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General

    Top 10 Marketing Musts

    Image by Andrey Veselov Do you wish to increase profitability and grow your DZ? If so, read each of these 10 points closely.
    As a DZO, you are no doubt constantly bombarded by marketing companies trying to get you to spend your precious money. These marketing efforts generally result in little to no ROI. Focus on the objectives below, do them well and you will see growth.
    1. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
    No matter where your DZ shows up in a Google search, if the customer experience is not great, then no amount of marketing will matter. With platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, the power of word of mouth has never been stronger. Delivering a great experience is not the same as executing a safe skydive. Identifying each individual customer point of interaction and making it a five star experience is the total package. Master this and watch your business grow. If you spend no money on marketing, get this right because many of your competitors are not.
    Tip: Survey your customers 24 hours* after their experience. The questions should revolve around each individual customer touch point. This is eye-opening as it will reveal the weak points of your business.
    * Do not survey immediately after the experience. Everyone is on a high and will give feedback that is skewed.
    2. SEO
    If you’re not on page one of a Google Search, then you’re invisible. The majority of your guests will search for your business via Google and few of them will be leaving the first results page. Educate yourself on what you need to do to ensure that you show up on page one, preferably near the top, in organic (unpaid) Google search. Be sure to find out the most commonly used search terms for skydiving in your region to identify what search words to focus on. This is hugely important to get right.
    Tip: Do not be fooled by SEO companies that promise to bring your page to number one. If an SEO company reaches out to you with this kind of guarantee, it should be a red flag.
    Tip: When seeing where you show up on a Google Search, don’t search for the exact name of your business. Search using terms like ‘skydiving’ ‘in’ (enter nearest big city).
    3. WEBSITE
    Your number one marketing tool will be your website. Don’t do a barter trade for jumps with someone that knows web design unless they are a) great at design and b) understand how to optimize the back end of the website for search. There are many functional websites in the skydiving industry that are not strategically optimized for search engine performance on the back end. Having a great looking website means absolutely nothing if the back end of the site is not correctly optimized for search. Many web design companies will simply create a site for you and then leave you to employ an SEO company to fill in the gaps. Utilize a design company that will create both a great design and optimize it for search.
    4. WOMM
    Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is the most powerful form of marketing because we all trust recommendations from our friends and family along with review sites. IF you’ve identified all customer touch points and are receiving great scores in your customer surveys, then it’s time to implement a WOMM campaign. A WOMM campaign transforms customers into the marketing team for your business and best of all it’s free. Use lagniappe, leverage social media and implement a strategy that makes it very easy for your customers to write a review for your business.
    Tip: When implementing a WOMM strategy, it’s important you’re focused on the overall customer experience. If not, it’s highly possible you’ll receive negative reviews.
    5. E-MAIL MARKETING
    E-mail marketing is FAR FROM DEAD. However, effective email marketing requires much more than just sending an e-mail out every once in a while – there is a technique to creating a great e-mail marketing campaign. The growth of DropZone Marketing is due, in large part, to our e-mail newsletter campaign. Providing free marketing information (quality content) that is graphically pleasing and suited for mobile devices is a great marketing tool for any business as it keeps you in front of your customers and should help drive traffic to your website which helps with SEO.
    6. SOCIAL MEDIA
    Everyone knows that social media is a powerful medium, but few in the skydiving industry are leveraging it correctly. First, don’t try to be on all social channels. Select up to three channels and do well on each of the three. My recommendation is to focus on Google+, Facebook and Instagram for the skydiving industry. Focus on engagement rather than number of followers. If you’re not increasing your engagement with your followers, than your efforts may be a waste. Be consistent, be authentic, and really make an effort to engage with your audience.
    Tip 1: Google+ is relevant for SEO. Google will index its own networks when executing a search, so it’s worthy being there.
    Tip 2: Learn Tips for Mastering Facebook to better utilize this platform.
    Tip 3: Understand Instagram.
    7. GOOGLE ADWORDS
    One of the most powerful advertising tools is Google Adwords and is something I would recommend for every DZ. Do not waste money on billboards, TV or print advertising, you will not get a return on this investment. AdWords can be implemented by anyone, but if not managed correctly can become a waste of money. Presently, I’m seeing many DZ’s ads showing in markets hundreds and even thousands of miles away from a DZ’s region. AdWords should be monitored closely and keyword research should be done in order to create the correct marketing campaigns.
    8. CONTENT MARKETING
    Why does anyone create content on their websites? The answer is to drive traffic into their site, which increases the chance of a conversion (a booking for a skydive). Furthermore, increased site traffic can help your SEO efforts by increasing click rates into your site and hopefully, if your content is valuable, expanding your external link profile. Content marketing is a strategy that must be implemented by every business offering a product or service.
    Tip: Learn about River Pools and Spas and how they implemented content marketing to save their business during financial crisis.
    9. FACEBOOK ADVERTISING
    Being on Facebook is one thing, but if you want to see real results, you have to pay to play. Facebook is the gold standard of all the social media platforms that offer advertising because of focused targeting. Facebook ads can allow a DZ to focus pay per click ads (only pay if the ad is clicked) targeted towards a specific age demographic with specific interests. This is very powerful. Combine great Facebook content with an ad campaign and you will see your Facebook marketing campaign go to a higher level.
    10. EVENT PRESENCE
    Participate in highly attended, local events. Paying for a 10ft x 10ft booth is worth it. You won’t sell tandem skydives onsite, but it provides a great opportunity to capture e-mails to add to your valuable e-mail database for your e-mail marketing campaign. I encourage my clients to have a plan to expand their e-mail database continuously. Giving away a tandem skydive in order to collect hundreds of e-mail addresses is very valuable because it creates an opportunity to directly message people who are interested in your service. Go to lots of events!
    Tip: Look professional with your booths and have your pop-up tent branded. Spend the money to have a presentation that you would see at a trade show. If the approach is done half-ass by pulling things together, it’s not helping your brand. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

