Cloud Dancer
A Conversation on Vertical RW
among Greg Gasson, Brad Chatellier, and Tamara Koyn
March 1995

Greg Gasson, Brad Chatellier and myself had an involved conversation about vertical RW (Free Flying, Chute Assis, or whatever it's called) among ourselves after Greg made a number of training jumps with Olav Zipser at Skydive Arizona in early 1995. We've edited our E-mails together for others to enjoy. This article was originally posted to rec.skydiving usenet newsgroup.


Greg: Here are the things that Olav talked to me about.

  • 1) don't be concerned with flying pretty but just with flying
  • 2) take an arm or leg and put it in an unusual position and correct with the rest of your body

Tammy: Why put an arm or leg in an unusual position?

Greg: I think the reason is so if say you are doing a routine for competition and you feel yourself starting to lose it, you can correct it more gracefully than falling out completely and then continuing. At least that's why I think this drill is important.

Tammy: It's a good point I didn't think of. Before continuing, I want to say that I make a clear distinction between "classical freestyle" and "free flying." I draw a hard line between the two disciplines. In freestyle, the concern is to look graceful, straight legs, and perform moves that have a gymnastic/dance "wow" factor. In free flying, the concern is to fly relative to your partner(s) in any orientation, moving in any direction, and moving at any fallrate. Speaking in terms of free flying, putting your arm(s)/leg(s) in odd positions prepare the free flyer to be able to fly slots with grips in unusual 3-D formation work. The technique can benefit the freestylist by teaching them how to react when a move goes wrong in order to make a better save. It can be extremely difficult to save a move without bending a knee or breaking the form in another manner. It is this that makes classical freestyle so demanding. Also, the freestylist can also learn to harness the energy of the error to direct himself in a flowing manner into the next figure--one that he will be discovering through the art of improvisation.

Greg: 3) always keep up the speed curve and heading

Tammy: What does "speed curve" mean?

Greg: I think he [Olav] means fall rate. If your falling straight down keep going that way, if you are falling at an angle do the same.

Tammy: I, too, have an interpretation of "speed curve." "Speed" makes reference to the fallrate. "Curve" makes reference to the state of horizontal sliding. "Speed curve" then, therefore, is the flight path that you trace through the sky during the skydive. A free flyer is asking himself, how well can I follow the speed curve of my subject (who might be some freestylist trying to perform the classical figures or whatever).

Greg: 4) Practice taking deep breaths hold them and slowly release during the dive.

Tammy: Why? What significance does this have on learning the skills?

Greg: I think it is to make you think of doing something else and let your body do the flying while you are concentrating on something different.

Tammy: Ah, HA! Yes, like when you will start to fly that camera, you will begin to think about properly "sighting" your subject. But there are other significance to breathing, more known among dancers. The rhythm of the breath effects the quality, breath, depth, and liveliness of your movement. With dance as an art form, breathing properly gives it a dynamic quality. As an obvious example, one can find themselves holding their breath struggling with learning a new movement. Often, if they allow themselves to breathe, the struggles will become less as the breath allows the dancer to feel the "life" of his/her movement. So, I became very curious as to why Olav attributes importance to the breath. In watching him work with a student learning the Olav Position (last week at Skydive Arizona), he directed his student to inhale a deep breathe and hold it allowing the body to become tense. Then, the student was to exhale, releasing the breath allowing the body to relax again. Doing this, theoretically, enhances air awareness. A relaxed body can better feel the air pressure and therefore determine which muscles to use to fly a particular body position. And during the exhale, one can find which muscles to use for a particular body position as the unneeded muscles relax. I have seen a similar exercise in the book titled "The Warrior Athlete" by Dan Millman. (The new edition is "The Inner Athlete.") The basic idea is that if you hold a cup of coffee with your arm tense, you will not be able to feel the weight of your cup much in the same way that you can not feel the airflow very well if you hold your body in a tensed unrelaxed manner. I've been able to tense my body so hard in freefall that I couldn't feel the airflow.--It was a strange feeling to me to not feel the air pressure against my body.

