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Skydiving updated

by BASEwiki

Skydiving

Of all things you can do to prepare for BASE, skydiving can be the time best spent. However, make sure you focus on the right things. Being great at freeflying and swooping wonít hurt your BASE performance, but there are other things you could be doing that will prepare you much better.

If you donít already skydive, put BASE out of your mind for a while and stick to being a skydiver. Go through your AFF, PFF, static-line progression or whatever it is called and do what your instructor and jump-master recommend. This will not only be safer, it will also make you familiar with some of the vocabulary that the rest of this website contains.

Number of Skydives

The debate on how many skydives a person needs before he can get into BASE is a recurring and heated one. The problem is that BASE is a complicated sport with a broad range of required techniques. Its preparation canít be captured in a specific number of skydives. Those that try are bound to be corrected quickly with some random number that will be wrong in the eyes of a third group of people.

Since it is such a popular discussion however, BASE wiki has dedicated an entire page to it. It provides an easy answer, followed by a more difficult and more useful answer. You decide:

How many skydives do I need?

BASE Is Not Skydiving

While skydiving is great preparation for BASE, it is very different too. BASE introduces a large number of risks that skydivers simply donít have to worry about. Tom Begic has written this article explaining the differences.

Skydiving Exercises

Wait until you have your A-license or at least thirty jumps before considering to try the drills listed below. Even better, postpone it for a while and go have fun in other skydiving disciplines like freeflying or relative work. Skydiving is a great sport. Donít miss out on the fun just so you can rush into BASE.

Remember that BASE isnít going anywhere.

Always ask around before attempting any of the drills below. Talk to your instructor, jump-master, and other jumpers at the dropzone. Not everybody will always agree with you, but at the very least you should be able to form an educated opinion on whether or not you are ready for the drills below. Learning to form such opinions is an important skill that youíll need for BASE.

Canopy Choice

Ideally, your skydiving should happen on a similar canopy to the one you intend to use in BASE. From ideal scenario to not ideal but possible, the following canopies can be used:

  1. The very BASE canopy you intend to use for your own BASE jumps.
  2. An old used BASE canopy, probably unvented.
  3. A canopy relative work (CRW) canopy.
  4. A nice stable 7-cell platform, like an F-111 PD 235, or a Ravin III or IV. Avoid 7-cell accuracy canopies - there have been examples of prospective BASE jumpers trying to do the right thing and doing canopy drills on Parafoils, only to miss the tuffet and break both their ankles.
  5. A big student nine cell, possibly rented at your dropzone.
  6. Your own canopy, as long as itís not a heavily loaded crossbraced swoop canopy.
  7. BASE WIKI has a special on page on skydiving a BASE canopy.

In Freefall

Great freefall skills are not crucial to being a succesful BASE jumper. They donít hurt, but all BASE jumps start in dead air. All the skills you use to move your body at terminal speed wonít help when youíre falling at subterminal speeds. In fact, sometimes they can be counter productive.

This is why platform diving is a great addition to your path into BASE, because it teaches you body awareness and stability control in dead air.

That said, there is one important skill that can be practiced during freefall, namely tracking. Given that the biggest enemy in BASE is the object behind you, it makes sense to find ways to get as far away from it as possible. The first few seconds, only a strong launch, potentially helped by a running exit, is going to help you gain distance from the object. At some point, your body will meet air resistance, and itíll become possible to leverage this to track away from the object. It is this latter part that you can succesfully practice on your skydives.

Talk to experienced skydivers and your instructor to learn how to track. Then do tracking-dives where you leave the plane at high altitude and do nothing but tracking for the entire duration of the jump. Experiment with your body position and see how it affects your speed. Look at the ground to gain a sense of speed or, even better, do tracking dives with a coach or a friend and use the relative speed of the other person to judge your tracking skills.

In BASE there are different schools of thought as to what body position is best for tracking. Furthermore, the transition from dead-air to a terminal track introduces new challenges. Being able to track away as early as possible in the jump is what can give you the extra distance youíll need to turn the canopy around in case of an offheading.