    By admin, in General,

    Advice For Your First Hop and Pop

    It’s sitting there, waiting for you in Category F of your USPA skydiver training: the hop ‘n’ pop.
    Eek.
    It’s no wonder that you’re biting your nails. (We’ve all been there.) It’ll be your first time deploying in soft, subterminal air. It’ll be your first time really trusting your stability out the door. And it’s probably going to be your first time opening that daunting clear plastic thingy. And you’ll be doing all this under the ungoggled gazes of everyone else in the plane -- who, you probably imagine, will have nothing better to do than inspect your technique.
    The USPA officially calls it the “clear-and-pull requirement,” in case you’ve been fruitlessly searching for “hop and pop” in the SIM. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and, y’know, get that solo license) will be to exit from 5,500’ AGL, get stable and deploy within five seconds.
    Five seconds?!
    Don’t worry so much. Five seconds is much longer than you think it is. Ask any BASE jumper (or television commercial editor, or rodeo competitor): five seconds is kinda forever. Remember, too: you’re not reinventing the wheel. Your hop ‘n’ pop exit is no different from any other solo exit you’ve ever done, except that you’ll need to be stable and deploying within that aforementioned time constraint. If your licensed instructor didn’t think you ready and reliable, he/she wouldn’t be lining you up for it. So own it. And breathe.
    1. Start on the ground. Check out the winds aloft before you start the march to the plane, and review the spot with your instructor while you can both hear each other clearly.
    2. Don’t worry too much about the door. Other jumpers are paying less attention to you than you think they are. (Anyway, your instructor is going to be right there to help.)
    3. Don’t lose sight of the goal. From your window seat, you’ll be in a prime position to keep an eye on the landing area. Watch it as you climb, picking out the landmarks you usually use to find your way home. Once you have a lock on it, don’t let your nerves jiggle it out of your consciousness.
    4. Don’t forget your magical backpack. Get a pin check before that door opens. Check your handles and pilot chute, too.
    5. Take a moment to hang out. While the door is open and you’re waiting for that green light, put your goggles on and lean your head out a bit to check out the situation. You’re looking for the airport, of course; since you’ve been keeping an eye on the dropzone from your lofty perch, you’ll know just where to look. You’re also looking for positioning relative to the spot you discussed earlier with your instructor (winds aloft, remember?), and for other air traffic crowding “your” sky.
    6. Get ready for different feels. Your instructor will prep you on the ground for the correct hop-n-pop exit to leave this particular plane. When that green light comes on, take a deep, cleansing breath and do your relaxed best to nail it. The air will feel different -- “softer” -- than it usually does, which might catch you off-guard. You can expect to turn a little as you exit. Point your hips levelly at the ground and deploy that nylon within those five weirdly-long seconds.
    7. Bollocked it up? Pull anyway. If you don’t get this 5,500’ AGL exit right, you’re going to end up doing it all over again before you move on to its lower-altitude counterpart. It’s not the end of the world: unless, of course, you ride your oops too far down. Don’t launch right into kicking yourself if you fail -- that’s just going to make you more unstable. Accept your lot and pull by 3,500 feet AGL whether you’re stable or not.
    8. Expect your parachute to check out the scenery. Your canopy, when deployed subterminally, will open into the relative wind and “seek.” It may not open directly above you, as it usually does. Don’t get spooked and tense up.
    9. Give yourself a high five. Cross your fingers against the unlikely event of a low aircraft emergency that would test your newfound skills in the fun-free way. And buy the beer.