Greg: 5) sometimes pretend that you have no knees, the entire leg is one flying surface.

Tammy: Why?

Greg: just more drill stuff I guess.

Greg: 6) clap your hands or carve them like you do when you stick your hand out of a moving car

Tammy: Why? What learning significance is this?

Greg: get used to flying differently...

Tammy: ...and it is a preparation for taking and receiving grips in 3-D formation work. Also, this will help one to develop their air awareness and air handling skills.

Greg: 7) when in a standup make independent feet and leg movements

Tammy: I saw the one dive when you wiggled your feet. Why?

Greg: I just felt like doing it.

Tammy: One can gain a good deal of insight just by doing things as they feel like it. In second thought, I think this is a good exercise to get a feel for how your shoes handle in the air. If you would repeat this exercise with different types of footwear from bare feet to boots, it would obvious how the shoes all handle differently in the air. And, I think a good free flyer will learn to become comfortable while flying with any type of footwear.

Greg: I wore my climbing shoes on about 10 jumps and I did not notice a huge difference. Probably because I was constantly trying new things.

Tammy: With lots of new things happening at the same time on a dive, it's a bit harder to notice and learn about these things. Hence, one shouldn't try to many new things on the same dive.

Greg: 8) when in a standup keep feet apart, its easy to fly with them together

Tammy: Why feet apart?

Greg: You can use it to control fall rate.

Tammy: Here is my view... Many learn to control their fallrate by moving between sitting and standing. The difficulty of this technique is that it makes it more difficult to control back sliding and front sliding movement. For example, in the sit position, when you put your chest forward to backslide, your chest will be in the burble of your legs and will not move your backwards so much. On Dive 22 (on your video with Olav), I don't think you backslide very far even though you were leaning forward as I think your chest was getting burble from your legs at times. Anyway, I use the spreading of my legs to adjust my fallrate and the forward or backward lean of my body to advance or retreat.

Greg: 9) When doing butterfly exits take light grips and try to fly with no tension.

[Note: a "butterfly" exit is an exit during which each partner holds his mate's right (or left) hand. The idea is to tumble around each other by changing the fallrate by varying the size of your tuck position. Grips should be "hooked" finger tips only so that if one partner twists too much with respect to the other, the grip will be broken instead of causing a shoulder injury.]

Tammy: Were you able to fly without tension? When I did it with Olav (last October), it was a terrible strain on my shoulder and I explained to Olav that I knew that I didn't fly properly and he said I did fine. Well, I know I didn't do it correctly because there was a good deal of tension on the grip and I could not keep my elbow bent 90 degrees as described to me during the dive briefing. If I do it any more, I must do it with no tension as I have a tender shoulder joint due to an old aikido injury.

Greg: On some of my butterfly exits, they were very light grips, on others there was lots of tension.

Greg: 10) keep the hips forward in standups to keep from backsliding 11) if you feel you are going to fall out of something ball up to keep the speed curve and then get back to whatever you were doing rather than getting vertical separation.

Tammy: I watched your video (of your training with Olav last January) with great interest. :-) :-) It's really cool. I write each jump and want I thought the drill/briefing was for that jump.

Tammy: Dive 1: short delay; practice holding Olav position

Greg: There was no plan--Olav wanted to see how I flew. Low exit, clouds at 6000 ft.

Tammy: Dive 2: 360s in Olav and standing positions

Greg: no plan again.

Tammy: On this 2nd dive, I definitely see you making valuable practice with 360s in Olav and standing positions.) There was a 360 standup during which you seemed to sliding sideways. Yes, superpositioning!--for example, making a move from in front of your partner to a position beside him while making a 360. And I see how this actually would work (no longer just a theory) in the video. It seems to work like this: One angles their feet, in the direction they wish to slide toward while making the tilted 360 pirouette. Looks easier to stand with legs together superpositioning pirouettes than with legs apart superpositioning pirouettes. I made a couple of jumps to practice balancing this angling with some standing 360s just last week. During the solo dives, I discovered it is a bit easier to keep control of the balance if I keep the legs more into the windflow and do the sliding by the way I bend at my hips. (I fell on the attempts when I directed my feet in the direction in which I wanted to slide toward.) So to start, I leaned back as I started the pirouette. Near the 180 point, I leaned forward to keep my sliding going in the same direction and I was leaning back again as I finished the 360.