BASE specific tracking is discussed in more detail on the tracking page.

On Opening

Analysing a jump from exit to landing, the time in which the canopy comes out of the container and inflates is the most crucial. While the jump isnít over until you land (and get away) safely, a succesful opening of the parachute in the direction you want to fly will greatly improve your chances of having a successful jump all together. The key importance here is flying in the direction you want to fly. In BASE, that means away from the object.

On your skydives, start analysing your openings with a focus on heading. Learning to get consistent onheading openings and learning to correct your heading quickly can someday save your life.

Body Position

The first thing to focus on during the opening sequence is your body position. Keep your body level with the horizon throughout the opening sequence, from the moment you reach back for your pilotchute to the moment the inflated canopy jerks you upright in the harness.

Dropping a shoulder at any point can be the difference between getting an onheading opening, getting an offheading or even linetwist. The important point is to make sure that both risers get loaded and tensioned at the same time during the deployment sequence. If one riser is loaded before the other, it will initiate a turn in that direction.

Do some skydives where you actually deploy while dropping a shoulder or going unstable to experience what kind of effect it can have. This only tells you something about slider up jumps, but itís an interesting experiment nonetheless.

Watch Your Heading

During and after your opening sequence, keep an eye on your heading. Find a reference point on the ground or horizon and see if you are flying towards it once youíre under canopy. You can keep track of your heading in your logbook and see if it improves over a number of jumps. Being able to see and feel what your heading is going to be as your canopy inflates is going to help you to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Reach for Risers or Toggles

Every now and then, for some reason, your heading isnít quite what you wanted it to be. In BASE, this means you might find yourself flying towards a solid object. It is highly advisable to do something about it. You need to be able to reach for your rear risers to fly backward or do a riser turn, or reach for toggles to do a toggle turn. Quickly, before you hit the object.

The debate on when to use risers or toggles is presented on the page about Offheadings. On your skydives, practice both reaching for risers and toggles as quickly as possible, being careful not to let it affect your stability (which would encourage offheadings).

Some jumpers can be seen reaching back for their risers as soon as they have pitched their pilotchute. Their hands are basically reaching back, waiting for the risers to appear out of the container and slam into their hands. Very good jumpers can sometimes even use riser input while the canopy is still inflating to avoid linetwist or offheadings.

Obviously just holding your risers or toggles isnít going to help you much. You need to apply input to correct a potentially disastrous situation. This is what youíll practice under canopy.

Under Canopy

The best skydiving time you can spend preparing for BASE will be under canopy. Try the drills below immediately after opening (to learn how to quickly deal with offheadings) but continue to practice this until you need to start thinking about landing safely.

Never compromise your landing to do more exercises; make sure you leave sufficient altitude to fly a correct landing pattern. Always be aware of the airspace around you and make avoiding other jumpers your first priority.

A good strategy is to get out of the plane last and pull high. This will keep you away from other jumpers, and gives you lots of time to play with your canopy. Discuss your plan with the jump-master and other jumpers on the load.

Stalling

The stall point of your canopy is a crucial characteristic you want to learn. Ideally you are flying the same canopy you intend to use for BASE, but if not it is still important to learn the stall point. There are several different configurations in which you need to find the stall point.

  1. After opening, with the brakes still stowed, using rear risers.
  2. Using the toggles.
  3. Dropping the toggles, using rear risers again.
Play with all three scenarios and notice their differences.

To actually stall, apply so much input on rear risers or toggles that it seems your canopy is going to collapse. This is scary at first, but youíll learn to go further over time. Stall deeper and deeper until your pilotchute is dangling in front of the canopy instead of behind it. Then slowly let up on the risers or toggles again to recover.

If you feel youíre ready for it, you can try stalling your canopy again and then suddenly letting go of the risers or toggles. This will be even scarier at first but after some heavy buckling of the canopy you will recover normal flight.

