10 Real-Life Examples from World Class Canopy Pilots Who Learnt From Their Mistakes
Pushing the boundaries can often lead to skydivers taking unnecessary risks. We asked 10 experienced canopy pilots to give examples of mistakes they made and what they learned from them.
1. It’s not always about getting the shot
First up we have Icarus athlete Chris Stewart and his account of a jump that didn’t quite go to plan.
In 2010 I was working at Skydive Voss in Norway and as some people may know, Voss is famous for mountain flying. Towards the end of the season I decided to push further back on one of the runs and managed to land on top of the mountain. Luckily I wasn’t too banged up, but it was the end of my season and meant I had a whole year to learn from this mistake.
I came back the following year and in 2011 it was evident that I hadn’t learned a thing. On a run that I had done many times that season, I decided to push harder and tighter than I had before. As a result, next thing I woke up on the side of a mountain missing a tooth and with a broken back. These incidents were due to a couple of mistakes but the main one was chasing the shot.
In a world of online videos I was pushing out of my comfort zone to get the money shot and put simply, it wasn’t worth it. The reason I wanted to mountain fly in the first place was because it looked like a lot of fun, not to become famous for a day on YouTube.
It can be easy to forget that this sport is about enjoyment, which is why we all started in the first place and is even easier to get obsessed with social media. Since these lessons I’m ok with not having a camera on every jump. And if I’m being honest I prefer not to when fun jumping. My memory of each fun jump, whether it’s a tight mountain flight or a chill track, is enough.
“At the end of the day if you’re fun jumping, just remember you’re doing it for FUN, not to become famous for a day. Jump for yourself, not the shot!”
2. Don’t start swooping without a canopy made for it!
Cedric Veiga Rios gives insight into how his canopy piloting started and how it has effected his decision making today.
Throughout my skydiving career there are loads of things I’ve learnt. I believe, one of them is: Do not start swooping (270° or more) without a canopy made for swooping. Just because an experienced and good swooper might be able to swoop his 149 or 129 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone.
I started swooping very early on my skydiving path, way too early, which made me have my first and only real bad crash when I had 400 jumps on a 129. I was swooping it very well for 100/200 jumps but the combination of no experience, very low jump numbers (which is not the same as experience in my opinion), and a canopy which was not made for swooping, all contributed to me having a big crash where I was real lucky to not break anything. It was honestly a miracle, I saw my life in front of my eyes after this crash.
Fortunate not to be injured, my boss (the DZ owner), who is a good man, fired me for a week (I would honestly thank him for that now if he reads this) saying that what he saw was crazy and that he might call me back to work in a week or not… In the end, he did call me back after a week. You need people like that to make you understand what happened and save you!
“Take your time, think it through, stay on the ground when the conditions are not good. Practice, practice, practice, stay humble, get coaching, and oh yeah have fun!”
3. Understand the conditions and realise they vary
It may seem obvious, but knowing that every jump provides different conditions can help keep you safe. Icarus athlete Robin Jandle explains why. She keeps it short, but the message is simple.
When I began my career as a videographer I learned a valuable lesson about understanding wind conditions, turbulence, and low turns. Maybe a little too ambitious at first on my Sabre 107, but I wanted to start doing 90’s and try double front risers. During a windy day at work I did a low turn in a turbulent and unforgiving area of our field. I ended up smashing in. Helmet, jumpsuit, and new cameras all destroyed.
“From then on I learned to ask questions and not feel ashamed to ask for help.”
4. Too low? Too late!
Another of our female athletes, Icarus athlete Olga Naumova, recalls why it doesn’t always pay to go for the gates…
No one is immune to making mistakes – we are exceedingly fallible creatures! I didn’t see anyone who actually enjoyed failing. That’s why we never give up the gates and trust our rears. This is just one of many stories from my personal “fuck ups” book.
It was a beautiful training day on the pond and the 5th jump of the day. Half way through my turn I saw a canopy of another swooper (that jumped after me) pretty much at the same altitude. He knew he was in the way, so he aborted. I should’ve done the same, but I didn’t. The correct action to bail was recognised and intended, yet not performed. So I went for the gates… But my peripheral vision was on him. And when I realised that I was a bit too low – it was a bit too late.
I hit it hard (got the gates though, lol), knees, head, somersault, big splash… small fracture in my back, torn MCL and ACL, multiple bruises… I had “finish the mission” focus that could have cost my little perfect life. What did I learn from this? That you need to be ready to give up a run if things don’t feel right.
“Know when to bail. Even if it’s a competition run. But if you don’t… well, at least make an impression – if it isn’t a good one, you might as well give them something to remember. And enjoy that wheelchair.”
5. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Icarus athlete Kevin Haugh explains that sometimes it’s better to listen to reason rather than your ego…
Mistakes were made, is an understatement. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? It was mid-January, and far out in the landing area at Elsinore, a nice pond was forming. I had around 1200 jumps at the time and was just getting confident with my Leia 79. It was then I decided it was time to stop dragging dirt, and finally get my foot wet. I went out and walked the banks and found a good decent line. The only thing was, I was Load Organising that day, and couldn’t avoid going to full altitude with some fun jumpers. I wanted to do a hop ‘n’ pop for this, but I went to full altitude anyway…
MISTAKE 1. After an uneventful skydive, I got all my house keeping sorted, and bam…. I’m way off of where my flight plan should be…I can make it, I think…
MISTAKE 2. As I got on my base leg, I realised I was starting to get close to my turn altitude. “I thought to myself, maybe I should bail….” Nope, not a chance, I need to drag water!!!
MISTAKE 3. I started my turn, well under where I should have, I rolled out, and let her rip, and let her attack, my mind was telling me…. toggles…use your toggles…. but I wanted to drag so bad.
