The Learning Process

Visit Us

Starting a new area of skydiving can be daunting, frustrating but hugely rewarding

Maxine during a canopy piloting freestyle jump, World Games 2017
Photo by Marcus King

We talk to Maxine Tate, who has achieved excellence in formation skydiving and canopy piloting and is now learning speed skydiving. At this coming Mondial, she will have competed at world level in three different disciplines for three different countries, which is most notable as each discipline is in a completely different part of the sport – flat freefall, canopy flight and now a vertical discipline.

We asked Maxine to explain how she applies her talents so successfully in seemingly any area. She explained it’s all about the process of learning…

Maxine, an impressive list of disciplines, what order did you take them up?

Maxine Tate
Photo by DSquared

I started with 4-way formation skydiving. I was offered a place on a team when I had around 100 jumps. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts of FS, anybody can join in regardless of their experience level. The same cannot be said for canopy piloting or any of the other disciplines I’ve competed in.

Then naturally I moved on to 8-way FS in the classic style, putting two 4-way teams together and competing at Nationals. Just doing a few of those scratch teams made me realize that working in a team of 8 plus camera is a whole different ball game.

I’ve always said that a great 8-way jump is so much more rewarding than a great 4-way jump, because it’s just so much more demanding to have eight people moving in synch together as one. Training 8-way can also be demanding just to get so many people in the same place at the same time, and that can be draining.

After a solid few seasons training 8-way I was keen to take on a new challenge. At the time I had also become a full-time skydiver and needed more flexibility to train around my coaching schedule. At the same time I realized that I needed to work on my canopy skills to bring them up to the same standard as my body flight skills, as it was clear to me that was a widening gap between the two. What can I say?… I drank the Kool-Aid, I got into swooping. A team of one, a very different environment than a team of nine… training whenever I wished, focused on my own goals, I was able to train as much as I wanted around work and I loved it. I competed for a total of six years as a swooper.

In that time, I wanted to learn as much as possible not only at the high-performance end of the spectrum but also in other areas. That’s when ‘Swoop Dawgs’ was born, a one-season only 2-way sequential CRW team with my friend Albert Berchtold. We were both pro swoopers at the time but that one season we dedicated to CRW taught us how to fly differently, pulling on the experience of all the CRW dogs. Canopy flight comes in all different shapes and sizes, and it felt good to broaden our horizons. I’m a great believer in cross-training.

And so that brings me to my last discipline – speed skydiving, which followed on after I decided to retire from swooping. I thought it was about time I tried something vertical, and I like to go fast, so it seemed like a match made in heaven.

‘Learning CRW techniques … makes you a more well-rounded canopy pilot’
Photo by Maxine Tate with Albert Berchtold

Do you stick to one discipline for a while or do them simultaneously?

Well I’m still doing over 500 jumps a year, of which the majority are going to be speed training. That said I am still very much an active load organizer, which is my opportunity to get my belly suit on and go out and have some fun with the RW crew. I probably work five or six boogies a year. I always do my best to throw in some 4-way and 8-way jumps in there too for me as much as for the participants. And of course, I just still love my canopies. I fly my Valkyries all the time, and once in a while I’ll pull out the Peregrine but not that often anymore. When I get anywhere near the pond you know I’m gonna stick my toe in it. And then there’s Highlight – my demo team which is a dream come true really – the chance to use skydiving as a metaphor for encouraging and empowering girls and women to lead bold and brave lives of their own design. We put in a lot of work and training into delivering that message by performing demos all around the country, and putting out social media messaging through stunts and cool projects. So I still get to fly all the wings all the time. In fact, a lot of what I do in life these days involves flying wings, whether it’s skydiving wings, paragliding wings or speed flying wings.

So, in answer to your question, I pretty much do all of them for fun at any one time, but I only compete in one.

Maxine still very much enjoys flying her PD canopies and sticking her toe in a pond every chance she has
Photo by Maxine Tate

Which discipline was the hardest to learn?