You want to learn the stall point of your canopy for two reasons. One is to fly backwards and away from the object when strike is imminent. This is explained below. The other important reason is that you donít want to stall your canopy when you are close to the ground.

When you do a sudden stall recovery high up in the air, you will notice how violent this is. You want to avoid this when you are about to land, since it could smack you into the ground. When you do a really deep -close to vertical- landing approach, you will be on the verge of stalling. To avoid actually stalling and risking injury, it is important to know where the stall point of your canopy is.

Riser Turns

Once you know how to stall your canopy, it is time to play with riser turns. Obviously you are already familiar with turning with toggles, but it is important to learn how to steer with your risers as well, for two reasons.

  1. Immediately after opening, you will be able to reach for your risers much faster than for your toggles. So when time is lacking, you might be better off reaching for risers rather than risking a misgrab of your toggles.
  2. On most slider down jumps, you will use the line release mod (LRM). Unfortunately, a drawback of the LRM is that in some rare occasions you might lose a toggle, meaning you will be forced to steer and land using your risers. It is therefore an essential skill.

To learn how to steer with your risers, just play with them. Input on the right rear riser will initiate a turn to the right, the left rear riser to the left. Also try pulling down both rear risers and then letting up on one side. Experiment with your front risers too, which create turns with a different glide angle and turn radius. Finally, practice turns where you pull on both rear and front risers.

Flying Backwards

This was already briefly touched upon when you practiced stalling. If you give enough input on your risers or your toggles and verge on stalling, you will be able to fly backward. Note that the word flying takes on a different meaning here. Compared to the usual forward flight of your canopy, flying backward is really nothing more than gracefully falling in the opposite direction. The canopy stays inflated above your head, but its shape is so deformed that it creates enough drag to take you in the opposite direction.

Youíll never create a lot of horizontal speed flying backwards. Your vertical speed will increase significantly though, and it is not recommended to land a backward flying canopy, not even if it is BASE sized. The only exception is on actual BASE jumps when your choice ends up being between flying backward and stalling it into the ground, or hitting the object and then hitting the ground.

When practicing to fly backward, try applying more or less input on one riser or toggle and learn to turn while flying backwards.

Heading Correction

Having practiced all of the above, you now have the three ingredients to deal with a potential object strike.

  1. Being quick on risers or toggles
  2. Being able to fly backwards
  3. Being able to turn

The next exercise is to combine them all together and simulate quick and responsive heading correction. Practice this whenever you open your parachute, but also after once youíre under canopy.

Again, the topic on whether to use your risers or your toggles for heading correction is discussed when Basejumper talks about offheadings. For now, letís assume youíre going to use your risers.

Let go of your toggles (or leave them stowed) and drop your risers. Visualize an offheading and then quickly reach up for your rear risers, yank hard on both sides and start flying backward. Then, let up on one side, and turn away. Sometimes you can even reach across to the front-riser too and pull on both front and rear on one side to turn around even faster.

Experiment with different techniques to turn around as quickly as possible, trying to consume as little forward and vertical distance as possible. This is hard to tell on solo skydives, and that is where canopy relative work (CRW) and obstacle avoidance drills off a bridge become useful. They give you relative sense of how much distance you cover and altitude you lose while turning away from the imaginary object.

Flying with One Toggle and One Riser

On slider down BASE jumps you will probably be using the line release mod, which helps you in case of a line over. However, occasionally a premature toggle fire means you will lose your toggle. This means you now have to steer using your rear riser.

You have already practiced steering using both risers, now practice steering using one riser and one toggle. See how the inputs differ from each other. Also practice flying with risers when you have one toggle still stowed, and the other one released. If a toggle release on opening, your canopy will start a turn. On a BASE jump, you want to counter this turn quickly to keep flying straight and away from the object. You will need to provide riser input to do this.