    By nettenette, in General,

    How Density Affects Your Destiny

    When Tiptoe Landings Disappear Into Thin Air
    When you come screaming in and tumble halfway down the landing area at a new dropzone, it’s unlikely that you would chalk your misery up to “pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature and humidity.”
    Maybe, however, you should – and if you know a little more about how it works, maybe you won’t find yourself in that grass-stained position. It’s called density altitude, and the struggle is real.
    1. Remember the ball pit.
    You remember playing in the ball pit in the indoor playground, right? You’d take a running leap into the middle of the pit, diving into a big, forgiving pile of colorful plastic that cushioned your fall. If you took a running leap into a ball pit with just a few scattered balls rolling around at the bottom, you’d expect a different result.
    The sky is kinda like that.
    When we talk about air density, we’re referring to the number of air molecules in a given volume of space. High-density air has more molecules -- more balls. Low-density air has fewer.
    2. Respect the ball pit.
    Just like an empty ball pit doesn’t slow you down on your way to the floor, low-density air doesn’t slow down the wing as much as high-density air does. This changes the canopy’s flying dynamics, making the system fly faster – sometimes, much faster – than normal.
    As you might imagine from the term “density altitude,” altitude has a lot to do with the density of air. It’s inversely proportionate, so higher altitudes have lower density altitude – fewer air molecules in a given volume – than lower altitudes. This makes sea-level landings more docile than those at, say, Mile-Hi Skydiving in Denver or Skydive the Wasatch in Utah.
    3. Factor in the other variables.
    Altitude density is not simply another name for air density. It’s affected by a few more factors. Altitude density combines the effects of temperature, humidity and weather systems with altitude to measure the altitude at which your airfoil behaves as though it’s flying. If you travel for boogies, you may have experienced this in your skydiving career: with a few temperature and pressure changes, your canopy might behave as though it’s flying at Mile-Hi when you’re jumping in Moab.
    If you’re a little confused by that, you’re not alone.
    The key to understanding is to know that density altitude tells you where your canopy “thinks” it’s flying under standard temperature and pressure conditions, that highly evasive moment of total equilibrium. The “standard” comes from the fact that temperature and pressure decrease predictably as altitude increases. As such, a “standard” temperature and pressure can be assigned to any given spot on the altitude scale, dropping proportionally with altitude from the standard 15 degrees Celsius at sea level.
    Take a weather system through that same point, however, and you’ll need to start making some adjustments. a high-pressure area pushes more air density into the equation, and a low-pressure system does the opposite. Heat it up, and the molecules spread apart, lessening the pressure/density; cool it down, and the molecules snuggle in together, increasing the pressure/density.
    Humidity is a little more complicated, but super-interesting. When the weather is humid, we tend to describe the air as “heavy.” That description is utterly (and somewhat surprisingly) unscientific, as water vapor weighs almost half as much as dry air. When it’s humid, heavy dry-air molecules such as oxygen and nitrogen are replaced by much lighter water molecules, greatly decreasing the density of the air.
    4. Review the Cliff Notes.
    It’s easy to misunderstand (or misremember) the terminology. High density altitude means fast landings. Low density altitude means slower landings.
    Altitude and temperature are the factors that will deliver the most noticeable changes to the way your canopy flies. Humidity will affect your experience less. (Remember that – in this order – low, cold and dry equals slow, that high, hot and wet equals fast.)
    Consider upsizing to a more docile rental canopy if you’re making a big jump in density altitude (for example, from a coastal DZ to a high-mountain DZ).
    Higher density altitude? Your canopy will eat up more altitude in a turn and stall at a faster forward speed. Be ready.
    When you’re setting up a landing in a place with a significantly higher density altitude than you’re used to, give yourself plenty of room to land (and a bit of privacy for a PLF, if you care about such things). You won’t be able to just plop it down as you’re accustomed to, so focus on flying your canopy all the way through the flare and your almost-certainly-necessary run-out.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Not All Training is for Students: Recognizing and Preventing Groupthink in the Skydiving Community

