The winter is coming and you’re thinking about where you're going to jump to clear your winter doldrums. When you get to where you want to jump, everybody needs to freshen up their skills, maybe learn some new ones. One of the most popular skills to learn is Headdown. As a coach I have seen a lot of ways to learn the position. Some people, if you manually stick them in the position and hold them there, will learn it in a few jumps. Other fliers don't have it so easy. Well this article is for you!
We will learn what to concentrate on in the Headdown position, but more importantly how to work around the problem with other skills, which I think contribute and can sculpt the Headdown position. These skills being back flying, flat back tracking and flat belly tracking.
Headdown is probably the most technical of the freefly positions. It requires balance, skill, strength, and a refined technique. I teach the straddle position first, because it is easier to balance and conceptualize early on. You should have your head, shoulders, hips, and ankles completely in line. Your head should be pointing straight towards the Earth with your field of view consisting of the horizon with a half sky/half ground ratio.
People who fly on their bellies a lot usually have a huge arch in their torso, which causes them to go to a back track, or belly track (we will get to how that is important later). Others usually have a kink in their hip so their shoulders and head are in one plane and their hips and ankles in another plane. This causes a steep track on their belly.
Most of the concentration, once you have acquired the skill of keeping your body all in one plane, should be concentrated on the hips, legs and feet. First, You should have tension in your butt so you are straight, this can fix the hinged at the hip problem addressed above. Second, you should squeeze your quads taught so they push outwards, but remain in the same plane as everything else and keep the full extent of your leg straight. Third, you should have your toes flexed up towards your head. Picture yourself hanging from a bar upside down by your feet. You should feel air on your toes when you get it right. Pressure should be felt on your toes much like someone standing on your feet.
Once you have the straddle position, the progression calls for 360 turns both ways, forward and backward motion, and then docks.
We won't get into the technique of daffy Headdown, but it is extremely useful to slow down, fly in the tunnel with the lower speeds, and for heavier people to fly with others.
People often ask why they need to learn to fly on their back. The answer is simple. Headdown is a balance between flying on your back and on your belly. When the Headdown position is correct, no wind should be felt on your back or belly. This position requires the awareness of air being on your back or belly, so you can achieve no air on the torso. Since most people can fly on there belly relatively well, then it is imperative for you to learn how to fly on your back to acquire the Headdown position.
The back fly position can be attained in the tunnel first, because it is much safer. Start on the grate. Relax your torso so it is convex. Put your hands above your head, and relax them. Do not push down towards the grate unless you want to slow down, or go up! Let your head relax and sit in line with your torso, while looking straight above. Keep your hips 90 degrees just like sitting in a chair. Keep your legs wide for stability.
Back fly also has many everyday uses. Flying with tandems on your back is not only fun, but honestly the best video angle. When you are flying with an inexperienced sit flier and they cork you can match their speed on your back, until they can get vertical again. Lastly, you can use back fly to fly with relative workers, or once again get an interesting camera angle from below.
Two words of caution! First, tighten up your rig when you fly on your back because the rig tends to shift from the wind below and can turn you. Second, I do not recommend flying on your back with other people unless you can competently fly in the wind tunnel on your back with a coach, as not to cause a huge difference in speed and thus a high speed collision.
When first learning the Headdown position people either track towards the coach or away. I think it is very useful to learn to flat track on your belly and back. If you learn to fly both positions well with a coach, then control of the Headdown position is easier.
Belly flat tracking is a little different than the steep track taught in the majority of AFF programs. A flat track has the ankles, hips and shoulders all in one plane.
The progression suggests to learn to turn left and right, adjust your fall rate with your torso, and finally increase your speed with your legs. Turn left and right with your arms first as to make the adjustment slow. Then start to adjust the trim of your body for more powerful turns. Adjust your fall rate in tracking by arching to go down, and cupping with your torso to go up. Lastly, squeeze your quads tight for speed.
Back tracking is fun and challenging. It can be used in Headdown, to track up to formations and to close huge distances. Make sure to slow down well before you reach your target.
The first problem most people have when they back track is they have a kink at the hip. This creates more of a back fly rather than a track. Squeeze your butt, or push your hips forward to get flat. To gain more speed, put your legs together and press your ankles down slightly.
With all these positions and abilities under your belt, Headdown will be easier to learn. The awareness and skills you learn from these alternate positions can in the end help you conquer Headdown.
Remember, try to freshen up with a coach and in the tunnel before you start flying with other people. Headdown, along with these other positions is never easy, but persistence mixed with awareness and the right guidance always pays off.
Swoop high, don't lag on jump run, and pack your instructor's parachute. Later!
Steven Blincoe is the founder of The New School Flight University in Lake Wales, Florida. He has 4,000 jumps total and 300 hours of Skyventure Orlando wind tunnel time. If you would like to contact him you can at blincoe.org, or 530-412-2078.