Cloud Dancer
First Freestyle Lessons
for Student Skydivers

by Tamara Koyn

Students who have just recently graduated from the student program will want to make solo jumps to just enjoy freefall, practice basic moves (barrel rolls, front loops, back loops, flat turns, tracking, diving), or to experiment with new ideas. Because freestyle is recognized discipline in skydiving, more students will want to try it. Students should be supervised by an experienced jumper or instructor. Even docile moves, such as the T Position, can lead to disorientation and violent out-of-control spins or tumbling. Spins can become fast and out of control before the student realizes what is happening. The following dives are recommended to prepare new skydivers for freestyle.

Dive Number 1:

On this dive, the student will learn to recover from out-of-control tumbling. The student should exit the airplane (preferably no lower than 3,000m or 10,000ft) holding his right ankle with the left hand (or vice versa) and hold this position for 10 seconds. This position will tumble head over heels. To recover from this out-of-control state, he should relax, allowing his body to become physically limp, and then assume the hard arch. The instructor should reinforce with the student the three priorities, 1) pull 2) pull at a proper altitude and 3) pull with stability at a proper altitude. The student should immediately pull if he loses track of time and altitude while performing this dive. This dive should be supervised by an instructor or experienced jumper.

The student needs to understand that "relaxing" is a muscular procedure (and not some sort of psychological trick). Relaxing is more of a physical skill than an emotional state. Because a student does not often know of this concept, the instructor should explain how to relax the muscles of the body. The reason is simple: When a student loses control, he becomes uncomfortable and afraid. Fear causes the student to become physically tense. A tense body will tumble and spin out-of-control more violently. Hence, the student becomes more frightened and therefore more tense. This vicious cycle continues and he finds himself unable to get stable. By realizing that relaxing is the act of becoming physically limp at any instant, the student can deliberately, immediately, and more confidently take control of the situation.

A limp body will effectively and immediately reduce violent out-of-control tumbling. The jump instructor can use a practical example to illustrate this point. On the ground, he should ask his student to hold his arms out to the sides and be as tense as possible and, then, push on the student's arm. Not only will the arm get pushed back, the torso will tend to follow and the student may stumble backwards a step or so. Now, the instructor should ask the student to hold his arms out to the sides in a relaxed lazy-like manner and, then, push on the student's arm. Only the arm will be pushed back and the student's torso will experience a small motion. While relaxed in freefall, the wind will naturally position the arms and legs with small affect on the torso. While tense in freefall, the torso will start to buffet and tumble as the wind tries to naturally position the stubbornly tense arms and legs.

The student should practice becoming physically limp on the ground. One will be surprised at how many people who can not allow their bodies to become limp when asked to do so on the ground. Relaxing is a skill that must be practiced.

Dive Number 2:

The student should practice spins and the technique of stopping spins. A reverse arch or turning in the opposite direction are techniques for stopping spins. Even the seemingly docile T Position can turn into a spin so fast that it is virtually impossible to tell which way you are spinning. Assuming the delta or track position can stop or slow a spin and is an important technique to know. Using the delta or track does not require the student to know the direction of the flat spin in order to stop or slow it. Different techniques for starting and stopping spins work for different people. A student must find what works for him. This may mean seeking advice from different instructors.

This dive should be supervised by an instructor or experienced jumper.

If the student has problems with initiating the spin he wishes to practice stopping, have him cross the right leg over in front of the left leg (or vice versa). (In this crossed legged position, there should be one foot of vertical space between the feet.) This cross legged position will generate a wicked fast spin and should be performed above 2,500m (8,500ft) only under the supervision of a skydiving instructor.

Again, if the student should find himself unaware of time and altitude and/or unable to regain control, he should immediately pull. If he is dizzy, he should immediately pull. (Later, the student should learn that doing one quick rotation in the opposite direction will significantly reduce dizziness about the original direction he was rotating in. For example, a single front loop will greatly reduce the dizziness caused by multiple back loops.)

Dive Number 3:

The student should discover back to wind flying and observe how this causes the chest altimeter to NOT read correctly. The best technique to assume the back to wind position is to tuck in an arm while putting the legs together and, then, to spread both arms out as he rolls onto his back. (The student will roll to the right if the left arm is tucked.) He should look in between his feet at the horizon for heading awareness. If desired, the student can practice heading control. Reaching out with the right arm and slightly retracting the opposite arm will cause the feet to rotate to the right in a flat turn action.

Your student should roll back over to the face to wind position often to maintain altitude awareness. To roll out of the back to wind position, the student should place both knees and feet together, retract one arm with the other pushing against the windflow, and arch. This is a good dive for an instructor to introduce the student to audio altimeters and how to properly use one. It is recommended that the student wear one set to 4,000ft or 1,200m. This dive is to be supervised and the student should be requested to signal 5,500ft or 1,700m.

Future Dives:

These first three dives teach a skydiver on how to handle certain conditions in freefall. Additionally, one is encouraged to watch any videos available on freestyle. Everyone is encouraged to learn as much information on safety as possible (by reading books and articles about freestyle and skydiving in general) and to use that information. Your imagination and joy of freestyle are only limited by your altitude and ability to jump safely.

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