Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crash 'n' Bash

I'm at  seventy two jumps now.  
It's fun...
...but this was getting  old:
So many crash landings!
My inner critic wasn't pleased.
What was wrong?  I had plenty of jumps.  I'd even taken a canopy course.  Why so many crashes?
Maybe it's a mental thing, I thought.  Maybe if calm down and act as if I know what to do, I'll land correctly.
On my next final approach I was Superduck.
  Superduck knew how it was done.  Calm down, eyes on the horizon, flare half way at ten feet, plane out, flare all the wa-
That was the end of Superduck.
My inner critic had my rap sheet ready:
 What's with all the screw ups?  These were all things I knew I shouldn't be doing, yet they kept happening.
Maybe I didn't deserve my A license after all?  Did they revoke these things?
Inner Critic was also displeased with my rides to altitude.
Now Inner Critic had crossed the line.  Time for some backtalk.
As for the crash landings, some coaches suggest I try a smaller canopy.  Perhaps the 210 was too big for me.  I rented a 190.
As soon as the chute opened, I practiced my flare.  Half way, all the way... hey....  Something was wonky.
The eye hole section of the steering lines was acting like a speed bump.  Each time I pulled down, they'd get stuck in the slider grommets and it took a tooth-pulling tug to get them through.  I practiced over and over:
Half brakes, tug, tug tug... full brakes.
The brakes were sloppy, yet, the landings were  gentle.  Even the crash landings. 
I assumed the problem was my fault.  Maybe I wasn't strong enough .  Maybe there was some subtle trick to a good flare that I was missing (never mind that this had never been a problem before).  Other jumpers gave me suggestions.  I practiced different techniques up high, but the blankety blank thing didn't cooperate.  It was only much later that I figured out that the problem wasn't me.

Friday, August 03, 2012


When the  plane reaches 1000 feet, we're expected to unfasten our seat belts, spread out, and, if it's a toasty day, open the door.  This means someone gets to sit on the floor, untethered, inches away from a big drop.  When that person is me, I don't like it.
Yeah, I get that I have a parachute on and should be able to save myself if I fell out, but it still freaks me.
Guess who's not a natural at this?
Guess who also still exits the plane like this?
I knew I wasn't the most graceful creature, but it wasn't until I saw video after video of my exits that I realized how all over the place I was.  Its ridiculous.  I knew how to arch.  On the way to altitude I was visualizing myself leaving the plane and arching.  What was up with the rag doll moves?
And then there's the landings. They often look like this...

but sometimes I... standing up.  Whoohoo!  Okay, this is something many of my peers have mastered in their student days... ...but for me it's a treat.

I try to be safe.  I fear "stealth goof ups"- that is, doing something bad without noticing it.   A recent lowish pull comes to mind.  This makes me mad on two counts- I've done something wrong and put myself (or others) in potential danger.   Not safe.  Not cool.
Recently I was planning my landing pattern when I noticed the wind sock at a right angle to its usual position.  We're supposed to land perpendicular to the runway, and that's the way the wind usually blows.  Not today..  What to do?  Follow the rules and find out what a crosswind landing was like?  Or do a pattern lined up with the wind?
 Whatever you do, I thought, stay out of everyone's way!   No surprise turns.  No cutting people off.   Got that?*
I looked around.  I was at the far end of the DZ.   My only neighbors in the sky were a pair of hawks.  They were flying with the windsock.
Okay, I thought, if the hawks know what to do...
Downwind... crosswind... into the wind... toggles up... toggles up... flare half... all-the-way...
Wow!  I landed a stand up landing!  
The shuttle van drove up.  Lisa, the driver said:

"Lucky Duck?"
Oh Geez, I thought.  What bullet had I just dodged?  What stupid, reckless thing had I just done?  Had I put anyone else in danger?  Maybe I had no business doing this skydiving stuff!
"Lucky," Lisa continued.  "You got to fly with the hawks!"

I may be a lucky duck, but it seems I'm also a nervous, high strung one.  The feedback I get from the many coaches who put up with me is "Relax!"
They're right.  Being tense makes my moves crude and clunky.  Being calm makes things easier.  My challenge is to learn to get calm and stay that way.    It's one thing to sit in a chair and relax.  Plunging through the air and relaxing is trickier.
Even a lot of my tunnel time is devoted to relaxing.
It's less spooky than the sky even with an audience of Universal Citywalk tourists watching.   Never mind that some of my peers are learning sit fly moves now.  If learning to relax was what I needed, that was what I was practicing.  It did make it easier to do control what I was doing.

I usually jump with  other people.  We attempt some formations.  I'm usually the one who ends up too high or backslides away.  Even when I get close, I have trouble docking.  On a recent jump I  found myself level with another diver.  Would I be able to grab his grips  without backsliding?
Calm down!  I reminded myself. Relax...


It worked!  I was able to dock..  Then let go and was able to dock in a second formation.  This is very basic stuff, but for me it was a miracle.  I couldn't believe it.   Maybe I could be a decent skydiver after all...!

*for non-skydiving readers both canopy collisions and low turns (to avoid them) are very dangerous.