I'm posting this on an anonymous throwaway account because quite frankly, I'm too chickenshit to have this associated with my real identity and don't want it to negatively impact the connections and relationships I have within the skydiving/tunnel community. I feel like if I directly addressed my concerns to the people involved they would be brushed off (especially since I only have a couple hundred jumps and a coach rating, and am not an authority on anything tunnel or skydiving-related), so instead I'm taking it to a public forum.
I have noticed a disturbing trend lately where people who are highly experienced tunnel flyers but beginner skydivers WAY overestimate their level of competence and talent when it comes to skydiving. I primarily jump in Colorado, where there is a pretty solid community of tunnel rats and freeflyers and within the last couple years there have been a number of tunnel instructors making the transition to skydiving. From what I've seen, these tunnel instructors (and their peers/mentors) do not believe the rules that apply to every other beginner skydiver seem to apply to them. It seems like the norm is a tunnel flyer/instructor will get their A card stamped and immediately get pulled on an 8 way head down jump with all their tunnel flying buddies. And it goes beyond the implicit acceptance that such behavior is safe and normal, it's more like you HAVE to start doing serious multiway freefly jumps as soon as you're licensed. When we on dropzone.com hear about someone who starts sitflying right after graduating AFF or getting their A license, or a guy who straps on a gopro with 50 jumps, the clear consensus is that it's a bad idea. And yet, it appears there are special allowances made for tunnel instructors because their body flying abilities somehow mean they have the skydiving experience required to handle more dangerous/complex situations?
Probably the most troubling part of this (and the reason I created this thread) is what one of my friends told me last night: a couple tunnel instructors from Skyventure Colorado are attending the USPA board meeting this weekend where they will argue that tunnel time should be an acceptable substitute for skydives/freefall time when it comes to earning an AFF-I certification. My initial reaction to this is that my friend was messing with me, because who would seriously think this is a good idea? Being able to carve head down in the tunnel has nothing to do with safely conducting a student training program or AFF skydive, and with turbines making it easier than ever to accumulate jumps quickly the AFF-I requirements should be raised if anything. Anyway, it turns out he was not joking about this at all and a presentation will be made to the board this weekend. I looked up one of the guys who is arguing for this and he has less than 100 jumps, no coach rating (obviously), and his facebook is full of self-shot gopro videos of 10 way head down jumps. He appears to be completely obvious to why him getting an AFF rating would be a bad idea, which is EXACTLY why the requirements shouldn't be lowered, in my opinion.
I want to close by saying I am not condemning tunnel flying or instructors as a whole. I do quite of bit of tunnel flying myself and love it, and personally know many tunnel instructors who are also avid skydivers and did their progression the "right" way and didn't start flying smaller canopies or shooting video until they had the requisite experience. However, most of these people started a few years ago and it appears the "younger" generation of tunnel instructors and flyers have less respect for the concept of a sane progression. I think if we keep letting tunnel instructors break the rules (either explicitly or implicitly) it's only a matter of time before it results in a 8 page thread in the incidents forum of people questioning how so-and-so had hundreds of hours in the tunnel but <100 skydives and was doing _______.
Am I being too much of a busybody about this? Like I said, I'm no authority when it comes to skydiving or tunnel but I feel like I have enough sense to know when something is wrong with someone's attitude toward safety. And it's not like the current requirements to get an AFF-I are particularly stringent, if you are dedicated you can easily accumulate the required jumps/freefall in less than a year. My hope is that the USPA board points out what a bad idea this is when presented to this weekend, and the tunnel people involved gain a bit of humility in regards to their abilities when it comes to skydiving specifically.