Tammy: Dive 3: 360s in Olav (keep up the speed curve)...

Greg: ...and also take deep breaths which one can't really see on video.

Tammy: Dive 4: 360s in Olav (keep up the speed curve)

Tammy: Dive 5: 360s in Olav--clap hands between each 360. If I am not mistaken, it looks as if you got a chance to try some head down "carving" (orbiting) near the end of the dive. Looks like the same thing happened to you as it did to me when I tried it (last October). Anyway, it seems that one must exert a little more pressure on the side toward which the orbit is moving to prevent from falling out of it.

["Carving" is a move in which two partners face off in the Head-down Olav Position and orbit about one another.]

Tammy: Dive 6: 360s in Olav--clap hands between each 360. When you do the 360s in the Olav, do you know how you do them? Or, are they natural for you too? I see on one dive that you start to have a tendency to spiral. Do you recall anything about this?

Greg: I just do the 360's. The spiraling was not intentional.

Tammy: It seems that on this dive, it was more difficult for you to do the clap over your head. I also noticed how your arms were slightly more blown toward the feet than on the last dive. Perhaps, this has some relationship to the difficulty you experienced as you had more air pressure against your arms and hence the greater importance to move the hands symmetrically together? About the spiraling... If one is not falling straight down in the Olav position and they initiate a 360, they will tend to spiral drifting to the left and right for each rotation in front of a stationary camera flyer. Also, the student, who feels the action, may feel unstable and may fall out of the Olav Position. If the Olav Position is on balance and sliding in no direction, a 360 will be a centered 360 remaining stationary before a stationary camera flyer.

Tammy: Dive 7: 360s in Olav and change between standing and Olav position while keeping the speed curve. During this dive, I could see you press an arm more into the air than the opposite arm to initiate your pirouettes. In most instances, I notice no visible change in your body to initiate the 360.

Tammy: Dive 8: Olav position, pat the head; stand-up practicing moving the legs trying positions by scissoring the legs and keeping the stability; 1/2 cartwheel transition between Olav and Standing positions. I can see that when you pat the head with one arm, the other is blown back more to keep the air pressure symmetrical on your body and therefore you maintain your balance.

Tammy: Dive 9: stand-up, practicing spreading the legs sideways and keeping the stability; stand-up 360s; 1/2 cartwheel transitioning between Olav and Standing positions. Up until this dive, I could see that you, most definitely, felt more comfortable doing standups primarily with your legs together. In spreading the legs to the sides in the standup, one must coordinate and remember to perform changes in leg spread symmetrically. Asymmetrical movement increases the precariousness of the balance and may also induce a side slide (--although I have yet to figure out how to make my side slides work!)

Tammy: Dive 10: 1/2 cartwheel transitioning between Olav and Standing positions.

Greg: Olav was base and I was trying to fly close but was all over.

Tammy: Dive 11: 1/2 cartwheel transitioning between Olav and Standing positions; also transitioning between the two via multiple loops.

Greg: rock n roll

[A "rock n' roll" dive is an improvisational do what you feel like dive.]

Tammy: Dive 12: Stand-up and move legs in bicycle-like manner to practice leg control; Stand-up 360s.

Tammy: Dive 13: This was a tracking dive? Was the spot bad or did you track away from a good spot to practice tracking?

Greg: It was a track dive about 4 miles out so yes spot was bad.

Tammy: Dive 14: Stand-up and play with leg positioning and also during the 360s.

Tammy: Dive 15: copy what Olav does; stand-up play with leg positioning then play with feet positioning with legs still...

Greg: ...and independent foot maneuvers. I also lost my frap hat on that dive.