If you’d asked me a month ago, I probably would’ve said canopy piloting, just because it’s so hard to learn the basics of high-performance turns and power and control. But right now, I can see that speed skydiving has its own challenges. It’s not hard to get out and dive fast, but it’s really hard to get out and dive faster.  It’s a minimal working time for each jump, it’s all about the numbers. I think canopy piloting has been the most challenging to learn, but speed skydiving is the hardest to train to a higher level. 

Did you always want to ‘do it all’? Why?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought I could do everything. The reason why I’ve competed in so many different disciplines is that I just love to learn. There’s something very addictive about being on a steep learning curve when you try something for the very first time and the challenge is laid out in front of you. It’s an exciting time to push yourself to taking in new information and learning a new skill. And it’s just fun to do something new!

It’s an exciting time to push yourself to taking in new information and learning a new skill

Exiting the plane for a speed skydiving training jump
Photo by Rob Johnson

What are the benefits of a new discipline?

There can be certain benefits to learning different disciplines and finding some form of cross-training. Learning CRW techniques definitely helps you understand canopy piloting better, and makes you a more well-rounded canopy pilot. I’m having to undertake some cross-training right now in order to improve my speed skydiving. Having never undertaken any vertical discipline before I still feel like I am trying to break the muscle memory of a belly flyer with thousands of jumps into a new body position. So, last week instead of focusing on actual speeds I was just getting out of the plane and flying a steep angle – trying to change my body position to something more streamlined and less arched I guess. I can see that freeflyers and angle flyers naturally have a better command of their body in this orientation and at higher speeds. I guess that’s going to be my personal challenge with this discipline. 

Hard landings and bruises are inevitable when training CP, how much of a challenge was that?

Yeah, I think one of the hardest things about swooping is that you are the most at risk of injury when you are learning. I think that’s mostly because you don’t recognize when you’re in trouble. Also, until you’ve actually hurt yourself it’s really hard to imagine that you’re going to be the one laying on the ground calling for help. And that’s not due to a lack of humility, it’s just hard to imagine yourself screwing up badly. I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘I’ll be okay, I’m a conservative canopy pilot.’ That doesn’t make a difference. We’re all susceptible to mistakes, and you just don’t know what it looks like until it happens to you. It’s the most humbling discipline in the sport – even to the most humble of people. 

Canopy piloting is the most humbling discipline in the sport – even to the most humble of people

‘Smokeline’ jump over Skydive Chicago training for a demo for the commemoration of the 19th Amendment
Photo by Elliot Byrd

Tell us about your injury. How hard was it to recuperate and start jumping again? Did the accident make you want to stop CP?

Which one? Ha ha!

I’ve picked up a few little knocks along the road, but I’ve only sustained fractures and broken bones twice. The first injury was on a zone accuracy run where I sustained a compression fracture on L2. Honestly that was a really easy recovery with no surgery so that only kept me on the ground for six weeks. The other injury I sustained was a broken tib/fib on the landing after an XRW jump. That took me out of the World Cup in Dubai that year. But in actual fact I had already intended to take the next year off from competing to take a step back and decide whether I wanted to continue or not. We always say that we are one injury away from retirement, so in a way I just took this as perfect timing and decided to knock it on the head. My last ever competition was representing Team GB at the World Games in Poland, and I was happy to go out on that high.

What common problems did you have when changing disciplines? What qualities were very transferable?

I can’t think of any common problems, each discipline has its own challenges. But I certainly can see qualities that transfer from one learning experience to the other, and it is effectively the process of learning. I believe everything we try in skydiving for the first time involves stepping up to the plate to take on something which is well outside our comfort zone.

