Cloud Dancer
Tamara's First Experience
in VRW

Last December (1993) in DeLand, Philippe Vallaud asked me if I would jump with him and try some Vertical RW. It started out that I would just make a jump or two just to try it out. He has over 2,000 Vertical jumps. We left the plane in stand-ups and facing one another. First, he leaped over me and then it was my turn to leap over him. Next, he took the Olav frog position (head down dive position with the legs and arms spread) while I flew standing next to him. It was wild flying that close to someone who was flying head down. While tracking away, I was out of breath and I continued breathing hard in all my excitement all the way into the hanger and fumbling with my pack job. I was hooked!!! (Sound like a first jump story?) The jumping continued for 25 more training jumps. My skills improved and the challenge of the dive tasks increased. Among learning relative control in the stand-up and other things, I practiced the Head-down position. On one of the last dives, I assumed this upside-down position. I was looking at my partner and the world upside-down. The really neat part was the visual effect as I was trying to learn to fall straight down. In a series of overcorrections, I saw myself approaching and backsliding to and from him. It was wild! While still uncoordinated, I was astonished that I was actually controlling my distance!

Vertical RW; the newest frontier?
by Tamara Koyn

Vertical RW is the skill of using a variety of body positions to fly relative with others at any possible fallrate. While pretty, graceful body form is not an aspect in Vertical RW, precise control of levels and proximity is the main objective.

Olav Zipser, Phillipe Vallaud, and other Europeans have contributed their efforts in pioneering this new skydiving discipline. (This new discipline has been referred to as "Free Flying," "Chute Assis," or "Sit-Flying.")

    The world of Vertical RW combines the following challenges:
  • A relative worker's ability to perceive and precisely control levels/proximity.
  • The balance skills of a freestylist and the ability to deliberately tamper with that balance in order to control levels and proximity.
  • Vertical RW is Three Dimensional RW and involves a world of new visual experiences as you fly in any orientation and use many new
  • techniques for maintaining eye contact. (Various head positions and movements are necessary for maintaining eye contact. However, these same head positions and movements affect one's sense of balance and body awareness.)

Camera Flyers will find that knowing how to perform Vertical RW will increase their ability to film a freestylist well, i.e., staying with the freestylist with greater ease and shooting unusual angles.

While learning Vertical RW, you acquire the feeling for balance, the feeling for the relative wind's angle of attack, and the feeling for fallrate.

Fallrate can be divided into five basic categories--Slow, Medium, Fast, Streamlined, and High Speed, i.e., Speeds 1-5. At each fallrate, you learn to control levels and proximity. Slow fallrates include the fallrate ranges attainable in the face to wind (such as the basic box position commonly used by sequential relative workers) or back to wind position. Medium fallrates include the fallrate ranges attainable from the seated position with torso near vertical or a back to wind position with the legs partially tucked. Fast fallrates include the fallrate ranges attainable in the standing and head down positions with the limbs spread and catching air. Streamlined fallrates include the fallrate ranges attainable while holding stream-lined positions, such as a no-lift dive or stand-up (with the legs together and arms out of the airflow), catching as little air as possible. High Speed fallrates can be possible for Totem formations, a tandem at terminal (without drogue), etc.

In Vertical RW, you can fly while standing or while balancing on your head in the Head-down Position. (The Position was performed by Olav Zipser at the 1991 World Freestyle Competition held in Vero Beach, FL.) While using the basic standing/sit position, RWers can control front and back slides by angling the body and/or legs in the windflow and control fallrate by adjusting the width of the leg stance. While holding the Head-down Position, RWers can control front and back slides by angling the body in the windflow and control fallrate by positioning the limbs farther or closer to the body.

Here are some notes I have written down while training this new skill. But first, I must share a word of warning. Attempting Vertical RW, can be VERY DANGEROUS, especially for the novice. Also, to minimize the dangers, Vertical RW MUST BE PRACTICED IN A TWO WAY FORMAT UNTIL SKILLS ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DEVELOPED (most likely greater than 200 Vertical RW jumps).

The following are only my notes from my December training camp with Philippe Vallaud and may not be necessarily presented properly.