MISTAKE 4. I skipped off the water, ended up inverted, and landed on my face on the bank. I impacted so hard that I cracked my G3 visor, and part of the helmet. My GoPRO got ripped off, and somehow ended up in a cell of my canopy. Other than that, my pride was crushed. It was a huge wake up call.
Now let’s look at some things, in hindsight:
When learning new things, especially anything to do with high-performance wings, make sure you’re doing it on a dedicated pass. That way you’re not having to worry about anything else, and your sole focus can be on all the right things.
“Don’t be afraid to bail, and don’t let your ego get in the way of making the right decisions.”
6. Trust is good, control is better
Taking responsibility for your actions no matter the situation is key. Red Bull athlete Max Manow tells us why.
From the first moment we show up at the Dropzone we are surrounded by people who facilitate our sport, hobby or job. The rigger, manifest, ground crew, pilots and our friends, skydiving colleagues and everyone else around us. There is a strong trust amongst all of us and relying on the people around us is such an important part of what we are doing.
Over my time in the sport I have found myself multiple times in situations that ended bad or could have ended very badly. And all because I handed over responsibility by being the “follower” to a “leader”. I have witnessed groups exiting just because the green light was on or 2-way swoops where the “follower” ended up dangerously low because he/she was ‘only’ following.
Trust is earned and unless you´re performing perfectly rehearsed jumps multiple times,(and to a degree not even then) never trust completely, assuming anything. Check for yourself.
“Take ownership and responsibility for yourself and everyone around you!”
7. Check, double check, triple check
PD athlete Matt Leonard’s example of skydiving gone wrong is a common one, but one that can have devastating results. He was lucky to walk away from this one.
Back in the day, when I thought I knew what I was doing, (I still don’t fully know what I’m doing) I was demoing a bunch of canopies. At that time I was jumping a Crossfire 109 and decided to demo a 107 Katana. I was a weekend videographer and instructor at the DZ while still studying at University.
Excited to jump, I hooked up the canopy on the three rings and noticed the cutaway cable seemed short on the left side of my rig. The cable was still long enough to go into the hard housing on the riser so I thought “It’s good, it’s long enough.”
So I made the first jump and had an uneventful skydive. I was videoing a tandem which probably wasn’t the smartest. Didn’t give me much time to check out the canopy. Did a small turn onto final and then WHAM! The moment my feet touched the ground the left riser unloaded and flew off. I laughed as I had no idea what had just happened!
When reviewing what happened, I learned that I pushed the cutaway cable into the reserve tray through the gap in the hard housing where the Colin’s lanyard goes. At the time, I had no idea what a Colin’s lanyard even was. I just knew I had a skyhook. The riser was holding on by a thread through the whole canopy ride.
“The lack of information I had about my rig was no one’s fault but my own, and it nearly cost me my life.”
8. Assumptions can be fatal
Icarus athlete Andrew “Angry” Woolf tells of a skydive that he and his mate had done multiple times, but one assumption almost led to a fatal error.
I’ve had a heap of mistakes during my career, but one that sticks out was during the PD Tveir in 2014. I was swooping with Ben Lewis and we had done a heap of jumps together over the years. Ben was leading with me following. We were both on Petra 72’s, doing 450’s at the same wing loading.
We hadn’t come across any problems during any other swoops we’d done together, but on one round we were slightly off line and deep on the base leg. Because of this I had to cut across a little to get the entry gates and I made the mistake of thinking Ben would speed up his turn as well to get back.
As I was bringing the turn around getting ready for a whip at the bottom end, I noticed Ben and immediately thought “he’s not usually there.” I had more speed and power in the bottom of the turn which carried through and was catching up to him extremely quickly!
Cutting across to get to the gates and the added speed I had over Ben, I found myself speeding towards him as we were coming round into line for the gates. I immediately bailed during the last part of my turn and ended up landing on the entry road into Zephyrhills.
I landed without incident and stood it up on the road as I flew past cars coming into the DZ. One bloke in a Mustang I landed in front of told me how “fucking awesome” that was… Ben and I both had a good chat and got pissed that night.
It could’ve been a very different outcome if I hadn’t aborted part of my turn. I would have ended up flying into my mate at 250ft and most likely wouldn’t be writing this. We both learned heaps and in hindsight, probably should’ve been doing 270’s for 2 way swoops. We didn’t have enough time to train two different turns before the world championships which were straight before this comp. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“So my mistake…don’t assume that people have seen something you have. Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups.”
9. You wanna compete? Then train!
Red Bull athlete Marco Fuerst doesn’t mince his words. His message is clear.
Last year before the Austrian Nationals, I hadn’t trained on the pond for months. So I thought I’d go for a couple of runs before the comp. I went for one Distance and one Speed run, which I felt happy with. On my first Accuracy run I came in with way too much speed – popped up too high and bruised both feet so hard I couldn’t walk for a week not to mention competing at the nationals.
“What I have learned from or let’s say what I have been reminded of: TRAINING IS KEY!!!”
10. Knowing your limitations makes you a better skydiver
To round things off, Fluid Wings athlete Tom Baker tells us how it is. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone can improve and learn from them. Simple, no?
In order to be successful in skydiving you have to put in the work, you can’t simply cut corners expecting a positive outcome.
In addition to putting in the work, you have to exercise patience and discipline. Every jumper should map a safe, realistic training plan. Competitors, and weekend warriors alike are all taking risks that could result in life changing consequences.
“Know what your limitations are in every aspect and stick to them.”
This article was originally posted on www.nzaerosports.com.
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Cedric Veiga Rios
Andrew ‘Angry’ Woolf