Most people will drop the other toggle too when they accidentally lose one. The advantage is that their steering mechanism is symmetrical again, now using two risers instead of one riser and one toggle. However, if you lose a toggle during opening, you need to be able to correct as quickly as possible, and using riser input is going to be the fastest. Once you are flying straight, you can decide to drop the other toggle or not.

Flat Turns

On BASE jumps you often have to make turns much closer to the ground than any skydiver will recommend you do. When you do a steep turn on a small skydiving canopy, you will swing out from underneath your canopy. At some point you will have to swing back underneath it. If you hit the ground while doing this, you become another low-turn incident, which seems to be the biggest cause of accidents in skydiving.

Fortunately your large and docile BASE canopy, combined with a technique called flat-turning, will allow you to turn close to the ground and still land safely without injury. Practice flat turns with sufficient altitude first. Once you are comfortable with them, you can consider taking them lower. Remember that it is your responsibility to watch for other traffic in the air.

A flat turn is performed by slowly giving equal input on both toggles. Then, by letting one toggle up, you will perform a slow turn in the opposite direction. This turn will consume little altitude, and you will remain close to vertical underneath your parachute. Once you are good at it, you can try initiating a flat turn by giving input on both toggles, but more on one side than on the other.

Landing

Although it is argued that the opening sequence is the most crucial component of a succesful BASE jump, if you fail to land your canopy safely, your jump cannot be called a success.

BASE landings are generally more technical than those you will on most dropzones. You will dodge objects, trees, fences, sometimes even cars, sometimes to fly to a landing area that can be smaller than the square footage of your own canopy.

It is therefore important to work on your landing skills on every skydive.

Accuracy

On every jump, before starting your landing pattern, pick a spot where you are going to land. This does not always have to be the bowl in your dropzoneís landing field. Just pick a safe spot, away from other canopy traffic. Try to land there, and keep track of your landing accuracy over a large number of jumps. Make sure you improve.

It helps if you are jumping a seven-cell canopy, or even better your BASE canopy. It allows you to set up high, and do a steep approach, sinking it and descending nearly vertical.

A general rule of thumb on BASE canopies is that you want to err on the side of being too high. BASE canopies generally have a very steep angle of attack, and when flying close to your stall point youíll be able to put it almost straight down.

That said, sometimes overshooting a landing area is more dangerous than undershooting. Always take all dangers into account and make backup plans ordering them from safe to less-than-ideal to potentially deadly.

There are plenty of resources on learning accuracy. Talk to your instructor and some of the old-timers on your dropzone. Theyíll have great accuracy tips. Within no-time, youíll be putting your toes on the penny in the center of the bowl

.

Low approaches

In skydiving the landing pattern starts at high altitude, often as high as 1000 feet. In BASE, a lot of jumps are lower than that, which means your flight pattern has to be executed below that as well.

On the ideal object, your landing pattern will be nothing but a direct straight in approach. With an onheading opening, you just fly straight, flare, and land. Unfortunately, obstacles like buildings, trees, cars, etcetera, combined with wind considerations, often means your flight pattern will include some steering. This means you need to be able to fly your canopy close to the ground, without hooking yourself into it.

This is where your flat turn experience comes in handy. Your skydiving course made you aware that turns low to the ground are to be avoided. And indeed, an aggresive turn low to the ground can easily be deadly if you donít have enough time to plane out the canopy. Flat turns are different however. Make sure you practice them at higher altitude (as described above) and when you get a feel for them, try to take them lower.

Progress to lower and lower altitudes, to the point where you are comfortable doing two full 90 degree turns below 300 feet. That means, flying with the wind, then doing one 90 degree flat turn, flying straight for a bit, and then doing another one, and then bringing it in for landing.

When you start doing this, it becomes especially important you talk to the jumpmaster and your instructors. Make sure that they agree you are ready to do this, and also that everybody on the load is aware of your unusual landing pattern. It is your responsibility to avoid collisions with other canopy pilots.

