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General

    Is Your Rig Freefly-Friendly or Preemie-Prone

    How to Set Yourself Up For Success

    Image by Joel Strickland It’s time. You’re ready.
    You’re going to point your belly button away from the ground when you fall out of a plane. YES.
    You’re gonna point it at the horizon. You’re going to point it at other people. You’re going to sit around and look at it while you slide backward. You’re going to take your belly button on an amazing adventure.
    But wait: is your container ready to join you on this journey?
    The discipline you’re about to enter -- freeflying -- makes more demands of your skydiving rig than belly flying does. Now that you’re going to start moving around at a full range of angles in the relative wind, you need freefly-friendly equipment.
    But what is a freefly-friendly skydiving rig?
    The simple answer is that it’s a skydiving container, with all of its flapping bits under control, that fits close to your body. To get a little more specific, we’ll look at a few examples of non-freefly-friendly rigs -- and we’ll see how to get them fixed.
    The “Reclining Chair”
    What’s the difference between making a great skydive and hanging out in a poolside sun lounger?
    Uh...everything.
    If your leg straps are slippy, your sitfly might end up looking like a lounge-fly -- and the resultant harness ride-up might put your chest strap into your throat. SO importantly, this look is also humorously unflattering in photos and videos.
    This might be the easiest issue to fix -- it could be a simple issue of improper strap adjustment. Before you send your kit in for surgery, see your S&TA;, rigger or instructor to check your current gear-up method and adjust accordingly. If it’s truly an issue of fit, your rigger can amend your harness, leg pads and leg straps accordingly -- and add one of those fetching little butt-bungees to keep your leg straps managed.
    The “Incredible Floating Container”
    If the laterals on your rig are too long or the leg straps are too loose, you’re going to have one of these -- a container that floats away from your freefallin’ body while air rushes in to separate the two of you.
    The fixes for the Incredible Floating Container are similar to the Reclining Chair -- first, check with an expert to make sure you’re kitting up correctly; then, if the problem persists, send it to the loft.
    The “Flippy Floppy Flapper”
    Guess what? Your pin flaps -- and riser-cover flaps -- love to flap. They just love it. They’ll use any excuse to get out there and do their name proud.
    To keep the flaps under wraps, you’ll need to look closely at the condition of each component. Make sure the stiffeners aren’t broken, warped or loose. Check for weak Velcro and/or magnetic closures. If you find something, don’t despair: Your rigger can revitalize wiggly tuck tabs, replace ragged-out Velcro, install (or replace) magnets and/or repack your reserve to adjust where its bulk places pressure on the system.
    The “Premature Popper”
    If your BOC doesn’t hug your pilot chute snugly enough, the multi-orientational pressures of freeflying make it much more likely that said pilot chute is going to make an early escape. Even if you’ve gone ahead and bought yourself one of those fancy low-profile freefly puds, that’s not going to save you if your BOC is loose, holey or inelastic. Note: if you’ve recently downsized in addition to switching up your discipline, be extra careful -- the BOC system relies on a snug, correctly-fitting main in the tray.
    Another pop-preventer: maintaining a frayless closing loop of the proper length.
    The “Put Me In, Coach”
    The Put Me In, Coach is another variation on the Premature Popper. It’s an even less-fun one: an instantaneous reserve ride without the screamy good time of a malfunctioning main. It happens when the Velcro on your handles is weak, or when you bumble into a limb or foot that grabs your D-ring.
    Make sure that the Velcro on your handles is strong and mated completely on both sides. It should take a moderate tug to separate the handle from its cozy home. Also: it’s not necessary to replace your D-ring with a pillow when you transition to freefly, but there’s a reason it’s so commonly done: that capital D is a big, shiny, shoe-sized liability.
    The “Velveteen Rabbit”
    If your rigger tells you that your rig is impossible to freeflyify, you may be the soon-to-be-ex owner of a Velveteen Rabbit rig. Don’t be too sad: it has probably been very loved for very many years, and it’s ready for retirement. Give it a viking funeral if you want, but don’t insist on flying it -- let it go. Making the hard choice to get rid of it might just save you -- and your wandering belly button -- a lot of unnecessary misery.