Goggles. Sunglasses style of goggles are a good idea. You may have to be able to look directly into the sun and see your mates. With clear goggles, the sun will distract and blind you.

With webbed gloves, fallrate can be adjusted just by cupping the hands (for slower fallrate) or spilling air by arching the backs of the hands (for faster fallrate).

Bare feet can better feel contact and will not slip on grips such as forming a Totem. (You can carry a fanny pack with some small shoes if you prefer to walk to the plane and land with shoes.) One pair of socks is passable if it is cold, but avoid wearing two pair.

Cross-training exercises for Chute Assis

Stretching exercise for the groin so that the slowest fall position can be assumed. One can straddle the legs and lean forward to stretch the groin.

While flying your canopy, steer with 1/2 to 3/4 brakes with your arms straight out to the sides (elbows straight). Make slow practice flares with this arm position. Assuming that your canopy offers sufficient toggle pressure this is a good way for improving your arm strength for flying properly in the basic standing position.

Obtain some bungi cords or surgical tubing. With your creative thinking you can perform many of the strengthening exercises for improving your flying skills. While exercising, be sure that the loading on the muscle is fairly constant throughout the full range of motion. Also, be sure to move your limb through the complete range of motion and supplement your strengthening exercises with the appropriate flexibility exercises for the same and opposite muscle groups.

Pool training. Learn to find the inverted position. Then, using any necessary swimming motions explore what if feels like to pirouette in the inverted orientation. Have a friend check your positioning.

Techniques: The Basic Standing Position

The basic standing position is with the arms slightly lower than shoulder height and extended, legs spread about 30 degrees and slightly forward, and torso leaning back slightly. Arms should be positioned at or just below shoulder height. (The tendency is for one to position the arms higher than the shoulders if not over the head.) This is a good arm position for a slower fallrate and it is easier to maintain precise control of relativity. While maintaining your arm position correctly, you will notice that your arms will feel as if they are positioned lower than your shoulders when they are actually level with your shoulders.

Leaning forward is a bad habit much like that of reaching in regular belly to wind RW. Always think of leaning onto your backQeven walk around this way to get it in your head. From this point, it is always easy to use the leaning forward position as necessary. Note that it is very easy to generate a very fast backslide by leaning forward but it is a bit more difficult to generate a good fast front slide.

After making a number of jumps, you will find this position becoming increasing familiar and easier to relax with. (around 50 to 100 jumps to feel natural control in this basic position.) Also, you will be able to smoothly control your relativity. (In the beginning, you may find that you overcorrect too much and your relative control is somewhat erratic.)

Moving Frontward or Backward in the Basic Standing Position

Use the legs for making minor adjustments in moving frontward or backward. Use the tilt of the torso in addition to the legs for making larger more drastic adjustments. A backward inclination results in a front slide and a forward inclination results in a backward slide.

Adjusting Fallrate in the Basic Standing Position

For good fallrate control, it is important to adjust the degree of your leg spread slow and smoothly. Beginners have a tendency to suddenly transition from legs together to maximum leg spread. This causes much too radical changes in fallrate. Smooth and slow control of spreading and bringing the legs together requires leg strength that you may be lacking. Leg strength is also important for symmetrically controlling your leg spread. Asymmetrically spreading (or closing) the legs can result in unintentional side slips.

You have better control if you assume the fastest fallrate with your palms and arms bottomward with the arms at the sides of your body. You have better control of changing your fallrate. Also, high speed pirouettes are possible in this hands down position.

While using the legs to adjust fallrate, the arms should maintain their position. Use the arms only if the leg adjustments are insufficient.

Freefall Drill: While standing in the basic standing position, lower your hands with your arms straight to position your arms at the sides of your body with the palms presented to the relative wind. You are facing your mate. Remember to keep your slight backward lean! If your strength is insufficient to lower your arms resisting the air pressure with the elbows straight, then move the hands into the body and then push bottomward with the palms. Observe and be aware of the air pressure that you feel.

