Reach for the Sky. And your Grips. Seriously.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Say it isn’t so! Your instructor fibbed to you when they said not to reach for grips. Well, maybe not lied, but didn’t give you the whole story.

Taking Grips is Hard

When you first learned to jump, you learned basic movement skills like turning, moving forward, and changing your fall rate. You may have taken a couple of grips, but your coach probably didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time discussing that skill in depth.

Gripping is just as interesting and challenging as moving around.

A flurry of adjustments

When you take a grip, you are making a bunch of other movement changes, whether you realize it or not. Breaking it down, when you extend an arm even a little you are introducing a backward movement and a bit of slow fall. If you compensate for that backslide with some positive legs, you are adding lots of slow fall. All of these adjustments need to happen simultaneously as you reach out.

The quick and dirty solution

Why did your instructor tell you not to reach for grips? Because most beginners don’t have control over movement enough to make all of those fixes. Instead, they encourage you to take the grip wherever you arm lies to avoid that challenge.

Trex hates sidebody

In extreme cases, I get flyers who think they should just ‘land’ on the grips or take them so close to their body they are almost on top of me. This is an awkward way to fly, especially if you take a sidebody or cat that close. As you progress in formation skydiving, this situation is not a practical way to dock on others.

Look at a good team. We are reaching for grips constantly. We have just developed muscle memory to grab in various locations without moving our center point. Reaching without scooting around is the goal.

On level – for now

Always dock on level! That is still true. If you are taking a standard static grip, you want to be flat with the person you are docking on. Reaching up or down usually causes collapse or a funnel.

To avoid lying to you again, I’m avoiding “never” because there are some special catches and situations in advanced 4way where you will reach up or down. If you don’t know what I mean, don’t even worry about it. Just dock on level.

Easy Steps

Great news! You don’t have to memorize that series of motions to take a stationary dock. Instead, follow these steps.

  • Stop on level
  • Take a breath
  • Reach
  • Chin up and arch

You’ll make the rest of the adjustments if you are stopped and calm. If you give your body a chance to feel what it needs to compensate, it will. You can shortcut it further just lifting your chin as you pick your grip up.

Easy vs. hard grips

Some grips are more comfortable than others! Arm grips are easier than leg grips. Single grips (open, half star, phalanx) are more accessible than double (pin, sidebody, compressed).

If you can take a sidebody dock without moving, you pretty much have this skill licked.


The next time someone tells you not to reach for grips, you know they mean dock on level and stopped without moving as you grab.


The tunnel is the perfect place to practice grip taking.


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I really like Christy's coaching style, it's a great mix of serious and fun, with the ratio adjusted as needed for each person/team. Great organizational skills to keep all the cats herded, and she is skilled and knowledgeable.

» Christine Deglau – Perris Quattro

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