“Off” ain’t such a bad thing.
As skypeople, we love “off.” Offbeat. Offhand. Offside. And, y’know -- we’re all a little off, really. Off landings should fit right into our oddball little world. Unfortunately, lots of skydivers tend to be ill prepared for an unscheduled landing out in the real world. Are you one of ‘em? Here’s how to get ready for a surprise skydiving adventure.
1. Be a nerd about it.
Sure, the airborne life throws you curveballs sometimes -- but there are variables here that you can control, y’know. Work ‘em.
If you only ever land that thing in a schoolbook configuration in the exact same landing area, you’re not going to enjoy the steep learning curve of an off landing. Hang out with a canopy coach for a weekend to workshop your braked flight (and, y’know, braked landings) in a structured, feedback-rich environment. The more thoroughly you train your body and brain to execute these maneuvers, the less you’ll panic when you look down and realize you’re hanging over an endless sea of potential ouch.
Also: always jump with a charged method of communication.
2. Speak up.
Very likely, your off landing is going to be your fault, and it’s probably because you didn’t pay attention (to winds aloft, to the jump run, to your opening altitude, to where you were pointing your pretty new wingsuit…). If it’s the pilot’s fault, you should know it by the time you’re standing at the door and lookin’ down. If the spot is off, don’t leave the plane. Ask for a go-round.
3. Look out for yourself.
If you’re at the caboose end of a group and you can’t spot from the door, make a habit of quickly spotting as soon as you run out. If you notice that your compatriots failed to notice that they were getting out of the plane somewhere in the next state, evaluate your options. If it’s safe, then you should peace out earlier and pull higher, crossing fingers that the extra altitude will get you home.
That said, don’t be a dick. If the particular skydive you’re doing is safer for everyone if all members conform to the freefall and breakoff plan, then congratulations: you’re landing out.
4. Curb your optimism.
At this point in your journey into offland, you might be under one of two available parachutes. Your first responsibility after ensuring that whatever’s out is controllable is to realistically determine where you’re headed. If you feel like you just-might-maybe make it to the main LZ, make sure you’re not just-might-maybeing your way into a power station or highway or forest or whatever might be in the intervening territory. If you’re not sure -- or if the middle ground is an alligator farm -- then you should bin that Pollyanna attitude and get real. Put your entire brain on the task of on finding a safe alternative that takes into consideration your current position and the wind direction.
5. Mind invisible canopy-eaters.
Once you’ve picked a spot and are toodling down to make your acquaintance with it, you should start getting as picky as possible. You’ll obviously be headed for what appears to be an open space, but wait -- are there invisible monsters lurking? Trees, buildings and other solid objects can throw serious turbulence if they’re upwind (and livestock can wander into the picture very quickly). Keep that in mind as you’re planning.
6. Play the field.
As much as possible, be a commitmentphobe. Make sure you don’t have blinders on to other landing areas that might save your ass in the event of surprise fences, power lines, turbulence monsters, stampeding herds and other obstacles you didn’t notice from on high.
7. Embrace it.
If you’ve always been on, you can be assured that off is coming. Get real and get ready, and you’ll be much better...off. (Snicker, snicker.)