Side Slips in the Basic Standing Position

For a right side slide, shift your weight onto the right leg. Tuck the left leg as if for Indian Sitting with the knee higher than the hip, and lean the torso to the left. You will side slip in the direction of your extended leg. You will experience problems with balance if you try to shift the extended leg toward that side and/or not lean the torso.

Making arcing paths while facing 90 degrees into the arc.

Shift your weight onto one leg--that leg becomes the axis of rotation. The size of your arcing gets bigger as you increase the backsliding movement. Frontsliding prevents your arcing from increasing your distance from your mate. For aesthetic reasons, it is better to perform your arcing motions on the edge of an imaginary circle instead of an imaginary oval.

One should note that the ability to shift weight form one side to the other side, allows a flyer to maintain stability if he is bumped by his mate. The probably of this occurring is greater in 4-way or larger work.

Docked Straddle Spin Maneuver

Two standing participants dock with the feet making contact and then spin as a group. For a counterclockwise spin (while viewed from above), each person's right foot should be ontop of their partner's left instep. This prevents the feet from separating during the spinning.

Totem Position (or Formation)

One standing partner approaches and docks standing on top the shoulders of the other standing partner. Partners fly to each other on-level using only the legs to close the gap. At the end of the approach, the partners establish their level differences. The partner designated to be the top person, places his feet onto the 3-rings of the bottom mate. Do not grip the head with the feet as this could hurt your mate especially if tension develops. The bottom partner, at this time. must insure that his legs are together and straight into the wind or he will be blown out from underneath. (The bottom position is more difficult for this reason.) The bottom person should be aware of how much weight he has on his shoulders and adjust the acceleration of his fallrate so that he does not fall away from the top person. The top person raises arms overhead to increase the fallrate. For the break, the top partner decreases his fallrate to float off his mate's shoulders. Assuming the basic standing position is sufficient for breakoff.

It is important to control your approach and level change for entry into the Totem Position. If a 4-person team were to form two side by side Totems, the contact must be made simultaneously because of the fallrate acceleration.

Techniques: Head-down Position

Enter the position by performing 1/2 FL facing away from your mate. Two reasons, one, it backslides upon entry and, two, you will immediately regain eye contact with your mate once in the position. (Performing a half cartwheel is the best transition to the Head-down Position as eye contact can be continously maintained.) The legs are turned out with a slight pike in the hips. The hands should be positioned over the head into the wind flow. This allows one to take grips when making contact with his/her mate.

The visual experience in this position is unique and will require some adjustment. In the beginning, keep your head straight on your spine. As you progress, you will find that you can move your head to look to the right and to the left. And finally, you will be able to look all around without experiencing difficulty with your balance.

While you perform your 1/2 FL to enter to Head-down Position, you will have a tendency to float on your mate regardless of whether he is standing or holding the Head-down Position himself. Your mate should anticipate the float and fly with you.

When you teach someone to fly the Head-down Position, take a position below your student. This way you will be able to duck under him if he should suddenly get too close to you in a front slide. If he is approaching too fast, do not try to maintain relativity. Instead, make a quick action to duck below him to insure that you do not funnel him. (Funneling resulting in a head-first crash can cause injury.)

Also, practice assuming the Head-down Position by making 1/2 BL. Then, try multiple (2 or 3) FLs or BLs to the Head-down Position. This teaches you to be better aware of your orientation and to refine your stopping discipline.

Moving Frontward or Backward in the Head-down Position

While performing these front and back slips, it will seem that they work in the opposite way than they do while standing. Also, during the first attempts in assuming the Head-down Position by 1/2 FL, it is easy to finish into a frontsliding motion. Stopping discipline is critical for entering the Head-down Position falling straight down.

To slide forward, tilt the top half of the body toward your mate. To slide backward, tilt the top half of the body away from your mate.

Adjusting Fallrate in the Head-down Position

Spread the legs out more to slow your fallrate. Bring the legs closer together to increase your fallrate.

Learning Progressions

Beginners can first learn flying skills while truly seated, more like the freak flying techniques. At the next level, students learn relative control while standing and then can advance to learning relative control in the Head-down position.