    Image by Brian Buckland When we discuss training in the skydiving community we usually refer to training students or teaching experienced skydivers new techniques. However, we seldom discuss how to train our staff so they are safer and more effective. By grooming your staff you can make your drop zone more enjoyable for your customers and in turn, make your business more profitable. Today, I would like to discuss a psychological situation that can affect the staff as well as other skydivers. That situation is known as Groupthink.
    What is groupthink?
    Simply put, it is a condition that occurs when a closely cohesive group has a tendency to make bad decisions because the group pressure becomes so great, everyone starts to ignore moral judgments and sound decision making. Groups that are more susceptible to this phenomenon are tightly cohesive, have a similar background, and have a lack of clear rules for decision making. As for me, I cannot think of a more cohesive group of individuals with, similar backgrounds, than a group of skydiving professionals. Please don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad thing that we are a cohesive group of people. We just need to be able to recognize when our staff, or group, is beginning to fall into a groupthink mentality.
    So, what are the symptoms of groupthink?
    In 1972 a social psychologist named Irving Janis identified eight symptoms of groupthink. As you read through these I ask that you think to yourself about a time where you actually witnessed one or more of these at a drop zone.
    1. The feeling of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
    2. Collective rationalizations – Members ignore warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
    3. Beliefs in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
    4. Stereotyped views of “outsiders”– Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
    5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
    6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
    7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority’s view, and judgments, are believed to be unanimous.
    8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
    I’m sure most people can relate to a few of these symptoms and to make it perfectly clear, just because you see one or two of these does not necessarily mean that a groupthink situation is going on… but then again it could. Since we know the symptoms, what can we do to prevent a groupthink situation, or to try to remedy the effects of a situation already happening?
    Let’s start by defining what we call a group. A group can be something small and organized like a team. It can be a little bit larger such as the staff of a DZ. Or it can be a group of people with a common cause such as free flyers or belly flyers. Now, let’s address the problem. One way to help prevent group think from setting in is to designate a member of the group as a devil’s advocate. This person will be the one to think outside the box and to ask the questions “what if” and “why”. The devil’s advocate should also suggest alternate plans or ways of doing things. It is important that the devil’s advocate does not just go through the motions, but makes meaningful suggestions and the group discusses them. This will keep everyone’s head focused on moral and safe decisions and not just out of habit dismiss all suggestions.
    Another preventive measure is for the leader to set aside an amount of time to survey warning signs. To define the leader, it can be a team coach, the DZO/DZM, but at a minimum it should be the S&TA.; This doesn’t have to be a big formal inspection, just a time to walk around the DZ so you can hear and see what people are doing and planning. In this case, someone will probably hear signs of groupthink before they see actions. Listen to what people are planning. Listen to what they are encouraging others to do. At the same time take note on how their words and actions are affecting others, especially the less experienced skydivers.
    Finally, for members of the group; you should all routinely talk to someone from outside the group that is trusted and has a valued opinion. These talks should be one-on-one and preferably not with the same person. This will give you a fresh point of view and help you to make the best decision, not necessarily the one that goes along with the group.
    By keeping an eye on each other not just by doing gear checks, but by letting people know when you start to observe behavior that could lead to unsafe practices, you can help make our sport safer. Let’s face it. Being a skydiver means taking calculated risks. We need to work together to keep the odds in our favor.

    By coreyangel, in General,

    Depth and Breadth: The Red Pill or the Blue Pill

    Is it better to be a jack-of-all-trades or a master of one? Is it best to aim singlemindedly for depth, or to barrel out into the wild blue yonder of breadth?
    If you don't know me, let me introduce myself: Hi. I'm Queen Breadth. The beginning of my airsports career some years ago coincided neatly with critical mass in a pile of new disciplines -- and, conveniently, with my own launch into location independence. Suffice it to say, I was more than happy to race around the candy store with my hungry paws in everything, everywhere. It was manic, it was orgiastic…and it was, in hindsight, perhaps not the best idea. Before I had 150 jumps in my logbook, I had 27 dropzones on the list. I started skydiving, BASE jumping, paragliding and speedflying concurrently enough to be worthy of a tidy facepalm. I got my BASE number in four jumps. I've jumped, hucked and flown on five continents. The Venn Diagram that represents the jumps and flights I've done versus the jumps and flights I've done in new places, with new equipment, in new conditions…well, to be honest, it's pretty much a circle.
    And guess what?
    If you show up to a plane, a launch or an exit point with me and you have depth in what we're doing, you're going to be, like, "seriously?!"
    Seriously. Because -- in all this sexy, sexy breadth -- I've hardly gone to depth in anything.
    There are a flurry of reasons I'm besotted with breadth, of course. Breadth is a beautiful thing.
    Breadth gives you flexibility. It forces you to flex the muscles of your judgment; to strengthen them. It requires boldness, but it teaches you to respect the vast library of stuff you don't know. It requires a wide understanding of conditions, and the patience to watch them tell their story to you over the course of hours (sometimes, in the foot-launched stuff, days). It encourages you to develop a unique, procedural approach to novelty that serves you everywhere else in your life. Breadth fills your life in the sky with adventure, introducing you with automatic intimacy to people and places you'd otherwise never have met.
    But breadth has a dark side. Breadth can kneecap confidence, as it requires you to play in the shallows of an ocean of unknowns. Where depth offers long-term mentorship, breadth offers friendly, experienced passers-by who gauge your skill solely by what they see in clip on Facebook. …And breadth costs a friggin' arm and a leg in excess baggage fees, believe you me.
    So then, winking at me from the other side of the bar, there's depth.
    Ah, depth.
    Depth gives you the confidence of complete focus; if you use it correctly, depth can be a very busy workshop. Working systematically within a certain set of accustomed variables, you can add and subtract one or two and be able to rather scientifically observe their impact. Depth provides a meditative space to make adjustments, removing the big question marks from your gear and surroundings. A bonus, off-label benefit: depth has a way of delivering the assertiveness you need to express any necessary boldness in outside disciplines (to a point).
    Depth can also dig ruts so deep that they become nearly inescapable. Depth provides rich soil for absolutely gonzo complacency. Depth can result in problematic overconfidence. It can also atrophy your judgment -- one the one hand, you can feel undeservedly godlike in situations where you're quite literally out of your depth; on the other, elements that are simply unfamiliar can easily feel reflexively unsafe. Most nailbitingly (for me, at least), depth can push you into uncurrency outside the blinders.
    I think, as in all things, it's about finding a balance. Perhaps depth and breadth are the X and Y axes of airsports. After all -- and I'm a living example of this -- neither depth nor breadth work well in a vacuum. But I also think it's about making a conscious choice, and making the trade-offs in full acknowledgement. Doesn't depth work best when you unscabbard your sword and tap the shoulders of what you really want to do? Doesn't breadth work best when you approach it as an adventure-with-airborne-benefits, not as a snarl of jumps to dash between like a semi-crazed corgi in an agility contest? Don't happy athletes strive for both depth and breadth in their right season?
    Right now, I'm choosing depth. I'm writing this from a wind tunnel in Slovakia. This summer, I traded my accustomed nylon here-there-and-everywhereness for the singular delight of not just doing a bunch of cool stuff in a bunch of cool places but really, deeply learning -- for the fibers of my body to understand, and for the nuances of the practice to be etched forever in my System 1.*
    Mindfulness of depth and breadth is counsel I wish I'd received at the outset. It may have adjusted some of my early decisions -- not to be more conforming, but to be more aligned with deeper, autotelic goals. And I wish I could share it with more people: The kid who toddles in with the singleminded goal of wingsuit BASE. The new jumper who does something different on every load, running from the feeling of underachievement into the waiting arms of novelty. The guy who tells me he'll try a paragliding flight "after [he's] done with BASE jumping."
    Where do you sit on the depth/breadth spectrum? Am I missing part of the story?
    * There's a reason there's a link here. Seriously: Read this. It'll change your world.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Love Across The Risk Continuum

