“Is swooping more dangerous than other types of skydiving?” That was the question put to me by a reporter. I was stumped for the right answer. “Uh, well, sort of. Sometimes it is. Depends who is doing it….” None of these answers were going to work for a response.
As a DZO you have to be careful how you answer a reporter’s question. You can’t dodge their question because the last thing you want to do is let them answer it for themselves. But you also need to be as clear and precise as possible because often the answer you give them isn’t what gets printed. And the last thing I wanted to do was throw Canopy Piloting as a sport under the bus. Thinking, thinking, thinking…..I got it!
I told them the safest way to jump out of an airplane is doing a static line with a round parachute. The parachute is almost guaranteed to be deployed and open at the selected altitude. It descends at a consistent and relatively slow speed. You can’t hook it. A canopy collision is almost impossible and if you do run into someone you jump bump off of each other. There would be more busted ankles but that would pretty much be the worst of the injuries. Yup, if the goal is to jump out of an airplane in the safest way possible than static line round is definitely the way to go. But, how much fun is that? Not much. The last time I checked having fun was the only reason to do something as crazy as jumping out of an airplane. Who would be a skydiver if doing static round jumps was all we did?
Any kind of skydiving other than static line round increases the risk factor. Freefall is more dangerous than static line. A 2-way is more dangerous than a solo. An 8-way more dangerous than a 2-way. A square parachute is higher risk than a round. A small square parachute more dangerous than a big one. Flying close to other parachutes is more dangerous than flying further away. Docking with other canopies more dangerous than flying close to them. Jumping with a wingsuit is more dangerous than jumping without one. Jumping a camera is more dangerous than jumping without one. Doing a demo is more dangerous than jumping at the DZ. And on and on and on. Every jump is a calculated risk.
One of the fantastic things about skydiving is that there are so many ways to play. We choose how we want to fly based on our perception of the fun versus risk factor. Dave Hebert is a member of the SoCal Evolution canopy piloting team based at Skydive Perris. I was walking over to dirt dive a 16-way CReW jump as Dave was getting ready to go swoop. I reminded him (as I often do) to be careful with that swooping stuff. He responded “Shut the hell up, you’re going to do CReW!” I think the fun factor of doing CReW with 15 or my friends is way worth the risk, but flying my canopy at high speeds close to the ground is crazy. Dave wouldn’t even consider doing CReW but he thinks diving his canopy at the dirt is a blast.
On another day at Skydive Perris Taya Weiss was organizing the Wingsuit 100-way World Record. I saw Jeb Corliss on the DZ training for some way too close to the earth terrain flying. I asked him if he was going to join the record jumps and he said “No way! That’s far too dangerous.” Flying a few feet from the earth is okay but flying in the wide open sky with lots of friends isn’t?
All of the skydiving disciplines have inherent risks. But it has been proven again and again that all of them can be done safely when approached with the proper training, experience, equipment and common sense. No matter how you choose to play, find a qualified person that can advise you. Use the right equipment. Don’t overestimate your abilities. Pick the games that look like the most fun to you. Understand the real risks involved and how to minimize them. If the fun outweighs the risk then have at it.
But don’t screw it up. It ruins everyone’s day when you hurt yourself. Takes all the fun out of it.
This post was written by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld