Freestyle Safety Tips
by Tamara Koyn
Freestyle is a new and expressive aspect in skydiving. It is natural for skydivers to try it. A freestylist can make up his own maneuvers, copy another's maneuvers or both. A skydiver can enjoy safe freestyle dives by keeping a good head and engaging in safe practices. There are additional safety considerations in performing freestyle. These include harness adjustments, altitude awareness, techniques of dealing with disorientation and avoiding injuries.
A beginner freestyle skydiver should be at the very least capable of controlled 45 second delays and the basic freefall actions of turning, looping and rolling. He should be able to start and most importantly, stop flat turns or spins. Looping and rolling should be performed without disorientation. Altitude awareness is even more important. A skydiver should always remember to (1) pull, (2) pull at a proper altitude and (3) pull with stability.
A freestylist engages in more body motions than the typical RW skydiver. He should pay careful attention to his harness. It should fit properly. Leg straps that are too loose can end up halfway down to your knee by the end of a freefall. This would produce an uncomfortable opening and increase the chance of slipping out of your harness. Secure and stow all excess straps so that they can't come loose during a jump. Who knows where a long unstowed leg strap could wind up after a large amount of motion in freefall. At pull time, a freestylist could end up pulling on an unstowed strap. Be sure that all gear is maintained. Make sure that worn Velcro on the bridle line of a throw out system is replaced. During maneuvers, the unpredictable wind pattern passing it could cause worn Velcro to come undone and increase the chance of a horseshoe malfunction. The drag on the loose bridle line can be enough to pull the pin from the main container. A freestylist's life depends on his gear.
It is very important for a freestylist to maintain good altitude awareness. Freestyle moves, depending on their nature, can be capable of rapidly chewing up time and altitude. Usually those moves in which the body presents, on average, a smaller surface area to the relative wind are fast falling maneuvers. It is also easy to get carried away with freestyle and forget to pull at a proper altitude. To keep altitude awareness, check both the ground and altimeter between every maneuver. A freestylist should know what his local DZ looks like when he is at pull altitude. If a freestylist notices a number of open canopies over his head, he is more than likely falling low. When flying back to Earth, a freestylist must remember that chest mounted altimeters are inaccurate whenever they are in a burble.
If a freestylist is jumping solo, there may be others with him in the plane and many others at boogies. He must also be aware of other jumpers which may have exited on the same pass or from other aircraft. When following an RW formation out, a freestylist should give plenty of time between their exit and his. He should avoid getting over the backs of others at any time and especially at pull time. RW jumpers will not appreciate a freestylist taking out their formation.
A freestylist can find some moves more disorientating than other moves. He should know how to handle disorientation. If he can't handle getting dizzy in freefall, he should avoid maneuvers that will cause it. Usually moves excessive in the number of rotations in one direction cause dizziness. If confronted with dizziness, a freestylist should arch and keep careful track of time altitude. He should immediately pull if he loses track of time and altitude. If a freestylist finds himself violently out of control, the hard arch really does work. If the arch doesn't work then he probably has tension in his body that is adding to the problem. In this case, he should first relax and then hit an arch. If a freestylist loses track of time and altitude during stability problems, he should pull immediately.
A freestylist also wants to avoid injuries. Muscles can be strained or even pulled during vigorous or strenuous maneuvers and out of control fall. High muscle tension is what causes strained or pulled muscles. To reduce the chance of strained or pulled muscles, a freestylist can do any number of things to relax muscles. Gentle, relaxed shaking out of limbs, stretching, or massages all help relax muscles. Cold muscles are more vulnerable to injury. Dress adequately for freefall conditions. Avoid injury by knowing your body's limitations and staying within them. If a particular move hurts, stop and avoid it. Pain is the body's way of saying that it is being injured.
A freestylist can maneuver without worry if he uses common sense and knows his limits. A freestylist engaged in safe practice will enjoy the creative opportunities of movement in freefall.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #3 Sept/Oct 1988.
Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.