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Jul 2017

Gearing Up

More than once in past “Gearing Up” columns, you’ve read me urging jumpers to take a canopy course. Of course, since 2012, USPA requires those who want a B license to take one. But it’s generally conceded that it’s a good idea for all skydivers who haven’t done so yet to go through a canopy course, no matter how many jumps they have. It’s also a good idea to go through a refresher course if your last one was a while ago. After all, the average number of jumps made by those who died last year in landing accidents was 1,840. 

Last weekend, I finally took my own advice. I had intended to take a canopy course for a while, but two botched landings in sequence last year forced the issue. They were the two hardest landings I’ve ever had, leaving me slow to get up and dust myself off. The kicker was that I couldn’t find anything to blame them on—no wind gust, no conflicting traffic, no wind rotors off a nearby obstacle—nothing but bad technique on my part. My temporary solution was to upsize my main canopy until I took a canopy course.

When I heard that Greg Windmiller was planning to teach a basic course at a DZ near me, I signed up. He’s a U.S. national champion, a world medalist and a five-time world record holder in canopy piloting. With more than 14,000 jumps, he’s got it dialed in. The class makeup was as I suspected: In a class of 10 mostly young skydivers, I was not only the oldest but had been jumping the longest and had the most jumps (except for Windmiller). Most were there to fulfill the requirement to submit Canopy Piloting Proficiency Cards for their B licenses. 

What I didn’t expect was that a day of instruction could pass so quickly with Windmiller presenting tons of new information in an enlightening, fascinating way. I learned more in one day about the design and characteristics of a ram-air canopy than I thought possible. I also learned more about how to fly and land a ram-air canopy than I had learned in years of skydiving. Things such as how it takes a canopy eight to 10 seconds to return to steady-state flight after even a small toggle input. That’s why toggle corrections in the last couple of hundred feet above the ground can greatly alter your flare capability and technique. I also learned that harness turns are not only for those who want to excel at swooping but that every skydiver should learn them. They can help salvage a landing when you need to make corrective turns on final. And there was so much more information.

There are lots of good canopy courses available, from basic to advanced, and there’s probably one already scheduled at a DZ near you. Whether it’s a course taught by any of Flight-1’s two dozen instructors, Brian Germain of Big Air Sportz, Niklas Daniel and Brianne Thompson of AXIS Flight School, Curt and Jeannie Bartholomew of Team Alter Ego or Windmiller’s Superior Flight Solutions, go find one. It doesn’t matter how many jumps you have or how long you’ve been jumping. If you haven’t been through a canopy course, you need to. If you have but it’s been a few years, you need to. Just do it.

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Jen Sharp

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