How to Avoid Spinning Malfunctions
Ah, to be swung madly around the ballroom of the sky.
If you like that sort of thing, of course. Most of us, y’know, don’t.
Even though they’re eminently preventable, spinners remain a very statistically significant cause of cutaways. There’s good news, however: A little attention will go a long way towards making sure you aren’t dancing downward under a misbehaving main. Here’s how to get your body, brain and gear set up right.
1. Are you bungling the basics?
If spinning mals come up more than occasionally for you, consider whether you need to send yourself back to packing (or body-position) school. Might be the case.
2. Are you just being loopy?
Back when side ponytails were sexy and just about everything smelled like Teen Spirit, the skydiving industry used Velcro to secure toggles to risers. When manufacturers made the switch to the velcro-free designs we see now, they forgot about something vitally important: the long, floppy bights in the steering line that were now suddenly exposed to the rodeo ride of the deployment process.
Those mile-long bights took the opportunity to lasso anything they could. A particular favorite: hands. One misplaced toggle grab, and a skydiver could easily find him/herself in a compromising bondage situation with their control lines. The bights happily welcomed guide rings into the act. It was a ready-made recipe for a super-solid spinner, and it was ugly.
Soon, every single manufacturer’s rig designs had integrated line stowing features (“keepers”). There’s a reason the changes were made: as a jumper, you need that line tucked safely away until you’re good and ready to release the brakes. That said: Many of those old risers are still around, unmodified. Even more bafflingly, some skydivers don’t bother stowing the lines during the packing process (presumably, to save 20 seconds or so). If that’s you, you know what to do. And if you have Velcro on your risers, for the love of god check it for airworthiness.
3. Are your cat’s eyes conspiring against you?
Toggles love the cat’s eyes of brake lines. They dive at the chance to snuggle and lock in a spinny embrace.
It’s no wonder that’s the case: after all, their relationship is really hot. The heat that’s generated by the slider’s travel over the lines has a shrinking effect on the system, creating a kind of Chinese fingertrap for your toggle seating. With one toggle in and one toggle out, you’re going to be going for a ride.
A rigger can quickly suss out if your cat’s eyes are in good shape: big enough for the toggle to pull out smoothly, but not so capacious that the toggle’s fat bits can pass through. If they need replacing, do it.
4. Do you know when to let go?
Spinning malfunctions are sneaky bastards. For all their preventability, they have killed people. Make no mistake: Once you’re looking at one, you need to take it seriously.
The most important thing you need to remember is this: a spinning malfunction is not a line twist. When you’re under a docile, level main that’s flying cheerfully along as you swear at it, you’re looking at a line twist. When you’re not directly below a canopy that’s flying level -- when it’s flinging you outwards as it heads for the ground -- you are on the business end of a spinner. The first is an inconvenience. The latter is a mal, and you’d better get on it.
As wing loading increases, so does the violence of the spin, and the likelihood that you’re going to kick out of it quickly dissolves. So: Don’t fight it. Just get rid of it. Take some quality time with your reserve. You’ll be glad you did.