    Here are two irrefutable facts:

    Anyone who is doing more than me is a sketchball.
    Anyone who is doing less than me is a pussy. Funny? Kinda...but if you've spent any time around airsports, you know how true that is.
    I'm sure there are myriad examples that demonstrate the universality of this bilateral ruleset, but for the purposes of discussion here, I'll use it to illustrate the most difficult part of being -- and loving -- an airsports athlete: risk asymmetry.
    Risk Identification
    Risk identification is a spectrum phenomenon. You can picture the risk continuum as a horizontal line, marked evenly from 0 to 10 to illustrate the range between total risk intolerance and extreme risk tolerance. To avoid using value-implicit words like "high," "low," "more" and "less," I'll use your mental picture of that diagram to describe two differential places on the scale like this: left and right.
    Each athlete identifies him/herself somewhere along this continuum. Generally, he/she "picks a spot" in the early career and holds to it as a part of his/her identity indefinitely.
    Empirically speaking, it seems to take a significant external event (i.e. a close friend's death, the birth of a child, a marked risk tolerance shift in the athlete's close collective, etc.) to effect a change to the athlete's self-assignment on the spectrum. However, one event does not seem to affect much more than frustration, resentment and rebound: the intense friction caused by risk asymmetry.
    If you have any engagement whatsoever with airsports, you're no stranger to this phenomenon. Most saliently, risk asymmetry is uncomfortable. It can disrupt your focus on planes, at exit points and at launches. It can cause you to swell with illogical self-satisfaction. It can launch you into an absurd fit of anger. It's a strong trigger point.
    When another athlete posts a video online that inspires your "sketch rage," you're experiencing risk asymmetry.
    When you hear another athlete grumbling about another jumper's antics at the table next to you at the DZ pub and you roll your eyes, you're both experiencing risk asymmetry.
    When your partner expresses the desire to kick up (or dial down) their demonstrated risk tolerance and you formulate an argument against it, you're experiencing risk asymmetry.
    The third example is what I'm keen to address here. If you love somebody, whether as a lover, family member or close friend, you'll naturally want them to demonstrate a position on the risk continuum that matches yours exactly. Unfortunately, ain't gonna happen. This phenomenon has depth-charged many a partnership. Luckily, it doesn't have to bust yours.
    1. Remember: all relationships are risk-asymmetric.
    Even if you haven't yet experienced an incident that highlights the risk asymmetry in your blissful union, be aware: it's coming. No two people sit in precisely the same place on the spectrum. Have your tools ready.
    2. Make it a conversation.
    Curious? Take two pieces of paper and draw out a ticked line across both. Title each one "Risk Continuum." Mark a 0 on one side and a 10 on the other. Give one to your loved one, then go into separate rooms to place yourselves on the spectrum.
    When you're done, come back together and talk about it. You both may be very surprised at where the other self-identified -- and why. This insight can be gold.
    3. Don't escalate.
    It's easy to get very dramatic about someone else's decisions in airsports. The temptation is strong to throw around life-and-death hyperbole in order to turn up the volume of the argument.
    Right-spectrum and left-spectrum partners use this fallacious logical crutch equally. That's a shame, as it's a totally ineffective strategy. No matter what side of the spectrum you're on, you can expect a similar result: your sparring partner will simply tune you out, and you'll be exhausted.
    4. Expunge the word "selfish" from your vocabulary.
    Left-spectrum folks: You are not selfish for wanting your loved one to be safe. Right-spectrum folks: You are not selfish for wanting to explore to the edges.
    You are both selves, and you both want things from your lives. One's desires are no more inherently important than the other's. "-Ish" is a diminutive; when you use it, you're demeaning both yourself and the object of the descriptor. Stop.
    5. Try on a different feeling.
    A partnered pair of my good friends, both of whom are airsports athletes, framed this one perfectly for me. "When I get upset," she told me, "I just try another feeling on for size, to see how it feels." Angry? Try pride. Despairing? Try curious. Browse until something fits you better.
    6. Choose the relationship.
    If you don't want to keep a risk-asymmetric relationship, that is by all means your prerogative. Even if you're related, you have the choice to open up enough distance between you that the other's choices do not actively and perpetually cause you pain.
    However: if, after deliberation, you decide that you want to keep your relationship active, you need to choose it -- and choose it like it's your day job. Choose it over venting to your friends. Choose it over angry SMSs. Choose it over passive-aggressive sulking. Choose it over deciding to stay angry. Choose it over and over and over.
    It's key to note that "choosing the relationship" doesn't automatically mean the choice of the relationship over the choice to participate in the frictive activity. Instead, set expectations that ritually emphasize the relationship's mutual importance.
    For instance: the right-spectrum member communicates with the absent left-spectrum member at certain pre-determined points in the activity, and the left-spectrum member always responds with a phrase of encouragement. This must be done with religious adherence; if so, it can help both parties enormously.
    7. Don't kick yourself.
    None of this is easy. Not one tiny bit of it.
    It's not easier to be on one side as opposed to the other. It's not easier in any unique configuration of relationship. It's not easier when you're both athletes, and it's not easier when you're not geographically contingent, and it's certainly not easier when either or both of you are pretending to want something you don't want.
    If you're struggling with this, you're not alone. Look around you in the airsports community: we're all right there with you, whether or not we're talking about it. Take heart, and take the hand of your pussy/sketchball partner. They need you, too.

