect stimuli of minimal size, intensity, or duration

An experienced freeflyer will pick up multiple information sets by observing the exit, due to high sensory acuity
Image by Augusto Bartelle

Article by Julian Barthel

Story time: I recently started surfing… one day I found myself in waves that were a bit too big for my experience and my floaty board. The waves were borderline the size I could handle so I decided to try and get past the break. I struggled. Hard. No matter how much I tried, the breaking waves kept pushing me back and I didn’t get anywhere.

I was getting frustrated, and adding insult to injury, along came this young girl with a small board who got in the water, effortlessly paddled passed me, dove under the incoming waves and before I knew it, she had caught three waves while I was still stuck in the same place.

What happened? Why was she able to get past the break and I wasn’t?

The answer is: greater experience, skills and Sensory Acuity.

The picture above shows the difference in Sensory Acuity, or the ability to notice information, from Beginner (myself) to Expert (the girl).

In my example the Sensory Cues, or available information came in form of different sized waves and currents under the surface. Due to my limited experience in the water, I was only receptive to the obvious information in form of the biggest waves.

As a result of her experience the girl had a lower Sensory Threshold, or better ability to recognize subtle Sensory Cues. This enabled her to read the sea like an open book and almost effortlessly surf circles around me.

Now, what does this have to do with skydiving?
Everything, it turns out.


It explains why newer jumpers get overwhelmed on the dropzone and can’t figure out things that are simple and obvious to more experienced skydivers. It underlines the importance of continued education and mentoring in an inclusive community where we guide the inexperienced.

Guiding the inexperienced isn’t just about the freefall, mentoring on the ground is vital
Image: Author Julian Barthel, leading a dive over Skydive Algarve, by Roy Wimmer-Jaglom

The Foresight of Experience

As we gain experience in any activity, we learn to anticipate problems and take corrective measures before they unfold, to the point that it seems like flawless execution from an outside perspective, like the girl getting through the waves.

In skydiving this foresight manifests in many different ways. Someone with experience might instinctively organize the exit order, or a coach might read the body position of someone in freefall and anticipate where they will go next as a result. A seasoned canopy pilot might recognize crowded traffic building and conserve altitude instead of getting into a tight spot with little altitude to spare during the pattern.

Culture of Inclusion and Mentoring

All of these skills come with experience. Adopting a culture of inclusion and mentoring can expose newer skydivers to information that allows them to learn from other’s past experience, which could keep them out of harm’s way.

So, wherever we are in our progression, let’s engage and share our experiences, ask questions and encourage constructive dialogue and mentoring. Who knows, we might just help someone who’s really struggling.

I’ll learn to read the waves one day!

Author Julian Barthel reading the visual clues for this type of surfing
Image by Mordace

Listen to Julian!

Author Julian Barthel

Julian is speaking at the European Skydiving Symposium on:


10:00 – 10:45, Friday 18 November

Julian Barthel, Flight-1 instructor, canopy coach, AFFI and multiple champion, is going to share his knowledge and expertise regarding canopy progression. How to approach the downsizing process in a smart way that will keep you safe? Come to Julian’s talk and learn.

Read more about the Euro Symposium here

Jump with Julian!

Julian is coaching at Skydive Spain’s Christmas Boogie

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Meet: Julian Barthel

Julian is a full time Tunnel Coach, Freefly Coach, Load Organizer, USPA Coach Examiner and Founder of FlyinMynd.
He worked in the sport as AFF-I, TD-I and Camera Flyer for 8 years before going freelance.
Julian loves Canopy Piloting and XRW.
He was part of the current National German Head down Record (38) and the European Head down Sequential Record (3-point 24-way) as well as the current European Head Up Record (43).
Likes: Canopy Flocking, Freefly, XRW, Canopy Piloting, Dynamic Flying.
Julian is sponsored by PD, UPT, Tonfly, Alti-2 and Cypres.

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