Who needs wingsuit coaching, when and why?
Like all skydiving disciplines, quality coaching can fast track you to success and make you a safer jumper. It might seem cheaper to jump on your own, or with others of similar experience, but in the long run coached jumps are a wise investment. If your budget is tight, bear in mind it’s better to have fewer jumps but greater skills than more jumps in the logbook but a lower ability level. Super experienced wingsuit pilots Dan Darby and Ashlee Richman explain more…
You’re never above quality coaching
When you’re just starting out, it should be easier to recognize that you need guidance and instruction. That said, the 200 jump requirement to start wingsuiting tends to put many skydivers in the Dunning-Kruger effect sweet spot: the peak of Mount Stupid. Here’s how to make it through the valley of despair to the peak of enlightenment.
For many, 200 jumps are just enough to think they don’t really need help and to underestimate the complexity of learning a new discipline. Top tier golfers have each swing examined frame-by-frame, professional baseball players drill in batting cages with coaches, NHL goalies have their own specialized coaches, the same can be said for each position in the NFL. Pick any sport, and you’ll find the pros getting coached to tune up their game. But someone with 210 skydives, will be far beyond their comparative skillset, right?!
Most new wingsuiters learn quickly (the hard and scary way) that they could benefit from coaching. Some skydivers get by on some combination of confidence, youth, athletic ability and/or luck until they reach a point where they seek out targeted coaching to take their wingsuiting to the next level – or they get nudged in that direction when others are too scared of their flying to jump with them. Whether they find out the hard and fast way or later in their progression, everyone eventually comes to realize that understanding how to fly even the most intuitive wingsuits takes practice, knowledge, time, and solid coaching. As Matt Gerdes, CEO of Squirrel said,
The safer we are, the more fun we have, and the higher likelihood that our friends will have fun flying with us.Matt Gerdes
Maybe you think you’re saving money by sending it on zoo dives or spending your jumps solo with a little trial and error. But with 11 years of experience and over 900 wingsuit tunnel hours and 3500+ wingsuit jumps, wingsuit coach and world Champion Jenna Gygi points out that getting coaching is actually the most cost-effective option in the long run:
It might sound less expensive to do as many jumps as possible with random people, but having a good coach is cheaper in the long term and will make you a more skilled and safer flyer in a shorter time period.Jenna Gygi
No matter the level of skill and experience, everyone can benefit from a quality coach. Whether you’re just starting out or at the top of your game, there’s always more to learn. As the owners of the wingsuit school and rental company Arcus Flight, we have over 6,000 wingsuit jumps combined, and we still seek out coaching and quality organization whenever we can. Just as skydiving has continued to evolve, wingsuiting as a discipline is growing and changing at an accelerated rate. We recognize that what was once the ‘gold standard’ may be old news by next month, and keeping an open mind to new instruction and different techniques can pay dividends.
What can you get out of quality coaching?
In the early days of wingsuiting, there was a lot of guesswork and “full send/hope for the best” thrown into the techniques used. The reputation surrounding the discipline as a whole may have suffered for this trial-and-error phase, but at this point, most of the mistakes have already been made, and there is no good reason to re-make them. The wheel has been invented. And re-invented. And re-invented again. Do you really feel the need to fight through all of the same difficulties that wingsuit pilots have already ironed out over the past 20+ years?
Knowledge is a shortcut – so avoiding the common pitfalls that we see people experiencing is sort of fast tracking your way to a really fun and awesome progression.Matt Gerdes
Seeking out that knowledge is a great place to start. But even with the wealth of written and video knowledge all over the internet and armed with a flysight and a 360º camera, there are still things that you simply can’t learn on your own. Relative flying, transition dynamics, and approaching groups are some of the biggest ones. Some of the less thought-about are your actual body configuration in flight. You can’t see what’s going on with your lower body, and having someone nearby to point things out to you in real time can really open your eyes to how your suit wants to be flown.
Even if you’re a yoga zen master with impeccable body awareness, you can still be surprised to find that your body isn’t actually doing what you think it’s doing in a wingsuit. A knowledgeable coach can guide you through not only what your body is doing to the suit, but what the suit is doing to the air surrounding it. Coaching can provide useful tidbits of knowledge that not only enhance your skillset, but also your understanding of the fluid dynamics surrounding unpowered gliding flight.
When should you seek coaching?
You’d be amazed how much faster you can progress when your skydives are targeted and focused with a coach rather than just sending it on your own. We have personally watched someone with very few wingsuit skydives show up to the DZ with a dedicated coach for a solid month, and after doing 6+ jumps a day she was outflying people in ATCs while she was still in her Swift4. Commitment, humility, and solid coaching go a long way in this sport. That same wingsuiter continued her coaching and training and is now literally flying circles around most other wingsuiters.
Especially in the beginning, after your First Flight Course (we hope you invested in an FFC!) and a big handful of productive and comforting solos, get back with a coach. Like AFF, a First Flight Course should provide you with a TON of information. It may have been overwhelming or some of that information may have fallen through the cracks. There are also things that may not have come up because there’s only so much that can or should be dumped on a baby bird. Additional coaching early on once you’ve gotten comfortable and more aware in flight will make a massive difference in your progression.
New wingsuit or struggling with your suit
If you’re struggling in a smaller suit, don’t make the mistake of assuming a premature upsize will solve your problems; it will simply make your scary moments that much scarier, less predictable, and more dangerous for anyone else unfortunate enough to share the sky with you. We would rather fly with a skilled pilot in a smaller suit than a meat bomb in a big suit any day of the week. Issues controlling whatever suit you’re flying are best solved by quality coaching. For that matter, any time you upsize or change suits is a great time to get coaching to learn how to dial in your new wing. Make the most of your investment in new gear by learning how to fly it rather than scaring yourself into selling it.
