Going low sucks! Every skydiver of some experience has had that combination of panic and dread as they are looking upwards at an all-but-one completed formation. This guide takes you through the steps to avoid that sinking feeling. We start off talking about slow fall, move on to the stadium, discuss tools for aligning your range, and finish with recovery. Be sure to grab the bonus tunnel drill guide for skills you practice in a tunnel!
Bonus No-Go-Low Tunnel Drill Guide
Now let’s talk about what to do when you are under the formation. We will affirm why it is harder to get back up, what to do safety-wise, some body position reminders, and at last, the super magic trick to recovering.
Why it is hard to get back up once you are low
I need to admit something. I’d been a professional for years before I thought through why it is so freakin’ hard to get back up to a formation. I guess I just assumed people were in a bad body position or panicked. Eventually, I realized that it is harder to get back up than to stay with a group.
If a formation is falling at 100 mph, and if you match the fall rate above it, you need to fall at 100 mph. If you get below it, you need to go even slower to make headway—say 90 mph. That is way harder! The quote “If you don’t want to go low, don’t fly there!” is not that sarcastic. It is a thing.
Being low and safe
If you get low, keep on fighting! Try not to go lower. Keep a visual on the formation. Why? First, you might get back up! Don’t be a quitter.
Second, you should break off at the planned altitude in the planned pattern. If you see the formation, you will know where you should head. If you break off as planned, the rest of the formation has the best possible shot at seeing where you are.
If you want more information on big way safety, check out Kate Cooper’s excellent article.
Body position notes
The section on body position has the slow fall position in detail. Here are some crucial reminders if you are lower than the group.
- If you are below, push your head down to the wind and look to the side instead of cranking your chin up.
- If you jam your legs and arms both straight out, you will drive forward and probably zoom around. This is not ideal.
- Make sure your arms are perpendicular to the wind. The more desperation you feel, the more likely you are to press downwards (dropping further).
- Hold it. Once you are in your full braked position, engage and hold it. It won’t work fast like the tunnel, because the formation is falling too. You’ll come back at a crawl.
The magic trick I promised
Did you skip ahead to the good part? That is okay. This is worth it.
If you get low, DON’T GO BACK TO YOUR SLOT! Go back to your stadium picture/buffer zone first! Get higher and a little out and remake your approach.
I have seen so many tragic almost-saves from people who failed to do this. Watching someone recover 40 feet only to get within inches of their slot and slip back under the whole group is like a gut punch. If you come right to your slot, you are in the red zone, and you can cause a lot of damage. Plus, if you don’t get higher than the group when you desperately swipe for those grips, you are going to dump a bunch of lift and drop way back out again.
I hope this series has helped you understand what you need to do to stay above it all! If you have questions or observations, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or by contacting me. See you in the air!
Bonus No-Go-Low Tunnel Drill Guide