    By nettenette, in General,

    The Sponsor Monster

    I crack the conversation at breakfast: I want to write an article about how the sponsorship model has changed since the beginning of airsports. I remark that I imagine it's going to be a long one -- a book, maybe.
    My laid-back, easy-going, lassaiz-faire partner (who is, coincidentally, sponsored) almost immediately dusts off and sharpens his little-used claws. Why? Who's going to want to talk about it? What's my problem?
    This is a touchy subject.
    Sponsorship, after all, is becoming -- has become? -- a necessary evil. If you're entirely self-funded (and haven't burst forth from fountains of preexistent wealth), you're going to hit a glass ceiling somewhere. No matter what your level of talent, you're unlikely to command any spotlight time in the Airsports Circus without outside support. Sure, you can throw drogues or point cameras at shrieking tandem passengers. But there's no question that you can do a lot more when you look like a floating Nascar -- and it seems like everyone "serious" is gunning hard for those logos. There's an implicit promise in those colorful little patches: the latitude to finally bin your ragged-out gear; to go on the event circuit; to join the big leagues.
    It's not just skydiving, of course. The windy tube is an even-better example. If you're not the lucky recipient of sponsored minutes, you'll probably burn a full workweek throwing meat around (with a few short demos thrown in) before you get the chance to work on your own stuff. Then, of course, there's BASE jumping. A sport that used to be about jumping situation-ally inappropriate gear and hoping for the best is now highly technical, multi-disciplinary, thronging with new talent and all about the suit upgrade. Full-timing BASE pretty much requires a full lifestyle reboot (and perhaps a cross-continental move). Head-to-toe black and yellow sure doesn't hurt -- a color combination that occasionally comes with a staff packer and access to sky scraping diving boards.
    There is, of course, an inconvenient truth at play here: tiling yourself with logos like a mangled game of Connect Four won't put food on the table. Those insignia don't, in and of themselves, represent a living (unless you’re one of the handful of athletes gumming the teat of full-on government funding). Most of them represent gear discounts; free gadgets; a few bucks shaved off each jump ticket; a vetting of your coaching value; a recursive validation you can enjoy whenever you look at your suit, or your canopy, or your Facebook feed. Go 'head and throw 'em all on the table like you're playing Sponsorship: The Gathering, but you're still gonna need a day job. And even then -- as Clif Bar so famously demonstrated -- no sponsorship arrangement is forever.
    And what price support?
    "It forces noncompetitive people to be competitive," sighed a household-name friend of mine over drinks. "It makes totally normal, grounded people look and act like #$%&*@ glory hounds." And if you complain, of course, you're an ass: after all, you made it. Why are you whining? Aren't you smoking cigars and eating caviar among the cosseted elite?
    There is lots to ponder, here. How does a high-benefit sponsorship change an athlete's relationship to these sports*? How does it change athletes' relationships with each other? How does outside support change the sport itself? And that, of course, begs the question: how many fatalities could be connected to upping the stakes for a sponsor?
    Legendary MotoGP winner Valentino Rossi said it best, I think, when he was asked why he didn't switch out his beloved number 46 for the 1. It's the champion's right and privilege to do so, and he turned it down win after win after win. "The number one," he said through a sideways smile, "is very heavy on the front of the bike."
    * Interesting follow-on reading: a 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton on what scientists call the "overjustification effect."