    By nettenette, in General,

    Propeller Safety For Skydivers Who Want To Live

    How Not To Become Dog Food Like That Indiana Jones Guy
    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones is on an active airfield. He’s duking it out with a bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi, and he’s kinda losing. Finally, he manages to distract the dude with his puny, tickly little punches until a propeller can chop his shiny evilness into dog food.
    And we cheer, and we laugh. Because ha! That guy was so stupid, he didn’t even see that propeller. Hilarious.
    Well, my friends -- we could all easily be that bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi if we’re not careful.
    We’re around propellers all the time, after all. We’re accustomed to hearing and feeling them -- so much so that they’re almost invisible. Statistically, we’re in their immediate presence enough for the risk to be proportionately higher than it is for someone who’s rarely on an active airfield. So: here’s your game plan.
    Always sneak up on fixed-wing aircraft from behind.
    Props are located in on the fronts of fixed-wing aircraft -- either on the nose or on the fronts of the wings themselves -- so always approach a fixed-wing aircraft from well behind the wing. Teach yourself to do this every time, whether or not the plane is running. This will lessen the chance of you bumbling into the “fool processor” with a boogie beer in-hand.
    Always stare helicopters in the face. (Kinda.)
    Helicopters don’t like to be snuck-up-on. Think about it like you’re establishing dominance -- always approach helicopters from the side-front, where the pilot can see you. (The real reason for this is the danger posed by the rear rotor, but -- if you think about it -- helicopters kinda have faces you can stare down.) The rule of thumb is to stay in front of the boarding door, never behind it, and not directly in front of the helicopter where it tips during takeoff.
    Never chat with the pilot from outside the plane.
    Have manifest radio them with information, or -- if you must -- do the annoying half-gesture, half-shout thing inside the cabin. They probably don’t want to talk to you, anyway.
    Never touch a propeller unless you’re filling out a timecard to do it.
    Touching a propeller is like sticking your hand into a beehive. You may or may not get stung, but it’s an inarguably dumb idea. Even if the plane is tucked in for the night, it’s not okay to saunter up to a propeller and stroke, push, spin, crank, pull, lean, poke, lick or fistbump it. They’re heavy, sharp and kinda unpredictable, especially if you’ve been drinking (which you probably have been). Just leave it alone.
    Don’t take the shortcut.
    Is the shortest distance from the LZ to the hangar a straight shot through the loading zone (or any other aircraft operating area)? Do the right thing and walk around it. If you start cutting through the no-walk zone to save a couple of minutes, your fellow jumpers, students and spectators will likely follow suit. Restricted areas aren’t restricted unless it’s hot and you’re tired and you double-manifested, and you -- or someone who waddles along after you -- might pay a high price for the choice.
    Don’t wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care on a heli huck.
    ...until you’re either hanging from the helicopter strut, safely landed, or mugging for a freefall photo you’ll be embarrassed about later. There are spinning scimitars up there while you’re exiting, dude.
    Do your part to muddy up the gene pool.
    Especially on crowded weekend days, boogies, demo events and any other place that more than two mouthbreathers are gathered in the name of skydiving, you are going to witness stupidity. If you see one of the horde wandering cow-faced towards the propellers -- almost always, led by a GoPro or smartphone -- please grab them, divert them and ask them nicely not to procreate as you lead them gently behind the signs they’ve so blithely ignored.
    Maybe remind them of the bald, mustachioed, wall-of-meat Nazi guy who became dog food. (Everybody remembers that part.)

    By nettenette, in General,

    Highway To The Dangerzone

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski Headin' into twilight

    Spreadin' out her wings tonight

    She got you jumpin' off the deck

    And shovin' into overdrive...
    When I was learning to wingsuit, I sang it in my helmet. Every time.
    True story.
    Anyway.
    We can all agree that -- in addition to fun, of course -- skydiving is about pushing personal limits and building personal skillsets. We might also agree that skydiving is not necessarily about putting yourself directly in the path of actual mortal danger. There are inherent risks (and, if we’re being honest, we kinda love them), but we don’t love the idea of spending a couple of seasons healing up from a broken pelvis. Right? Right.
    There are multiple danger zones in skydiving, and it’s actually something of an autobahn -- in that there are no posted speed limits to reach them. To put it another way: most of them exist as much for brand-new skydivers as well as battle-worn multiple national champions. As a skydiver, it’s important to take these just as seriously, no matter how much of a n00b or dropzone hero you might be.
    Danger Zone 1: Meat-Based Collisions
    If you’re not flying on proper level with a group, you’re officially in Danger Zone 1. Flying on level keeps you out of the broken-bone zone if a member of the group suddenly corks or prematurely deploys. It keeps you out of pesky burbles, and it helps you keep meaningful awareness of where everybody else is flying around you. Invest in the coaching that will help you get (and stay) on level in formations of any kind.
    Also important: don’t just fly on level. Fly on-heading. Off-heading collisions hurt more than same-heading collisions. And never risk a 180-degree collision, even if you’re totally sure there’s nobody on your six -- it’s just not worth it.
    Danger Zone 2: Nylon-Based Collisions
    Once you’re dangling from your fabric, you have another danger zone to contend with: potentially crowded skies. According to the USPA, the most likely moments you’ll veer into oopsie territory here are:
    a) right after deployment and

    b) after entering the pattern.
    Instead of putting yourself in a place where you’re nimbly avoiding (or tragically not-avoiding) other jumpers at close quarters, be smart about it. Break off from other jumpers with room to spare. Create horizontal and vertical distance from everybody else in the sky (including the guy who’s almost certainly lurking behind you). Finally, keep your head on a swivel -- especially during that troublesome base-to-final bit, where everybody will be trying their best to kill you.
    Danger Zone 3: The Basement
    The basement is the biggest, baddest danger zone there is. It is, after all, where the ground lives. The ground is a monster that’s just waiting for you to stop paying attention because it wants to eat you.
    You’re going to enter this danger zone every time -- there’s no avoiding it. When you do enter it, you’re going to want to be under a canopy you’re controlling, over a landable bit of dirt, with a plan that accommodates as few obstacles as possible. This means that you must get that first canopy out at an altitude at which a second canopy is an option. It means that you must make sure that your equipment is maintained to prevent preemie brake releases. It means that you must either avoid or manage the hell out of low turns. And it means you’re going to need to know how to land that thing in water.
    The ground is waiting for you to make a mistake -- and it’s hungry.
    So, if you happen to be on the highway to the danger zone, try taking the next exit. Most people will indeed say hello to you, even if you never get it on the red line overload.
    I promise.

    By nettenette, in 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,

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