***** First Draft, Please comment ***** (and yes the pictures are missing)
Discover Your Inner Shredder
An Intro to Freeflying Basics
- Introduce the basics of freeflying for skydivers with anywhere from ~80 to 1,000+ jumps.
- Focus on learning safely while having fun.
- Help people build a foundation of body awareness versatile enough for pretty much any interest: from doing angles with friends to joining a vfs or mfs team to wingsuiting to the exploring the emerging discipline of dynamic skydiving.
- Develop and foster the freeflying scene at Skydive Perris.
_What is the best way to start learning?_
After you get your A license, do at least 50-75 jumps with the belly organizers. You will never regret the free coaching, video debriefs and flying skills you acquire and refine – not to mention the camaraderie, support and sky smarts. Belly skills are foundational to any other discipline, and your body and mind will intuit more advanced flying orientations more readily and thoroughly if the fundamentals are in place.
_How do I know my belly fundamentals are in place?_
Many of us just start feeling the tug of curiosity. Here are some things to look for:
- Can you get to a belly round, and dock gently and in slot, within 1,500 feet or so?
- Can you fly the whole skydive without thinking about how you’re doing it?
- Do you find yourself helping less experienced jumpers fly, i.e., helping them correct an exit, stay on level, close a round, and so on?
- Are you aware of everyone else on the skydive?
- Can you track away like your life depends on it, in control?
There are two main differences to bear in mind:
-- Freeflying involves exposing less surface area to the relative wind. As our terminal velocity accelerates from 123mph to 150/160mph – and eventually up to 200mph – we learn to engage more power.
-- Relatedly, because we are exposing less surface area, each input becomes more concentrated and impactful. What you think is a minor adjustment can cause you to cork or send you zooming out of control. Collision dangers in either instance are high.
-- For these reasons, we jump in very small groups, and preferably with an LO or a coach, until the new sensations become more natural.
1. Engagement point / straight spine
We use the “engagement point” like an axis to control orientation and stability during freefall. In belly flying, our engagement point is in the abdomen, whereas in freelying it becomes, generally, the crown of our heads.
Notice that a distinguishing feature of body positioning here is the spine: in freeflying, it is straighter. When we are first learning, one way to activate and hold this positioning is to tuck the chin. You are already familiar with spinal activation from belly tracking:
As expensive as it may seem, tunnel time is the most economical and efficient place to acquire the basic skills for each new freeflying discipline you experiment with.
Think about it.
Ten minutes of tunnel time equates to ten skydives worth of bodyflight – for around 2/3 of the cost (including coaching), in a fraction of overall time.
Most importantly, the tunnel facilitates instant feedback and correction opportunities, immediate do-overs and lower speed training _on the net_ so that you can just _relax and_ _feel the air._
This intro incorporates some tunnel session minimums geared toward progressing you quickly and cost-effectively.
A coach or tunnel instructor should be there to help with wind speed, body positioning and safety.
Backflying is key to freeflying.
The muscle groups you engage in backflying are the same ones you will rely on in vertical skydives (head-up and head-down), plus tracking/angles on your back or dynamic jumps with head-up and head-down carving, back layouts and transitions. _Most importantly, we need this skill because, in freeflying, we bail to our backs if_ _we go unstable._
Start on the net in the tunnel.
Feel the air with your entire body, especially your lats.
Look up. As you feel comfortable, gradually open your upper torso upward, like a butterfly, until you rise. Think: expansion and lightness.
_Note the sweet spot in your spine_ _where you find lift._ (We’ll circle back to it later, in sitflying.)
Estimated tunnel time required: 5-15 minutes.
_Additional exercises to refine backflying_
Once you can control your level and remain relatively stable, work on:
- going up and down;
- moving forward, backward and sideways; and
- doing controlled turns of 90/180/360 degrees.
We achieve these movements the same way as on our bellies – only with the other side of our torsos/appendages.
Because backflying involves exposing less surface area to the relative wind, however, we need a higher wind speed. Recall that increased speed means our inputs carry greater impact. So, now’s your chance to begin experiencing enhanced power – incrementally.
For added benefit, ask your instructor or coach to toss a little leather ball into the tunnel. Chase it on your back as it richocets around and try to grab it with alternating hands. This game will get you flying more naturally as you focus on something else and your body intuits how to move.
Estimated tunnel time required: 15-35 minutes.
Examine the body position here. Think about the relative wind.
Which muscles are our “wings” in a sit?
Why are the hips slightly forward?
How do we modulate fall rate? What about creating forward drive?
What are the two greatest dangers in sitflying? How do we ameliorate those risks?
Our back muscles overall – and specifically our lats – provide our “wings” in a sit.
To maintain a horizontally neutral freefall, our hips remain slightly forward to help counter our rigs, while leaving our arms and legs free for movement.
We modulate fall rate just as in belly: by thinking “get big” or “get small.” Inching our hips forward creates forward drive.