    By admin, in General,

    Exceeding Expectations

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski The challenge for any business is to exceed the expectations of its customers, especially when expectations are already high. The businesses that can pull this off will gain loyalty and earn valuable word of mouth marketing from their satisfied customers.
    Exceeding expectations is a challenge for the skydiving industry. Everyone who books a skydive already has very high expectations… after all, this is a major event in many people’s lives.
    Having traveled and visited drop zones all over the US, one of the biggest issues I see is a narrow sightedness when it comes to the guest experience. Too often, drop zones are focused on doing just one thing well: the skydive. Though this is definitely what we should be focused on (it’s what people are there for), we’ve lost sight of the complete experience; if the operation isn’t running efficiently, high expectations will turn to disappointment in short order.
    The common culprit in a poor customer experience is wait times. No one likes to wait. Yet here we are, charging a premium price, taking reservations and then expecting people to happily wait for several hours before they jump.
    Informing customers about wait times over the phone and in e-mail confirmations (usually 3 - 5 hours) doesn't make this practice any more acceptable or palatable to our customers who are conditioned to expect instant gratification. In a world where we can order something on Amazon.com and have it show up at our doorsteps the next day (or in some markets, the same day), we shouldn’t expect our customers to adapt to our antiquated practices. Rather, we should be challenging ourselves to find ways to better adapt to modern customer expectations. If we fail to do this, we will undoubtedly face the fallout of negative reviews online.
    How To Exceed Expectations
    To exceed expectations, a business must recognize its weaknesses through the eyes of the customer. The best way to do this is to ask them. However, if you want honest feedback, don’t survey your customers immediately after their skydive; they’ve just had one of the most amazing experiences of their lives, of course their immediate feedback will be positive. When I managed a DZ, I was always under the impression that we were doing a great job because when I surveyed customers following their skydive they always raved about their experience. Only when I started to survey our guests 24 hours after their jumps did I become aware of organizational problems that needed to be addressed. These ranged from employee language on the plane, (not good when your business is located in the Bible Belt) to major frustrations with wait times, to dissatisfaction with media quality. If you want to have a finger on the pulse of your organization, survey your guests after they’ve had time to come down from their initial adrenaline high. If they’re dissatisfied, they’ll typically tell you!
    Understand The Touch Points
    There are usually 20 interactive points of contact that a customer will have with a drop zone. If a DZ wants to gain a competitive advantage in a busy marketplace and see digital word of mouth marketing spread, they should be focused on improving these customer touch points. The goal should be to reach a five star level of service at every touch point. This is not an easy task, but it’s what has separated brands like Disney, The Four Seasons, REI and Zappos from all of their competition. This way of thinking should not be precluded from skydiving - especially considering the time and expense that goes into running a DZ. If we’re investing so much time and money into our operation, why not be the best we can be?
    Below is a list of 20 customer touch points every DZ should be aware of. I challenge all of my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. The caveat is that the score for each touch point must be graded on the organization’s weakest link within the category. For example, if four out of five instructors give great service and one is average, then the score must be graded on the weakest instructor. Now you see the challenge!
    The Touch Points

    Website
    Social Media
    E-mail exchanges
    Phone Interactions
    Road Signage
    Parking Lot (the condition of it)
    Greeting at manifest
    Condition of the bathrooms
    Quality of DZ Food (snack bar or vending machines)
    Quality of training
    Wait Times to Make Skydive
    Presentation of the Jumpsuits
    Presentation of the Instructor
    Presentation of the Videographer
    The Aircraft
    The Ride to Altitude
    The Skydive
    Time it Takes To Receive Media
    Quality of the Media
    Quality of Materials (certificate of achievement)
    The Closing (defined as a thought out ending highlighting accomplishment) In today’s digital world, word of mouth can make or break a business. If you want to leverage this powerful tool to your benefit, then you have to start consistently exceeding customer expectations. Take a step back and view your business through the eyes of the customer. Focus on the entire experience, not just one element within it. Remember, the actual skydive is only one component of the overall customer experience. Strive to make every component as incredible as the skydive itself, and you’ll turn customers into raving fans.