Tammy: Yes, I remember you telling me on the phone about losing your hat and how you went out and found it again. Yes, I did see your hat fly off. It reminded me of a freestyle meet that I judged--a freestylist's ballet slipper kept flapping on her foot and it was distracting from her routine as I started to watch that slipper flap knowing how it must feel to her. (Yes, I took some points off for it to. One should take care to their attire so that such things don't happen and the competitors knew about this rule at the start of meet.) Anyhow, the slipper came off.

Tammy: Dive 16: Stand-up and bicycle the legs; In Olav move the arms about. (I notice the upwind limbs are being manipulated on this dive.)

Greg: Also, independent foot maneuvers, try daffy in Olav

Tammy: Dive 17: Olav, play with arm positioning; tuck cartwheels; then Olav challenges you to fall faster in stand-up...

Greg: ...and, also, independent arm and foot maneuvers

Tammy: Dive 18: Stand-up--tucked cartwheels. Then, you do Olav position with Olav underneath you.

Greg: cartwheels

Tammy: Dive 19: tucked cartwheels

Tammy: Dive 20: tucked cartwheels

Tammy: Dive 21: getting forward drive in the Olav position. The sunset was beautiful.

Greg: I was just to look good for sunset.

Tammy: Are you telling me that you were not trying to move forward in the Olav Position and that the only mission on this dive was to look good for the sunset?

Greg: The only mission was to look good for the sunset. We may have started movement at the beginning and I may have just kept it to stay near Olav but I am not sure.

Tammy: Ok. I believe you now! It's hard to believe because you were doing some really nice forward drive. Were you aware that you were driving forward during the dive? (Actually, I realize it might be too late for you to remember well.) I remember it took me a little while to learn what falling straight down was in the standing and upright positions. Now, I feel that I can accurately know what falling straight down is in both positions. In other words, I could just assume the position and fall a nice accurate base for someone. I think. Maybe that's a dive we can try. I can test my skills to fall a consistent base while you can improvise whatever dance you want to make around me.

Tammy: Dive 22: Stand-up and repeatedly sitting and backsliding (I don't know how much if any, but I see your body position with the hips piked). Arms are pulled back in the stand-up and at end of the dive, the two of you orbited while you were bicycling your legs. I couldn't figure just what you were trying to do on this dive...

Greg: I was trying to fly with my arms lower than my shoulders. I found it difficult which is why I am flying so strangely.

Tammy: Why did Olav want you to fly with your arms lower than the shoulders? I remember Philippe placing emphasis on that with me (in DeLand in December '93) as well and I am wondering if it is for the same reason...

Greg: I think to give my arms a workout and again fly in a different position.

Tammy: If I remember correctly, Philippe felt that with the arms even or below the shoulders, one would have smoother more accurate control of levels. (Of course, that being after one learned to fly the position!)

Greg: Although I don't have the experience that Philippe has, I disagree with him. The reason being is that the airflow next to your body will be more turbulent especially if you are flying with your feet apart. If the feet are apart and your arms are low then they will be in the burble of your legs. Just my theory, don't know how valid it is.

Tammy: In my experience, I have found that the arms are usually slightly behind the body and the plane of the legs and therefore do not catch the burble. When watching some freestylists perform a straddle stand, this is observable (depending on the video angle). What I am even more curious about is: How does the burble of the legs effect the inflation characteristics of wings for those wearing sit suits or winged suits like Dale Stuart's?

Tammy: Dive 23: Stand-up and stand-up 360s (kiss pass with Olav with the both of you in Olav Position)...

Greg: ...and fly with arms lower than shoulders again.

Tammy: Dive 24: running ramp exit.

Greg: A C-123 exit, no plan and not rock n roll.

Tammy: Dive 25: tucked cartwheels and loops

Greg: rock n roll

Tammy: Dive 26: chopper jump.

Greg: There was no plan--just play with Charles but his fall rate was too fast for me.

Tammy: I made two jumps with him last week and he does have a faster fallrate. When I timed the length of my video with Charles, I figured that the fallrate was about 152 mph. When I timed a video with you and I, I come up with about 143 mph for the fallrate. I have a dive idea... I would like to face off with both of us in the Olav Position and then gradually speed up the fallrate until we are in no-lift dives. What do you think?

Greg: Sounds like fun. Count me in.

