For most of us that have been to the World Freefall Convention (WFFC) before, the excitement begins to build as soon as we drive up to the airport entrance and stop at registration. Just seeing canopies in the air is enough to get our adrenaline flowing and make us hurry to get in the sky so we can have as much fun as the people we see there already.
But wait! For safety's sake we need to slow down and take some time to familiarize ourselves with the convention facilities. In particular, those of you who have never been to the World Freefall Convention at least need to take a look at a map of the airport and convention site so you know where to find the best places to park, camp, and land your parachute safely.
There aren't many rules at the convention, but the ones we have are important, because they affect the safety and enjoyment of the convention by you and everyone else who attends. We skydivers are generally some of the most safety conscious people around, but the excitement and fast pace of a large skydiving event have the potential for making us forget or ignore the usual good judgment we use back at the home DZ. One of the most important safety rules that we ask you to follow is to not push yourself and exceed your skill or capabilities. This applies in several areas:
Getting On A Load
The World Freefall Convention has the widest variety of skydiving opportunities you may ever experience in a short period of time and at one location. You will have a chance to jump from many types of aircraft and be on many types and sizes of skydives that might not be available to you back at your home DZ. Load organizers will be available for all of the skydiving disciplines, as well as seminars, coaching, and formal instruction by well known skydivers in these areas. These people will do all they can to help you learn to skydive better and to help you get on skydives that are safe, fun, and challenging.
Most people who come to the convention seem to be interested mainly in freefall formation skydiving. If you are one of these jumpers the best bet is to start off with a group no larger than you usually jump with, and keep it simple until you are comfortable jumping with people you don't know and with figuring out where you are going to land. Even some experienced jumpers who have been to several conventions in the past try to first find a small group of jumpers and "warm up", while at the same time refamiliar- izing themselves with the convention at a relaxed pace. If you usually jump with small groups it wouldn't hurt to break off a little high on some of the first few loads so you can get some practice tracking a good distance from others in case you want to get on larger loads. Just be sure to use that time tracking, and don't open higher than recommended.
Once you have made a few jumps you may get the urge to try bigger formations, and a good way to start is by checking with the load organizers that are available at the convention. The organizers are there to help you get on a skydive quickly, and to plan safe and successful skydives for jumpers at all experience levels. If you have any questions about safety or what type of skydive might be appropriate for someone with your skydiving experience while at the convention, just ask one of the load organizers. They will be happy to help you even if you are not jumping on one of their loads, or if you already have a group with whom to skydive.
Landing areas at the convention are generally unrestricted and we would all like to keep them that way, but this depends on your good judgement and common sense. If you are experienced enough and are conservative, you can land right next to where you are parked or camped, but there are plenty of large open areas in which to land, and the short walk you will make back to your packing area in some situations might be well worth the additional safety. While under canopy you will need to constantly be checking for other jumpers that may not see you. Think ahead and plan your landing site and pattern while still high enough to avoid other canopies without requiring evasive maneuvers. Hook-turns (turns more than 90 degrees for landing) are allowed only on approach to the swoop pond (where they are expected) and must not be done anywhere else! As a reminder, there are some situations in which you will definitely want to land in a large open area:
- If you are jumping a demo canopy with unfamiliar flight characteristics.
- If you have any problems with your canopy and decide that it is safe to land anyway, for example, a broken steering line, an accidental step-though pack job, or a canopy connected backwards.
- If you have a reserve ride.
Most of the major manufacturers of skydiving gear will be at the convention and they will have gear available for you to see and to test jump. However, these people probably do not know you, and do not know your experience level and abilities. If you exaggerate your experience or ability when deciding what gear to try out you are only putting yourself and others in danger.
Canopies are the most likely piece of gear that you will have the opportunity to test jump and there will be a wide range of types and sizes available, some of them very high performance types. Be conservative, and take the manufacturer's advice on what canopy to try first. Most importantly, land in an open area that is away from other jumpers. A quick toggle turn required by suddenly finding another canopy in your path could be disastrous in an unfamiliar high-performance canopy.
The harness/container systems provided by the manufacturers to test jump or to use when trying out a canopy are always very nice pieces of gear, and some of them even allow you the option of where to put the pilot chute. Still, they are not the same as jumping your own gear. Make sure the rig fits well and that the leg straps are tight and securely in place. Practicing your pull before the skydive is a good idea.
The World Freefall Convention can provide us with some of the greatest opportunities and most fun skydiving times of our lives, but we must exercise a good deal of caution to keep it that way. Please be careful so we can all share in the fun for years to come.