    By admin, in General,

    Dangers of Being a Hero - Camera Safety Advice

    Norman Kent is not only one of the leading skydive photographers, but he is also an advocate for safety relating to freefall photography and the use of mounted cameras within skydiving. Norman has been jumping with a camera since the mid-70s when at only 25 jumps, he strapped on a Kodak Instamatic.
    Over the past 40 since, Norman has established himself as a leader in the skydiving photography world and is a well respected member of the community.
    In the past, we've run several articles relating to the safety of camera usage. In 2013, Melissa Lowe published a piece titled "Hey Bro, Check Out My GoPro" which tackled the topic and included conversation with Norman Kent over the potential safety issues of the camera.
    Since that time, the popularity of action camera use in extreme sports has skyrocketed, with more and more individuals focus being shifted towards the media capture side of the jump. Norman Kent has released a new video on his Youtube channel titled "Dangers of Being a Hero", in which he addresses and revisits some of the topics relating to action cam safety.
    In the video Norman runs through several series of video which illustrate just how easy it is for snagging to occur on the camera, and continues to express how despite the fact that many people feel as though the risks are exaggerated, that the incidents are occurring, even if only rarely has it thus far resulted in death or injury.
    "It's not the equipment itself, it's the attitude of 'it's only a GoPro'"
    Norman Kent continues on in the video to look at alternate mounts that can be used to minimize snag potential and further ways in which one may be able to increase their safety when flying under a camera.

    By admin, in General,

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    A skydiver at the Oklahoma Skydiving Center pointing out their landing pattern. Image by Corey Miller
    When we teach students how to skydive, the lessons do not just stop after the first jump course. One important skill all skydivers need to know is how to navigate through the landing pattern. I have heard instructors refer to talking to students on the radio as “remote controlled skydiving” because they guide the student where they want them to land, and they tell the student every turn to make. If we are supposed to teach our students how to pilot their canopy, then we must ask ourselves, “How is this enabling the student to learn?” In this article I will discuss a method of teaching the student how to pilot their canopy that is not only easy to use, but also allows the instructor on the radio to remain in control if the student needs additional guidance while descending under canopy.
    Teaching the student piloting skills starts in the classroom. Of course we teach the students the SOPs and to make sure they have a canopy that is Square, Stable, and Steerable; but now what? Do we just give directions to the student over the radio? Realistically, for the student who just opened their canopy for the first time we, as instructors, will probably have to do that. The student has emotions of excitement and fear going through their mind while adrenaline is going through their body. This mixture can make anyone confused, so don’t be surprised if the first time in the landing pattern you are flying a “remote controlled skydiver”. Having said that, let’s discuss how we are going to teach the student to navigate the pattern and eventually, be removed from radio status. I like to start this process with a laminated picture of the landing area and a grease pencil.
    With a laminated picture the instructor should sit down with the student and first, have the student draw an arrow showing the direction of the wind. Now we know that the student is aware of the wind direction and we do not have to assume that they do. Next, have the student point out where their “playground” is going to be. For those who do not use the term “playground” that is the area where the student can fly their canopy, while they are descending to the proper altitude to enter the landing pattern. Next, have the student make a mark showing where they will enter the downwind part of the landing pattern and at what altitude this is supposed happen. This is the time the instructor can discuss at what altitude to leave the playground and to start thinking about the landing procedures they covered during the first jump course. Additionally, let the student know that next time things could be different due to wind direction and speed. Next have the student show where, and at what altitude, to make their turn for the base leg of the landing pattern.
    Since an aerial picture of the drop zone is be used, the instructor can point out hazards and landmarks at this point. For me, I like to point out a grass runway at the drop zone and to tell students not to go pass it figuring it is better for them to have to walk back a little bit than to risk getting too close to the hanger or the active taxiway. Finally, have the student show where, and at what altitude, the final turn would be.
    At this point the instructor should reiterate the importance of the wind sock, what altitude to stop turns and to do only small corrections, and of course, when to flare. Since the student is making marks on a laminated picture, it is a good training aid to keep and to use when debriefing the student after the jump. The instructor can point out how the plan and the actual landing pattern were different. The instructor then can talk about how safety could have been affected and discuss a plan for improvement. After the debriefing the student, just wipe the photo clean and use it for the next student. Now, let’s talk about our first jump student some more.
    When teaching a first jump student, I do not advocate going through all of this in great detail on their first jump. Instead, have them look at the picture. Ask them about where they would want to be at 1,000 feet. Where would they turn for the base leg and final leg of the landing pattern? If we, as instructors, get into too much detail for the first jump the student can have a sensation overload and forget everything. Additionally, a sensation overload could make the experience less enjoyable and possibly hinder the chances for repeat business and some good word of mouth advertising. By just showing them what will be happening we can reduce the student’s anxiety by reducing their fear of the unknown. Additionally, if there should be a radio failure while the student is under canopy, having shown them on a photo of the landing zone and discussed where they should be in relationship to various ground features we have just increased the chances for the student to land safely.
    Author Bio:

    Corey Miller is a C rated skydiver who held both coach and IAD instructor ratings. He holds a Master in Aeronautic Science degree with specialties in Teaching and Human Factors. He currently works as an Instructor/Quality Assurance Inspector in the Aerospace Industry. He calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home DZ.

    By coreyangel, in General,

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