For a camera flyer who would like to adopt Chute Assis flying techniques for filming, it is best that he first learn the techniques without the camera. Then, the camera flyer will have to decide on the optimum angle for his camera to be mounted.

Some Drills for Eye Contact Techniques

(Also, see Additional Freefall Exercises)

Drill Number One: Start in Standing Position facing one another. Your mate takes the Head-down Position 5 meters above your level and rolls left 90 degrees. You make an arcing pathway to your left so that you face him again. The sequence is repeated any desired number of repetitions or until your mate descends to your level.

This drill allows you to practice making eye contact with your mate(s) at a different level than you. Moving the head effects the kinesthetic sense and therefore your sense of balance. Looking up is harder than looking down. Also, this exercise is to get you to not look at your body parts. One tends to do this for increased body awareness. However, one must develop a keen kinesthetic sense.

Drill Number Two: Take the Head-down Position. First, your mate will fly standing with his head level with yours looking eye to eye with you. It is easiest for you to look straight ahead in the Head-down Position, Next, your mate will ascend so that his C.G. is level with yours. Your challenge is increased and you will have to look bottomward to maintain eye contact.

    Additional Freefall Exercises:
  • 1) Leap Frog--Face your mate in the Standing Position, fly frontward below him, face your mate again, and then fly frontward above him.
  • 2) Form a totem with yourself as the top person and then form a totem with yourself as the bottom person.
  • 3) Form a totem with yourself as the top person with your mate holding the Head-down Position.
  • 4) While facing your mate in the Basic Standing Position, practice levels control. Fly on-level, the above (one body length), on-level, and below (one body length). Your mate can take either the Standing Position or the Head-down Position depending on his experience.
  • 5) Form a 2-way line with your mate with both of you standing. This will help you practice Frontward/Backward slip control and levels control.
  • 6) With your mate in the Head-down Position with his heading 90 degrees to the right of yours, contact his left foot with your left foot.
  • 7) Standing facing your mate, your mate backslides and you make an approach practicing the SCS principle. Your mate may take the Standing Position or the Head-down Position. (If he is standing your mate should prepare to jump over you if your approach is too fast and uncontrolled. If he is in the Head-down Position, your mate should prepare to descend below you if your approach is too fast and uncontrolled.)
  • 8) Standing Side Slips Drill. Option one: your mate faces you, slides in one direction and you side slip to face him again. Your mate may be standing or in the Head-down Position. Option two; you form a 2-way line with your mate. He side slips away from you and you close the gap, then you side slip away from him and he closes the gap.
  • 9) Orbiting Exercise: Option one: Standing facing your mate. Simultaneously, you both begin a clockwise orbit (when viewed from above), stop, then a counterclockwise orbit, and stop. Your mate or you may take the Head-down Position. Option two: Do option one with levels change. On the clockwise rotation, you fly one body length higher than your mate, and on the counter clockwise rotation, you fly one body length below your mate. (This teaches fallrate control while make arcing movements.)
  • 10) Facing your mate, both standing. Lower your hands for the fastest falling stand-up. Then, perform 90 degree rolls to form a 2-way line.
  • 11) Chase Dive. If you get more than 5 meters from your mate, you lose. This trains your reflexes. You should always keep eye contact and you will learn how your body will follow your head.
  • 12) Both of you in a straddle pike, contact your feet with your mates feet.
  • 13) Take an observation dive and watch 2 way Chute Assis. Do not fly or drop in from above. One, the Chute Assis student may lose the stand-up and crash you. Two, the student may accidentally deploy or deliberately deploy without warning. Three, the group may make a sudden slip.
  • 14) Take the Head-down Position using stopping discipline and preventing unwanted front slipping.
  • 15) Form a 2-way line, perform 1/2 FL to the Head-down Position simultaneously with your mate, and roll 90 degrees to face your mate. (This teaches eye contact with the head looking sideways.)
  • 16) Keep your balance dive. While your mate tries to knock you off balance, dodge him by ascending/descending and/or arcing pirouetting, and maintain stability when he does push you. (Shifting your weight to the opposite side than the side the push occurred on will help you maintain stability.)
Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 1994. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.