So you want to try a new canopy, and you have already asked what your friends, gear dealer, and local sky gods think about the subject, and they have given their opinions-repeatedly. When it comes to gear, pretty much everyone has a strong opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, as you have probably found, opinions have a tendency to be subjective rather than objective. Lucky for you, most manufacturers now have demo programs, such as the Performance Designs Demo Program, so that you can sift through others' perceptions, and create some of your own.
The Performance Designs Demo program sends out the canopy of your choice directly to you to be used over the course of two weekends. The cost is currently $30. You receive it, you jump it, you send it back, the canopy is re-inspected, then put back into the demo program; lather, rinse, and repeat.
It's a rather simple process to get a demo. Go to www.performancedesigns.com and fill out the demo request form which can be found on the "support" page. Otherwise, use the direct link, http://www.performancedesigns.com/demorequest.asp
The demo form will ask some questions pertinent to your jump history, to better enable PD's Demo Queen, Anabel Durham, to assist you with your demo needs. As a side note, yes, it is official, the most beloved Demo Queen of all time, Kolla Kolbeinsdottir, has relinquished her throne. Shed no tears, though, as Kolla has moved on to other projects within marketing at Performance Designs, while leaving the demo program in Anabel's capable hands. But, I digress...
Following the submission of the demo request, you will be contacted by Anabel. She will discuss your options and the availability of the requested canopy. If it is available, she will ship it to wherever your little heart desires. After a few days of longingly gazing out the window after the Fed Ex truck, the truck will stop, and with that stop will come the knowledge that you will soon feel like a kid in a candy store with your very own PD Demo to use over the next two weekends. Though PD does understand the sort of bond that is forged between jumper and canopy, we do request that you refrain from sleeping with the canopy as it may result in the degradation of the material-save it for the one that you buy.
Following the two-week romance, you will say that sometimes tearful goodbye, and ship the demo back to the PD Factory, where it will begin its journey all over again.
How to best make the program work for you: When selecting a new model of canopy to try, it is a good idea to select the same size as what you are currently flying. This will make it possible for you to make a legitimate comparison between the two canopies. Having a controlled aspect between the two canopies, such as size, will better enable you to determine the true differences in the flight characteristics of the canopies. If you change both the size and model of canopy, there is nothing in common to compare. You now have apples to oranges for your test group. When downsizing, try to avoid downsizing by more than one size at a time, as each size has valuable lessons for the avid skydiver.
The fear factor:
Many jumpers feel trepidation when considering the possibility of that first reserve ride. Or you just aren't sure of whether or not you are going to be comfortable under that smaller reserve that would fit so much more nicely in your cute, new backpack-sized container. The PD answer to this and many other uncertainties? Try it!! The Performance Designs Demo Program also has PD Reserves set up as mains so that jumpers can give their reserve a whirl, too. It is a fantastic opportunity to try out your reserve in a controlled environment. *Sigh* You really can't put a price on reassurance… oh wait, you can, and that would be $30, as well!! That's a bargain for peace of mind. ; )
Be realistic about your abilities. The one certainty about skydiving is that there will always be another load and another day, if you conduct yourself in a safe manner. Rush into jumping that canopy that is pushing your limits, and you are decreasing your odds of making that next load, and quite possibly, that next day. By learning how to fly your current size more efficiently, you will be ensuring that you will be able to maximize your canopy's performance once on that smaller size.
Pick a canopy, fill out the form on the website, be nice to Anabel (bribery never hurts), cough up the 30 bucks, jump until your little heart is content (as long as it fits into the 2 weeks), send the demo back, lather, rinse, and repeat if necessary.
**Unfortunately, the demo program is currently available only in the United States at this time. If outside of the U.S., please feel free to contact us so that we can direct you to one of our remote demo centers, or check our events calendar to see when and if Performance Designs will be in your area.
Photos by: Joao Tambor