With today's fast fall rates, weights are essential for lighter weight jumpers. Small jumpsuits are not enough, especially when jumpers in the base are also wearing smaller jumpsuits. There is nothing more embarrassing than making a nice swoop to your slot only to pop three feet above everybody else when you break for the second point. Been there, done that.
But it is not as simple as just slapping on ten pounds of weight and swooping. There is a learning curve involved. Jumpers wearing weights for the first time face the fear of going low. They have to learn how to fly with the extra ballast. They have to learn how to fly like a heavier jumper. That means they have to set up a little higher on approach. They also have to stop a little sooner then they are used to doing. Maybe for the first time, they have to fly cautiously. And some jumpers have to learn how to use different amounts of weight for different sizes of formations. It is a challenge, but one you have to face head on if you want to get invited on the good loads.
For jumpers wearing weights for the first time, the roles can suddenly be reversed. The big boys in the base might get their chance to watch the lightweights sucking air as they go low. (I'm sure this puts a little smile on the big fellas' faces.) But don't fret. Show the big boys how quickly you can pop back up and get in. For those of you who have never had to worry about going low, here's a little primer.
If you go low, move away from the formation and turn sideways to the formation. While keeping the formation in sight, lower your head and spread your arms and legs out as far as possible to assume a flat stance. Push down on the air as much as you can with your hands and feet. Crunch your gut muscles if you have to. Hold this position until you are far enough above the formation to make a good approach. (Forget the old 'hugging the beachball' theory. That actually lets air spill out all around you.)
Let's say you made it in and you're fairly proud of yourself. You glided smoothly into your slot without having to fight to stay down with the formation. Of course, you had to watch your altitude. No more approaches from below the formation. The weights kept you honest.
Now it's time to move to the next point. When you let go, you feel like you're in sequential heaven! You don't have to swim and flail to stay down with the big boys. You simply move laterally to your next position. What a treat!
But don't get too cocky just yet. The next point is a "floaty" one. The big boys in the middle quickly build a 4-way compressed accordion and you are moving around to pod the end. "What happened?" you think as you sink two feet below your slot. Whoops! You've never had to watch your altitude this closely before. "Hee-hee!" go the big boys again as they watch you recover (again).
But you're a good jumper and it only takes you a second to pop up and move into your slot. You tell yourself that you'll watch your altitude a little closer on the next move, and you do. The last point is a round and you feel like one of the big boys as you meet them in the center and don't have to work to stay down with them.
"Piece of cake," you think to yourself. As you track off, you feel some of the old cockiness returning. But the cockiness starts to fade after you land and start wondering if the big boys will let you jump on the next load with them. Well, don't worry about it. You might not be ready for another big-way just yet. In fact, your next step should be to check out the weights on some smaller formations, preferably 4-ways. Remember I said that some jumpers have to use different amounts of weight for different size formations?
So don't rush things. Check out the weights on several smaller ways. Depending on how often you make it out to the DZ, this could take several weeks, even months. Just remember that you are learning to fly all over again. You might have gotten into some bad habits by flying like a lightweight. I know I did. I had gotten used to diving down and not stopping until I was level with the formation. Then I'd make a perfectly level approach from where I had stopped. Boy! Did I ever get my wake up call the first time I tried this with weights.
Another factor to consider is where to wear the weights on your body. From my experience, vests seem to work better for women and belts for men. It's just pure physiognomy. Women are typically lighter in the upper torso area, men in the hip area. But this isn't a hard and fast rule. Take me for instance. I wear both a vest AND a belt, but I only carry three pounds in the vest, whereas I carry six in the belt, nine pounds in all.
What works for one person may not work for another. A couple of guys at my home DZ wear about ten pounds in a belt. All I know is that without the weights I wouldn't be jumping on the hot loads at my DZ. I wouldn't be doing hot 4-way either. I'm sure if you talked to my DZ's head organizer, he would tell you that I have made great strides in my performance since getting the weight thing figured out. It was hard work but it was darned well worth it. I know I'll be in some of the hot skydives in the year-end videos!