The two greatest dangers in sitflying are:
1. Corking, i.e., losing stability and defaulting to belly, can result in instant, rapid deceleration – and, therefore, severe collisions. This risk is why we jump in two-ways (with a coach or LO) to start, and bail to our backs (which involves slightly less deceleration than corking to belly). 1. Backsliding.
What is backsliding and_ _why is it really bad?_
Virtually everyone backslides in the beginning.
As we grapple with sitflying, our bodies often default to a belly-ish position to maintain stability. So… why is this position bad?
It’s bad because the relative wind is slamming against our two biggest surface areas – our chests and helmets – thereby causing massive drive backward. **_Backsliding up_** **_or_** **_down jump run is_** **_highly_** **_dangerous, and that’s why we_** **_stay_** **_perpendicular to_** **_line-of-flight_** **_(i.e.,_** **_normally_** **_facing west (preferably) or east, at Perris) when learning._**
_How do I fix backsliding?_
**_Pressing_** **_your chin down_** will help you keep your engagement point directed upward and your head, neck and spine vertical.
Muscle memory practice: on the ground, line your spine, from the neck to the sweet spot you discovered in backflying, along a pole. Your knees should be bent around 90 degrees and your hips should stay forward about 3-4 inches. Relax the shoulders, and keep your elbows down a little.
Reproduce this muscle memory in the sky. For additional stability and control, think about driving your heels down to maintain knee angle.
_How do I dock_ _in a sit?_
As we extend one (or both) arms to dock, we expose surface area in front of us.
We counter the resulting backslide by either rotating the opposite elbow for an equivalent counterbalance or leaning back to present the rear of our helmets to the relative wind.
_Is head-down flying hard?_
Head-down flying is harder to learn, but easier to improve at, than sitflying. Tunnel is really the way here.
If you want a taste of this breathtaking discipline, grab an LO or a coach to take you on a two-way head-down exit. (One of my favorite skydives so far involved watching a guy’s eyes widen and moth open in awe when I took him on his first.)
Remember to keep your chin pressed toward your neck and your spine straight. If you feel any wonkiness, remember that speed is stability’s friend and pin out by straightening your legs.
Required tunnel time: probably 3-5 hours for the basics. Treat yourself to Utah and fly with Dusty Hanks et al. if you can. If that’s out-of-reach for now, practice anywhere else, even if just on the net, feeling the air and exploring leg inputs and balance.
Before learning about – let alone attempting – an angle or tracking jump, please read Andy Locke’s skydivemag.com piece _A Jump Too Far_ and watch the video.
Examine the body position here. Think about the relative wind.
What area(s) of our bodies is the relative wind hitting most, and what results?
How do we adjust fall rate?
How to we steer? Brake? Speed up?
What happens if we turn our heads to look at someone?
The relative wind is blasting up against our largest surface areas (again, our chests and helmets). Tremendous forward drive results. Because our terminal velocity increases with each degree of angle, we are simultaneously generating power. Together, these forces can turn our bodies into missiles.
Hence the majesty – and inherent danger – of angle flying.
We adjust fall rate (and forward drive) via the pitch of our torsos, hinging at the hips:
**_Because angle flying involves harnessing so much power,_** **_when you are learning, stick to micro-adjustments._**
**_Gradual inputs_** **_will give you an opportunity to feel and begin to intuit the air._**
**_Two-ways with an LO or a coach_** **_provide the fastest and safest way to get_** **_ready for flying with a group._**
We steer, principally, with our shoulders.
We can make precision fall rate adjustments with our arms.
We brake and accelerate with our legs.
Note that our appendages are available for adjustments. In practice, movement combines a variety of these above inputs.
Remember your engagement point. Turning our heads to look somewhere can cause us to zoom out of control (in the opposite direction, where we are not looking). For now, keep your head in a fixed position and use your peripheral vision and you will enjoy a controlled turn:
Avoid flying over anyone, for now. They cannot see you and may change their angle unexpectedly, causing a collision.
Keep a manageable distance until you can stay on level with the skydive and your sphere of awareness expands to everyone.
When you are ready to start moving closer, just think about closing the gap by ½ on each skydive. You’ll get there.
Meanwhile, go ahead and do some solos. Feel the air.
Solos are a great, pressure-free way to explore freeflying.
You’ll probably find them way more alluring now that you are trying different things and acquiring new skills.
In a sit, you can practice staying on heading and introducing yourself to turns – making sure that you’re staying perpendicular to jump run as much as possible to avoid backsliding.
In an angle, you can relax into the skydive and just feel the air – what happens when you adjust your pitch, lower or raise your arms, accelerate or decelerate with your legs, and so on.
Assuming responsibility for others’ safety, and your own, when it comes to potential backsliding and tracking direction will simultaneously enhance your sphere of awareness, which will pay dividends in the future.