Tammy: Cool. :-) One time (last August at Skydive Chicago), I was doing a free flying dive with Jamie, my camera flyer. Basically, rock n' roll for me while he practices some Olav Positions. On one dive, I was in the Olav Position, he was above me but closing with fairly extreme speed so as the distance grew less I sped up and as we were about to match speed facing one another I was very close to a no-lift dive. Jamie's reaction was to throw out the brakes for a reason which I forgot. But at that, I went low. (Anticipating someone's "speed curve" can sometimes really be a b---h, especially if they go flat by surprise from a fast fallrate.)

Tammy: Dive 27: In Olav position, scissor legs with one forward and other backward. Also, legs spread to sides with heel clicks. (Is there any significance to scissoring the legs--one forward and one back--compared to spreading the legs?)

Greg: The reason for scissoring is so if you are doing a "spock" your legs won't be in the burble of the lower person.

[A "Spock" is a formation during which one partner performs a hand stand with one hand on the head of the other partner. The top partner is flying head-down and the bottom partner is standing below. If the top partner places two hands on the partner's head, the formation is called a "Double Spock."]

Tammy: Good point! Somehow off in another world, I was thinking that while flying vertically, I thought the burble from the person below would be small enough that it wouldn't matter. But I speculate that this would be more critical if you was trying to spock someone who was standing and wearing a winged suit. On the heel clicks, I remember you telling me on the phone that your goal was to keep the fallrate the same while moving the legs. I speculate that the reason that this works is: Impulse equals the amount of force involved multiplied by the time over which the force was applied where impulse is the resulting change in speed/momentum. So, when you put your legs together for an instant and respread them, the time over which the gravity force can accelerate your fallrate is very limited hence the impulse from your action is not very significant. Although, the last heel click did seem to drop you a little bit.

Tammy: Dive 28: hood dive. I think the purpose of these blindfold dives is to increase awareness for feeling the windflow. Yes, it seems that you quite well feel the windflow in the Olav position especially on the exit. (I've seen many people have problems with awareness of airflow during exit.) You did a quick stand up but it looked like that was more difficult or were you starting to feel some concern for the altitude as I know I don't perform well when I realize that I don't know my altitude or I think I am running out of it. I recall a dive at Quincy when I was freestyling away and then, suddenly, I noticed how big the runways looked and I thought "Oh sh--, I fixing to go low!" Actually, the runways are much bigger than the DZs where I normally jump. Anyway, I tried an eyes closed dive last week in Eloy and while holding the Olav position, I leaned forward and backward looking to feel the change in the angle of attack. I felt my balance change but I didn't feel a change in the angle of attack of the windflow! Extremely, perplexed by this feeling, I did the tilting again but this time I exaggerated it and I did feel the angle of the wind against my body change. Knowing myself, I am extremely sensitive in feeling changes in my balance. But I did find it startling to discover that I could change my leaning slightly in freefall without disturbing the airflow!

Tammy: Dive 29: Wounded clown [While performing the Olav Position, one arm was held folded against the chest of the body with 3 limbs available to fly with.]

Tammy: I noticed something very interesting about your wounded clown once you got it stable. Get out the video and look at your legs very carefully! With one arm out and the other in, your legs are spread with one pushing out more on the air than the other. The same leg as the tucked arm is pushing out more on the air.

Greg: I noticed this also.

Tammy: Dive 30: several BLs or FLs to stop in either standing or Olav.

Greg: rock n roll

Tammy: On all of these dives, you didn't get to do very many actual relativity control drills did you? Or maybe I have the wrong impression?

Greg: Not really, but whenever I started to move away I would try to get back but most of the time Olav would respond before I could finish.

Tammy: Are you familiar with any of the Skydive University "Basic Body Flight" instructional program? I've been in contact with them sufficiently to know that they are particular about how well a coach can fall straight down and let a student perceive and react to their relative work actions. I think their view is that if the coach moves that can slow a student RWer's learning curve (assuming that a student is doing a drill where he must control some aspect of relativity). The Skydive U. invited Olav to that coaches' class last October in Eloy but he didn't go--he didn't have time.

