When are you going to be alone in the sky with a useless bag of laundry and two little handles?
If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s going to. Sure, there are skydivers with thousands of jumps who have never had to make alternate nylon plans. But don’t be fooled: your first reserve ride is not a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.” If you don’t feel ready, you’re not alone. Here are ten proven ways to boost your confidence and safety.
Long lapses between jumps are dangerous. Time on the ground dulls skills, sharpens apprehensions and weighs down your jump with the clammy fog of unfamiliarity. Most importantly, it unravels the easy muscle memory you’ve spent so much time and effort to develop -- and muscle memory is of primary importance in the event of a reserve ride. Especially at the beginning of your skydiving career, you’ve got to make the effort to jump at least every couple of weeks.
2. Give ‘er a spin
Do yourself a favor and deploy your reserve for every repack. You’ll learn the unique direction of pull for your gear, and you’ll be able to feel out the force you’ll need to exert. If your rigger watches the process, he/she can keep an eye on the deployment and identify potential problems. (Even if you have deployed your own reserve, a repack is an unwasteable drill opportunity for a refresher.)
3. Just touch your stupid handles, Mr. Bigshot, OK? Sheesh
Touch your handles in sequence before you enter the plane. It is not beneath you. Being blasé about basic safety doesn’t make you more awesome -- it just makes you more blasé. While you’re at it, check that your reserve handle is seated (so you don’t end up on a reserve ride without the yeehaw fun of a malfunctioning main).
4. Don’t overthink it
It’s simple, really. If you believe that your main is unlandable, you’re going to have a reserve ride. Sure -- lots of skydivers have landed under reserves only to realize in hindsight that they could have solved the problem. However, lots of skydivers have gone in while striving to sort out malfunctions that did not improve. If those are the choices, which would you rather be?
5. Get your priorities straight
Do not worry about stability. This is the very least of your problems. Worry about altitude. cutaway) handle no lower than 1,000 feet. Initiating a reserve ride below 1,000 feet isn’t always deadly, but it has an unnerving tendency to be. Don’t take the chance.
6. Hold on tight
After you pull your handles out completely, hold on to ‘em. You’ll save some money, and you’ll save face when you land.
7. Make sure it’s out
This is kinda your last shot at nylon, so you’ll want to be sure it’s working. Arch and look over your shoulder for the reserve pilot chute. Reserves deploy fast, so this head position is gonna butter your bread – but if the pilot chute is somehow caught in your burble, this should either shake it loose or make it clear to you that you need to do some burble intervention, stat.
8. Don’t chase after your ex(-parachute)
I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you not try to run after it and grab it in the air. (People have, y’know, died doing that.) You broke up with each other for a reason, after all; you can reconcile after everybody’s had a little time to cool down. Instead, get your head together and use landmarks to identify where the gear is headed. Then take a deep breath, leave it to the fates, and work on navigating your meat to a safe landing.
9. Tell the peanut gallery to sit and spin
When you land a reserve, you’re going to be the talk of the DZ (for about five minutes, usually). During that five minutes – longer, if the loads are turning slowly – you’ll probably be approached by a receiving line of would-be mentors. They’re gonna question your malfunction, and they’re gonna be eager to discuss your decision to cut away.
My advice: speak to your trusted mentors and co-jumpers about your little adventure in private, and tell the rest to go suck an egg. You were there. They were not. When you need to save your life in the sky, you are absolutely alone. In the entire world, there exists only you and two handles. Your cutaway is your business.
10. Go to the liquor store
Buy a bottle of posh booze for the rigger who packed the reserve you rode. It’s tradition.