It’s a classic phrase – ‘everything you want is on the other side of fear’. And it’s true. It very much reminds me of the feeling you get as a kid when you first dive off a board into the pool. You walk up to the diving board, you walk to the end, you look over into the water and you get a rising feeling of fear – the fear of the unknown, the fear of what it’s going to feel like the first time you plunge into the water. It takes courage to take that first step. But eventually you do it, you survive it, your heart is pounding like crazy! You get out of the pool, take a breath and give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. Then you take a look up at the next board, the higher one above the one you just came off… and you start climbing the ladder. And so the cycle begins. Each time still involves some level of fear but the fear subsides every time you experience it. That courage to go back again and again starts to bring the level of comfort down into the realms of familiarity. And if you do it enough and consistently, you are now living within your comfort zone again. And here’s the breakthrough, the more times you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and come out the other side, the more prepared you are to do so without question, believing in your own ability to work through it and to excel on the other side of fear.

The more times you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and come out the other side, the more prepared you are to do so without question, believing in your own ability to work through it and to excel on the other side of fear

Ladies just want to have fun 🙂
Maxine and her colleagues during a team training jump in 2020
Photo by DSquared

I’ve certainly had to go through that with speed skydiving. It was one thing to dive out of a plane with a bootie suit on and effectively be in a steep tracking position having fun at Nationals… but it’s quite a different experience with this slick minimal-drag dynamic tunnel suit, on your head going super-fast, trying to ride the line of relaxation, control and fear. It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with it, but let’s just say when I started there were moments which were sketchy AF. I’ve corked out a number of times, I even put myself in a flat spin momentarily once. But I’ve got to the point now where it feels familiar. I’ve put in enough training that I am now feeling inside my comfort zone every time I get out of the plane and go for it with full send.

And so, begins the process of learning. I would break it down into four phases:

  • Phase 1 – Repetition. Do it again and again and again until that repetition creates consistency.
  • Phase 2 – Trust. Consistency builds trust, trust in yourself, trust in your own abilities, trust in your performance, trust that you can handle it.
  • Phase 3 – Confidence. Trust generates confidence that you can attain the performance you are looking for. That’s confidence not complacency, confidence that you are on a journey to an attainable goal while still maintaining the humility and understanding that you are still very much in a learning process.
  • Phase 4 – Growth. Confidence is the gateway to growth, this is the stage where you stop asking if and you start asking when.

Basically, I think I’m still in the repetition phase for speed skydiving ha ha ha… but I’ll get there. 

What motivates you to compete?

That’s an interesting question. I think I see competition as providing me with an endgame and a goal for learning a new skill. I don’t know that I necessarily see it as beating other people anymore, I think I see it more as demonstrating the level of performance I have achieved and reaching a standard I have set for myself. I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case for a team sport but certainly in an individual discipline I see myself as my greatest critic and competitor. It’s also a great privilege and experience to represent your country at a World Level event. But I certainly don’t feel like I’m chasing down medals in international competition or anything like that these days. My ego for that kind of thing disappeared a long time ago. To me the journey itself is just as powerful and rewarding as the endgame.

Sunset jump during the Big O Boogie
Photo by Elliot Byrd

Anything else you’d like to add?

Absolutely I’d like to express my gratitude to all my sponsors who were crazy enough to say yes when I approached them asking for their support for me to train another new discipline for which I had absolutely no track record or complimentary skills in. I started this journey really to share the experience with others in the hope that people can see the work behind the results. It really is there for anyone who wants to take on the challenge as long as they are prepared to put in the time and effort. My sponsors saw the value in that, and I am very grateful to them. If anyone would like to follow me in this journey, they can follow my athlete page on Facebook or come say hi while I’m training at CSC or Skydive Carolina this season.    

About Maxine

Photo by DSquared

Maxine has 9,000 jumps, is a Flight-1 canopy coach, holds 3 World Records, 3 European Records, is 3-times National Champion and a member of the Highlight Pro Skydiving team. She is proudly sponsored by Sun Path, Performance Designs, Cookie helmets, CYPRES, Liquidsky, Alti-2, Merit, Chicagoland Skydiving Centre and Skydive Carolina.

Visit Us


Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

Contact Me

    Scroll to Top