Tammy: On Dive 1 and dive 14, I saw you take grips with Olav. I see that grip discipline can be significant in free flying. Not only does the person docking have to complete the dock with no fallrate differences, the person who is base receiving the dock must demonstrate some skills as well. He must not reach in anticipation of the arrival of the mate's hand. He must also retain balance with one hand involved in the grip. This is more significant if Olav would pirouette the piece. In fact, I remember the dive (last October) on which Olav took my hand and turned the piece (no video of this dive). It was a very odd feeling to me to be in the state of rotation without doing anything to cause it. I also felt the torque effect and realized how easily one could be pulled out of the standup. It changed the muscles I was using in my body and the best way I can describe it is... If you were to stand on an RW creeper and I take your hand. If you made no effort when I pulled you, I would be pulling your upper body forward with the creeper trailing behind you and you might fall (especially if the wheels didn't roll very well). However, if you tensed your body in a certain way, I could pull you by the hand and you would roll along following my lead. In fact, I see this as a good ground exercise.

Greg: I bought a video camera and helmet yesterday. I got the Sony VX-3 like Olav has.

Tammy: Way cool. :-) Actually, I am very curious to how you will find the feeling of wearing the camera in the air and how it is to also think about "sighting" your subject all the while you still have to fly your body too. Tim, Brad's friend, mentioned that he noticed the camera more when he was falling out of the Olav position sideways. Because the side of the camera starts to catch the wind in this way, he felt it was better to just cartwheel all the way over to recover the Olav as it is somewhat difficult to try to push the camera sideways into the wind without momentum to save the Olav position.

Tammy: But there is a dive that might be good for you to try before you would follow (doing video or whatever) a two way. That would be a chase dive. Your job is to chase your partner and not let him get far away from you and also to always keep eye contact. (But of course, your partner should stop running away from you if the distance became greater than some agreed upon specified amount. You see, if the distance becomes too large, then you wouldn't get to practice.) Also, your job is to get away from your partner if he should, suddenly, launch at you to collide with you at fast speeds. (Well, of course, he really doesn't want to hit you, so he would redirect his movement away from you if he didn't see you responding.)

Brad: Greg flies the Olav position with arms out at sides, forearms slightly below shoulder level.

Tammy: During my time last week in Eloy, it seems that Olav has been instructing his students to put the arms more in this position instead of a true RW box position. I am unsure of the reason and I missed my chance in asking this question. The idea of placing the arms in the box position was presented to me because then one is more ready to take grips while building formations such as the vertical compressed accordion.

Brad: On the first dive with Fritz filming, it seems that Olav doesn't do anything to chase Greg.

Tammy: Greg is an RWer. In other words, he is using what he has learned in sequential in free flying. I think. Slow and smooth is the best way to handle corrections and I notice this when I am flying with Greg compared to other freeflyers. Both the SCS (start, coast, stop) principle and slow+smooth=fast (efficient flying) RW principles apply to free flying as well.

Brad: Overall it seems that Greg is more skilled flying in the Olav position than standing.

Tammy: Greg is much more comfortable in the Olav frog. I have this idea that after gaining more experience, free flyers find better control in the Olav than while standing. I've caught myself flipping over to the Olav and favoring work in the Olav Position especially in instances where my partner is suddenly backsliding from me.

Brad: Olav can cartwheel track -- this is so f--king cool I can't sit down while watching it.

Tammy: I totally missed this one. He is actually tracking? One theory I have is that if he has created horizontal movement before the tuck, he will have horizontal momentum during the tuck cartwheel itself and can immediately resume applying power to the horizontal movement after the tuck transition. What do you think?

Brad: You would think that Javelin would modify its rigs so that the main flap would stay shut, but it is open on almost every dive. (One of the reasons I love my Talon).

Tammy: Supposedly, Olav has "walrus" teeth, long tongues that slide under the closing flap to hold it shut. Olav, also, suggests to put anti-slide sticky stuff onto the "Walrus" tongues. The Vector III closes from the bottom in an upwards direction.

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 1995. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.