Reach for the Stars!!!
by Jan Meyer
Reach for the Stars! No, No! Don't do that. They always tell you that's what you did, but never told you how to fix the problem next time. They just said, "Fly your slot, then take your grips." You thought you were doing that. Next time you'll do better.
A common problem is to reach for grips. You can reach down, up, forward or laterally for your grip. When you're reaching is extremely far or you forget to compensate with leg extensions, you can miss your grips, over or undershoot, cause the formation to turn or just plain take-out the formation.
Grips and slots are not the same thing. A slot is a specific position relative to a formation. A grip is physical contact between limbs, sometimes requiring a hand to grasp another's jumpsuit. A diamond closer should fly to his slot, directly behind the point. It is the responsibility of the wings to get their legs in their slots, so the closer can take grips.
Whenever your slot is at a weird angle to the formation, as in zippers or donut flakes, you should take your leg grip first and then the arm grip. This lets you make absolutely sure that you have the correct leg and gives you plenty of room to get your arm grips. The person you have an arm grip with might grab your arm before you have your leg grip. This can be bad. The other person may not be looking towards the formation's center and he may take a high shoulder grip on you. You may not be long enough to reach your leg grip. If required, shake off the other person, so you can dock correctly.
A jumper a foot above his slot may reach down for his grip. This is bad. When you reach down, whether it's for an arm or leg grip, your arms will deflect more air backwards. This will push you forwards. If you happen to catch your grips on the way by, the air will push you right on over your grips. You'll be using your grips as a trapeze bar. This is true when you reach down for a single leg grip or with both hands for wrist/arm or sidebody grips.
You can tell you are reaching downwards for your grip by attending to visual and tactile cues. You are too high when you can see entire backpacks. Your grips should always be blocking out part of the horizon. If you see the horizon above your grips, then you are above your slot. The relative wind will push you forward when you reach downward. Wear the lightest weight clothes for the conditions you jump in, so you get the best feel for the air.
Once you notice you're reaching downward, avoid taking grips or let go as soon as possible. Neutralize your body position. You might induce a slight backslide to compensate for any forward movement you may have. In your neutral position with no horizontal movement with respect to the formation, increase your fall rate slightly by arching more and rolling your shoulders back even more. At first this will move your hands away from your grips. As your fall rate increases, you will drop the required foot or two into your slot. You must remember to slow your fall rate, ever so slightly, just as you become even with your slot. These movements should be small and graceful. You are even with your slot when your grips block out part of the horizon. Now take your grips. Any small movements can be compensated with leg movements and changing your arch to maintain a fall rate compatible with the formation.
These same principles apply to reaching up to a grip. The difference is that you will backslide when you reach upwards. If you get your grip, you'll load the formation. Your backsliding and maintaining grips tends to pull the formation apart. It will start to tip upwards in the center and downwards where you are. You'll start to see your grips move above the horizon. Then the jumpers you continue to hold onto will come crashing down on you. If you need to keep a firm grasp of grippers in order to stay in your slot, then you are either above or below your slot. Make sure your grips block the horizon. This will keep you in your slot. As jumpers dock on you, you'll feel them push or pull on you. Adjust your fall rate, extend or contract arms and legs as necessary. The idea is to be able to fly your slot and only have to lay your hand on the grip. That is, you don't need to grasp a gripper or wrist in your fist. Your entire body will remain relaxed when you strive to "take" grips with open hands or fingertips.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #4 Nov./Dec. 1988.
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