Discipline Education: So You Want to be a Skydiver?

Here are the cool things you can get up to in the sky from leaving the plane to pull-time.

An astonishingly high percentage of new jumpers come to the sport with one goal in mind: “I wanna fly those squirrel suits…like, yesterday!”

While many of those AFF-hopefuls will go on to become wingsuit pilots, other skydiving disciplines often lure would-be future Jeb Corliss-es down other paths of sky-tisfaction.

Beyond AFF. Photo Credit: Pippa-Rosy Steffell

Today we’ll provide a basic outline of the avenues available for new jumpers to dig their heels in and find the discipline, or disciplines, that suit them. The good news is, there’s no one telling you that you can’t try it all! With proper gear, training, and dedication, becoming a truly well-rounded skydiver is a completely attainable goal. If you’re on the fence about your next steps, or just curious what’s across the swoop pond, keep reading.

Without further chatter, let’s get into it.

The two main divisions of skydiving disciplines are freefall and canopy work (plus XRW which crosses the disciplines). We’ll cover the former in this article.

Freefall is anything besides a hop-and-pop, when you pitch just after exit, or a static line jump, when your deployment is initiated by your exiting.

Many jumpers excel in both canopy and freefall disciplines, and both can be practiced on the same jump, or nearly exclusively from one another. We say nearly, because you’re still going to have to land a parachute at some point, but you don’t necessarily have to improve your canopy piloting along the way to becoming a belly queen, freeflyer, or wingsuiter.

The first discipline anyone will sample, dabble, or settle in is belly flying (aka tummy or flat flying). The foundation upon which all sky skills are built, the only correct way to end any freefall, and the oldest discipline in our sport, belly flying is the safe harbor of skydiving. Beyond that, belly flying is a robust and highly technical aspect of our sport on its own. We may even go as far as to say that no skydiver is more consistently exact, rigorously practiced, or skilled at their discipline than top-tier belly flyers. From relative work (RW, aka “formation skydiving” or FS), where you’re rapidly turning points with a group, to big-way formations that bring hundreds of flyers together, dialing in your belly abilities opens doors to a new world of flight, fun and friendship. Strong belly-bilities are also essential to mastering any of the other freefall disciplines.

Belly 4-way. Photo Credit: Team Aviatrixx.

Hybrids, a relatively specific jump-type, merge flat and vertical flight by placing jumpers in different orientations, and therefore with vastly varied fall rates, on the same jump. This most commonly looks like two or more linked belly flyers with one or more stand-flyers hanging from leg straps or chest straps. Hybrids almost always start as belly jumps that then transition into the hybrid formation, so like we said, our solid belly skills are key to our fun and safety in other lanes.

Hybrid Skydiving. Photo: D Squared

Freeflying is almost anything outside of belly flying that happens from exit to break-off. Flying on multiple axes, and in different body positions is a skill in and of itself. Still, the realm of freeflying is expansive, including everything from the freeflying version of formation skydiving – vertical formation skydiving, or VFS – to highly artistic freestyle “skydancing” and dynamic fast-moving jumps. What does all of that mean? If you’re not on your belly, tracking, or under canopy, you’re probably freeflying. If you’re “turning points”, or running through a preplanned dive-flow of different grips while head-up or head-down, you’re doing VFS/static flying. If you’re flipping, twisting, and spinning like the most graceful figure skater ever, you’re an artistic freestyle jumper. If you’re zooming around the sky undocked and chasing friends in a (hopefully) controlled way, you’re flying dynamic/on a movement jump. Even if you’re sit-flying while your friends try to grab your foot before you flip over and try again, that’s freeflying too. We all pretty much start there, having fun trying to figure it out with our friends and coaches.

Freeflying. Photo Credit: Andreas Mosling

Angle flying, the most popular type of movement, is as it sounds, neither fully vertical nor horizontal, but at an angle. Widely regarded as the most advanced sub-discipline to master, strong flat-track and vertical flying abilities are required to become a safe and stable angle flyer. Why do it? Well, you get to go really fast both vertically and horizontally at the same time. It also makes for pretty unbeatable GoPro footage. Among freeflyers, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t love a good group sunset angle jump to wrap up a weekend at the DZ.

Angle flying. Photo credit: Mike Brewer

What’s the exception to all of these? Wingsuiters! The flying-squirrel people take tracking and throw a giant wing on it. Sailing through the sky, and covering insane horizontal distances, wingsuiters enjoy the longest freefall time of any skydivers, often more than quadruple that of a freeflyer on the same load. They use that extra time wisely to master their suits and enjoy the scenery the rest of the plane misses on the way down. Wingsuiting is also a necessary skill for those interested in eventually proximity flying with mountain cliffs (and becoming famous on Instagram)…after hundreds or even thousands of wingsuit skydives, of course. We must honor the necessary learning progressions to secure our safety while enjoying that majesty.

Wingsuiting. Photo credit: Sebastian Alvarez

Now that we’ve got you on the path to discovering the right freefall discipline(s) for you, it’s time to put that theory to the test and find a friend and/or coach to help you on your journey to sky domination! No matter which of these paths you end up on, keep having fun, staying safe, and enjoying the ride.

Stay tuned for our look into all you can do with the other half of the skydive next time.

See you at the DZ!

WSN Team

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