Steep approaches

As mentioned earlier when talking about accuracy, practice steep approaches. That means setting up as if you are going to overshoot the object, and then going into a deep brake to sink the canopy down close to vertically.

You want to practice this because someday you will find yourself close to a landing area but much higher than ideal. Sinking your canopy down almost vertically will save your life. There is a potential danger; sinking your canopy means you will be hovering close to the stall point. Actually stalling your canopy close to the ground can be dangerous (causing a sudden surge coming out of the stall), so you want to know where your stall point is before you start practicing this. As usual, play under canopy with sufficient altitude, and once youíre comfortable start taking it lower.

PLF

You will have been taught the parachute landing fall (PLF) during your skydiving course. However, as soon as you could land on your feet you probably forgot about the PLF and continued landing on your feet.

In BASE, the need for a well executed PLF comes up much more often. Think about the following scenarios, that in skydiving are much less likely:

  1. A night-jump where depth perception is trickier.
  2. A secondary landing area that is sloped and full of boulders.
  3. The only available landing area forces you to land downwind
  4. .
  5. The only available landing area involves a low-turn that even with a flat turn will give you a lot of forward speed on landing.

All of the above scenarios are great candidates for PLF landings. Never be too embarrassed to PLF. Even when all the other jumpers on the load are standing up their landings, donít be afraid to PLF. Even when your landing pattern is great and you think you can stand it up, PLF anyway. Not only is it good practice for when you do need them, youíll also be laughing at the guy who did brake his leg because he was too embarrassed to PLF.

Your instructors will teach you how to PLF, so talk to them for more information. Then practice them a number of times on your skydives, possibly combined with one of the other exercises below.

The only BASE WIKI advice is that keeping your feet together at all times gets you halfway through a good PLF. Wearing protection like knee pads and body armour will make a PLF much more comfortable, especially if you are doing one on asphalt.

Rear riser landings

Most short-delay BASE jumping will be done using the line release mod (LRM). Donít worry about understanding what the LRM is for (although BASE WIKI can tell you, including whether or not to use it on skydives), just remember that the LRM can result in losing one or two toggles, meaning you will have to land on your risers.

Some people prefer to land on one riser and one toggle when they lose one. You can decide to practice this too. Most people however just drop the other toggle as well and decide to land on both rear risers. The symmetry can make landing easier.

Talk to your instructor to learn how to do rear riser landings. The important thing is to err on the side of not flaring at all. Most people that have never tried a rear riser landing and are suddenly forced to do one, apply the same strategy they use for toggle flares. They pull down hard, causing the canopy to stall ten feet above the ground, dropping them down on the ground hard. Instead, pull down lightly on the risers creating more glide. When in doubt; PLF.

Down- and Crosswind Landings

Most BASE jumps happen in low-wind conditions. Nonetheles, even in low (4 kmh, 3 mph) winds, a downwind landing can give you more speed than you are used to. It is therefore recommended to do several downwind and crosswind landings so you can get comfortable with them. Start in minimal winds and slowly work your way up to stronger wind scenarios. Donít do sudden turns low to the ground if the extra speed surprises you. Instead, use your PLF skills to save yourself.

Make sure everybody on the load is aware of your plans and prefer to land after everybody else has landed. The last thing a canopy pilot wants to see on landing is you coming from the other direction.

Flare Turns

Sometimes you will find yourself having to land amidst a turn. You try to avoid this in BASE by jumping easier sites or having a better flight plan, but one never knows what can happen and therefore it is useful to practice these type of landings on your skydives.

Fly in straight, and then simply flare slightly more on one toggle than on the other. Start of gently, maybe banking in only five degrees on landing. The more comfortable you get, the bigger the turn you can make. Good canopy pilots can turn as much as 45 degrees during their flare. When in doubt; PLF.

Malfunctions

Some people wonder why one would practice malfunctions. It just puts the jumper in a potentially dangerous situation without a reason. The key-word here is potential. A malfunction doesnít become a problem until the jumper is unable to do something about it.

