Safety Check | Calmness
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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Safety Check | Calmness

Safety Check | Calmness

Safety Check
Thursday, November 17, 2022

Photo above by David Cherry.

"Just relax." I think all of us have been told this by our instructors and coaches. Chances are, when you first heard this, you thought, "Are you f-ing crazy?! I'm jumping out of an airplane! I am anything but relaxed!" It probably seemed like the craziest thing you’d ever heard, but it's true.

As soon as you actually learn to relax, everything becomes easier. Everything. This is true for students, as well as competitors and world record participants. But how do you make it happen? You want to relax. You intend to relax. Then you leave the plane and are so focused on the jump that you never even think about relaxing. You forget completely. During the ride to altitude, you usually become more and more anxious and amped up as you get closer to jumping. The excitement and anxiety builds as you get closer to the door, peaking as you start climbing out. By the time you exit, you are boiling over, only to be hit with the sensory overload you get from the exit.

However, there is a strategy that works at all stages of a skydiving career. Try this: During the ride to altitude, focus more on calming down and controlling your energy level, especially as you get closer to exit. If you are an AFF student, you probably are going through the jump in your head, being sure you remember every detail, worried you'll forget. Trust me on this, being calm is more important than remembering the jump. If you forget the sequence, your instructor will remind you, and if you're calm enough, you will be able to easily respond. So, spend your time calming down during the ride to altitude. The last few minutes before exit, slow yourself down, breathe and don't worry about the dive sequence. You learned it on the ground, and you will be able to bring it up if you're calm enough.

Once you’re in the exit position, pause. Take a slow, deep breath; you have time. Calm yourself down. Then begin the exit count.

Most new jumpers exit the plane and take a few seconds before they realize they're stable. Usually there is a count something like this, "Out, in, go, arch one thousand, two thousand, three thousand." At the moment when you realize you are stable, instead of beginning the sequence, pause, take a deep breath, wiggle your fingers and consciously calm down. Let the wind blow your body back into a nice arch. Then begin the jump. You have time.

By doing this, you make calming down—relaxing—part of the skydive rather than a hope, wish or prayer. It becomes part of the sequence ... and the most important part.

The proper amount of calm is way calmer than you think. Consider that if you were unconscious and laying on your belly in freefall, your body would blow back to your perfect, comfortable arch. Your core is where the weight is, like a badminton birdie, it will always go to the low point. Your extremities will blow back to whatever your level of flexibility will allow. Your perfect arch is what the wind wants to do with your body if you're calm and relaxed.

As competitors, my teammates on the original Arizona Airspeed 4-way formation skydiving team used almost the same process. The team always used the term “on the line” to describe our best jumps, where we calm enough to go as aggressively as possible while still able to stay completely under control. “Over the line” referred to the jumps where we weren’t calm enough and were too aggressive, and “under the line” referred to when we were too cautious and not flying strongly and confidently enough. When we were debriefing after the first day of a training camp, we realized we had been over the line all day. We made it our goal for the week to calm down and put ourselves right on the line. But despite that goal, we were over the line on every single jump on every day that entire camp. At the end of the week, we truly couldn’t believe it. We had one goal for the week and made literally zero progress toward it. We discussed why we weren’t able to calm down as we had intended. I suddenly realized that not once after exit did the thought of calming down ever occur to me. We planned to be calm; we wanted to be calm; our goal was to be calm. But we never actually did anything to make it happen. We came up with a plan to fix this.

Our team completely prepared for the jump prior to getting on the plane. On the ride to altitude, we’d focus on creating the calmness we strived to have on all the jumps. During the last few thousand feet, I would just repeat the sequence of formations as a calm, quiet little meditative mantra: “A, L, 11, 7; A, L, 11, 7.” When we were lined up in the door and ready to exit, right at that moment where our adrenaline would peak, we’d all stop together and take one more breath and remind ourselves to be calm. We would then exit and work through the first page of five or six points. At that moment before starting the second page, we would literally stop, breathe and again remind ourselves to be calm. It worked! We made the thought to stay calm part of the jump sequence! From that point on, we were able to far better control our mental state on the jumps. It didn’t take any time at all. No one could look at the video and see us stop, because it was just a thought to be conscious of choosing to be calm. 

I promise you, this works. In any type of skydiving, have a plan for when during the jump you will stop to remind yourself to be calm. It won’t happen just because you wish it to. You need to make it happen. Please give it a try. Everything—I mean everything—will become easier. Learning to do this in skydiving will open the door to being able to calm your mind down in any stressful situation and will help you face any challenge, even outside of the sport. It is one of the many invaluable life lessons we learn as skydivers!

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld | D-8424, AFF Instructor, PRO
Author of "Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver's Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity and Success”

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