Another big sign that you should seek coaching is if your openings are consistently inconsistent. It may feel cool to teach yourself how to do barrel rolls or sloppy transitions, but if you’re cutting away 70% of the time, you should take a step back, prioritize the fundamentals, and get coaching. Having a coach watch and debrief your deployment sequence and opening is the best way to fix one of the most important parts of your skydive. If you continue to get line twists every opening, it might not be your canopy’s fault. Are you pulling super head low? Are you flying extremely slow for deployment? How is your harness discipline? Getting an outside view helps overcome not being able to see everything on your own.
Flying in groups
So, you’ve got your deployments dialed in, and you’re feeling pretty confident on your solos and 2-ways with a more experienced buddy. Now you want to fly in groups or head to a boogie with your super tight wingsuit skills. This is the perfect time to get with a qualified coach for a day of exercises to practice slot flying before attempting to be a part of any formation. No one wants to be responsible for taking out an entire formation, bombing someone on approach, or breaking off into someone else’s airspace. Specific coaching drills can help prepare you for what the jump should look like from your perspective, as well as things to watch out for on group jumps. Targeted camps (like Arcus Flight intermediate flocking camps and Next Level skills camps) can provide a controlled environment for fine-tuning group flying and learning how to flock safely.
If you’re new to wingsuiting you may not know much about wingsuit competition, but there are two different styles you can learn if you’ve got a competitive spirit: acrobatic wingsuiting (find two friends if this is your thing) and performance flying. If you want to compete in either discipline, you should definitely seek out a coach who has spent time in that arena. They can help you learn the flying styles required for that, and can also explain the rules in a way that might make you a better competitor, regardless of your flying ability. Check out top competitors from prior years and reach out to one who seems like a good fit for your coaching needs. As wingsuit performance World Champion Chris Geiler puts it,
Students get access to all of my experiences, filtered to suit their needs so they can level-up in a short time frame.Chris Geiler
Opting to reinvent the wheel on your own can cost you time and money in the long run, and no-one wants to look back and regret how they spent either of those things!
Is wingsuit BASE the entire reason you started skydiving in the first place? Did Jeb Corliss grind your crack? If that’s your goal, don’t take your progression there lightly. There are tons of exercises that can be done in the skydiving environment to help prepare you for your first wingsuit BASE jumps and beyond. You should be on the lookout for someone who has significant WS BASE experience over many years. There are things beyond just flying when it comes to big WS BASE missions. Have YOU ever flown a wingsuit with hiking poles on board? What about a pair of climbing shoes in the storage pouch? Someone who has done these things can help make your life significantly easier AND safer. Anyone skilled in wingsuit BASE has likely spent a significant amount of time analyzing Flysight data. Getting coaching in using a Flysight, analyzing the data, and learning how to transpose it onto jumps can literally save your life.
Who should you choose as your coach?
There are a few characteristics that nearly every great coach will share: the ability to listen and communicate effectively, patience and willingness to adjust their coaching style to their student’s needs, and current knowledge of the sport. That said, not every coach is compatible with every student. It’s important to understand what kind of teaching style you respond to best. Some people learn better doing 9 jumps a day landing on 20 minute calls with minimal briefing/debriefing, and just flying with someone repeatedly. Other people respond better to more information and technical understanding of the physics at work, applied on 5-6 jumps a day on hour calls. Wherever on that spectrum you fall, try to convey that information to your coach so that you are getting the best value for your coaching dollar.
On top of that, while some coaches can be super fun to fly with or have impressive YouTube channels, that doesn’t always translate to the best coaching for your learning style. Make sure you’re choosing the right coach for your needs and goals. A good coach can break things down and explain the technical reasons why some things work better than others. If you’re someone that needs to understand why something will work not just that it’s what should be done to achieve the desired result, find a coach with the knowledge, ability, and willingness to take the time to share that with you. And if the way they’re describing it doesn’t seem to be clicking for you, a great coach will get creative and find other ways to explain it in a more digestible way for your learning style. Being able to communicate the amount of information you can handle to a coach will also help build a good coach-student relationship where you feel like your time and financial investment are both being respected and valued.
Lastly, with seemingly endless different things you can do in a wingsuit these days, it’s important to consider what flying style you’re working toward. Acrobatic wingsuit competitor and coach George Hargis said,
What makes wingsuiting enjoyable to me is continuing to learn and progress. Part of that comes from flying with people who are better than me so I can push myself. Another huge part has come from seeking out coaching for the specific skills I want to attain. For me, the best way to gain proficiency is to dial in on my weaknesses 1:1 with a coach.George Hargis
Is XRW your goal? Dynamic flight? Cruisy flocking? Optimum performance available from your suit? Not every coach specializes in every type of flight. Do your homework and find out who’s not only at peak performance for the style of flying you want to work on, but who is also skilled at coaching that style. You can also find camps to work on all of these different flight modes in groups, but we recommend getting some one-on-one coaching before turning a camp into a group of your own personal guinea pigs.
Where to get coaching?
If you’re thinking it’s time to step up your wingsuit game, or get it started in the first place, check out the Next Level Flight and Squirrel instructor list at https://nextlevel.ws/instructors, https://squirrel.ws/coaches, or come see the authors of this article in DeLand or reach out to us at https://arcusflight.ws.