It is therefore highly recommended to practice some easily solvable malfunctions in a forgiving environment, such that when they do occur in high stress situations, you will be better equipped to deal with them.

That said, make sure you have many skydives. The canopy should be an extension of your body and you should have sufficient gear knowledge to analyse the potential consequences. Always talk to your DZO, instructor and jump master about your intentions.

Check the problems section of this website for more information on different BASE malfunctions. Some have information on how to best practice them on skydives. The following easily solvable problems are fun to play with on a skydive:

  1. Premature Brake Release
  2. Line Twist

A line-over is another malfunction that can be practiced. Few people recommend doing this but for the sake of completeness it deserves to be mentioned. Only do this with sufficient skydiving experience, on a large docile BASE canopy, with a reserve you trust, with line-release toggles (WLO) or the LRM and always carry a hookknife. Alternatively, consider practicing a line-over at the PotatoBridge or a similarly forgiving site. See the line-over page for recommendations on how to safely do this.

CRW

CRW (Canopy Relative Work, sometimes called Canopy Formation Skydiving) can be valuable preparation for BASE. CRW develops an in-depth understanding of a 7-cell parachute, from both rigging and flying standpoints, both of which are important in BASE. The average jumper will spend perhaps seven to ten minutes, on a CRW jump, under a canopy which is similar in many respects to a BASE canopy ó certainly better preparation than one minute or less under a highly-loaded elliptical canopy.

Additionally, CRW ó particularly at a competition level ó demands consistent, on-heading openings in which the jumper is active, and immediate control of the canopy after it is opened.

If you want to get the most out of your CRW jumps, find yourself an experienced coach. Mastery of all of the controls (front risers, rear risers, toggles, and harness steering) on a ram-air canopy requires time and effort, but can pay big dividends in the demanding environment of BASE.

Balloon and Helicopter Jumps

As mentioned earlier, BASE jumps start in dead air and skydiving wonít give you the environment to practice these type of exits in. It is therefore recommended you get into platform diving or gymnastics. Nonetheless, when you get the chance to do balloon or helicopter jumps, do some. Especially balloon jumps are very similar to BASE exits, except you wonít risk object strike. Helicopter jumps are a little different because of the prop-blast, but they can still be quite a useful experience.

At least one major manufacturer used a balloon to drop its first jump course students. They have now switched to using the Potato bridge but balloons continue to be great experience to practice dead air exits and transitions to subterminal and terminal.

See the section on exits for more information.

Night Jumps

While your first BASE jumps will happen in broad daylight, there will come a time you find yourself at the edge in the dark. If you have previous experience landing in the dark, you will have more time to enjoy the jump without worrying too much about what landing in the dark is like.

The big problems with landing in the dark are depth perception (itís harder to judge when the start the flare) and obstacle avoidance; cars, trees and most importantly power-lines are much harder to see.

It is highly recommended to do several night skydives, to get more experience with what flying and landing in the dark is like. When in doubt; PLF. In fact, Basejumper highly recommends a PLF for your first few night BASE jumps, even when you think you can stand them up. Remember, doing a PLF is always less embarrassing than fracturing your femur.

Canopy Control Courses

Many dropzones invite famous canopy pilots and organize canopy control courses. Most of these are aimed towards people with an intention of getting into swooping. Nonetheless, taking one of these courses is highly recommended as there are many things to learn from such experienced canopy pilots. They probably donít visit your dropzone every day, so take the opportunity to ask away!

Become a Canopy Expert

There are many more resources on canopy control out there. Learn about CRW, accuracy and general canopy steering characteristics. Try to fly many different canopies so you can compare them and have broader experience. Consolidated Rigging has an article on skydiving exercises for BASE (PDF). Dropzone.com has several articles on canopy control. While not targeted to BASE, they contain a wealth of information that will help you in your BASE career too.


Submitted by BASEwiki on 2007-06-27 | Last Modified by Dashtrash on 2012-12-10

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