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Landing Tips for Women

by Grace Katz


In my years of skydiving, I have noticed a trend that women are often not very successful at landing canopies. Of course, women do land canopies and walk off the field without serious injury, which some would classify as “successful”. However, many of those landings leave women bruised, sore or covered in dirt. Are those landings truly successful? 

I have observed that all too often, women land feet, knees, boobs, face, hands…then sometimes continue to roll or be dragged across the dirt until the momentum of the canopy’s forward speed wears off. This is not pretty and certainly not comfortable. It increases risk of serious injury. And quite frankly, it is embarrassing. I know, I used to be that girl being dragged across the dirt! 

I have also observed women who think they will slide out landings, only to lift their legs and promptly land hard on their bottoms. Ouch! That is likely to bruise or break the tailbone, and increases risk of spinal injury. 

Without learning to fly and land our canopies correctly, it’s only a matter of time until we get hurt. 

The good news is that there is hope for us all. Loads of skilled female canopy pilots started out in the sport with consistently poor landing. These women learned tips and techniques that help them improve their landings to be safe, and eventually to perfect their landings. 

With this in mind, I’d like to share what I have learned to survive my landings, and eventually to perfect my landings. 

There are basically three methods of landing safely: stand-up, slide-in or PLF. 

Stand-up landings often require running out the forward speed of the canopy upon touchdown. Be prepared to run, mentally and physically. Body will be slightly forward with feet and knees together on final. Use a staged flare to plane out the canopy then finish the flare to full arm extension and hold arms and toggles down as you run. You should start running as you finish your flare and touch down. Don’t hesitate – run. On windy days, you may be able to land standing up without running, but always be prepared to run.

If you’ve ever played softball, the slide-in method may be a natural fit for you. If you have not, spend some time watching professional baseball games and you’ll get the picture. The idea is slide across the ground to bleed off the forward speed while minimizing the impact to your body. This requires touching heels first, slowly transferring weight onto back and side of legs and one side of bottom. Take the impact on feet and soft tissue of legs and bottom, rather than on joints and ligaments. Be sure to always finish flare at full arm extension and hold full flare position while sliding.

Remember the parachute landing fall method you were taught in your first jump course? It works, but it is not pretty or very comfortable. However, it has proven very effective to protect skydivers from injury upon landing. The PLF is an essential skill to safely land in uncertain conditions, such as landing in an unknown location (e.g. away from drop zone property) so it is important to remember this technique, and even practice it occasionally on the ground so it is familiar and instinctive if/when you need it. The proper PLF technique is described in detail in the Skydiver’s Information Manual (SIM).Section 4-e. Basic landing training–Parachute landing fall (page 29)

To put these methods into practice, I asked many of my girlfriends that I have seen progressively landing better and better what happened. What went on in their minds to help them hone the skills that now allow them to land successfully? What happened to stop them from coming off the field limping or dirty?

I received some interesting tips as follows:

Get mad: I hear from many women that it took an injury or constantly getting bruises to get mad with themselves to the point of REALLY flaring their canopies ... so flare with intention!

Talk to yourself: I know that many of you do this because I do it myself ... we talk to ourselves in a very negative way, such as “I went low because I'm fat” and “I can't run so I know I’ll crash and burn!” Time to replace those negative thoughts with " I can do this" and "I’ll do a full and complete flare" or "not yet, not yet, flare". Practice saying positive and helpful words to yourself.

Visualize success: Visualize yourself landing correctly and talk to yourself with positive words. Always follow through with a full flare and the actions you’ve visualized for successful landings.

Be prepared: If you have a down wind or cross wind be prepared to PLF. Yes, you may get dirty or even bruised, but the PLF will likely save you from serious injury. Always have feet and knees together on final leg of your canopy pattern and be ready to PLF if necessary.

Have a plan: Always have a plan and follow through fully with that plan. Of course, have an alternate plan, such as PLF, if conditions warrant a change to your initial plan of action.

Don't give up: Sometimes, and for many of us most of the time, we let go of the toggles before the flare is complete and/or before the canopy’s forward motion has stopped. This is an attempt, conscious or not, to free our hands to be ready to cushion our fall. Don’t give up and the flare and do it like you mean it to prevent falling. Plus, remember that reaching out to cushion the fall only increases risk of wrist, hand and arm injuries. The PLF position includes hands fully extended in the flare and tight to the center of the body.

Perform a staged flare: Flare the canopy until you feel it plane out, which is a “float” sensation. You can cruise in this position to bleed off some of the forward motion until you are just about to touch down, at which time finish the flare. This staged method of flaring will soften the landing and will have slowed the canopy enough so excessive running is not necessary. Practice staged flares up high under canopy to feel the float and finish lift. Once you feel comfortable with this in the air, do a hop-and-pop with only yourself on the low pass and practice it with eyes closed. This is safe as long as you have clear air space (guaranteed if you are the only person under canopy at the time, hence the solo hop-and-pop) and you are above your minimum decision altitude. Taking away sight means you are more in tuned with your other senses such as feel and sound. You will feel the float and lift, and you’ll notice it gets quieter.

Don’t be in a hurry to downsize: We all hear that as experienced skydivers we should have a wing loading of 1:1 or slightly higher, given our experience level. Not all wing loading is the same. A 190 square foot canopy will be more docile weighted 1:1 than a 120 square foot canopy. Smaller canopies have shorter line sets and therefore have more aggressive performance. Canopy manufacturers consider any canopy sized 135 square feet or less to be a high performance canopy. Canopy size choice should consider your exit weight, including body weight plus all gear and weight of a lead belt if you wear one, as well as experience and skill level. There is no downside to jumping a slightly larger canopy and landing well. There is a huge downside to jumping a smaller canopy and injuring yourself. In the words of a veteran skydiver who has been jumping longer than most of us have been alive “No one has ever died because her canopy was too large. Many have been seriously injured or died because the canopy was too small for the jumper’s skill.”

Take a canopy piloting course: These courses teach skills beyond what you learned as a student. They will teach skills such as how to recover from a canopy stall, how to get back from a long spot and how to land in a small area if you have to land “out” and do not have the luxury of finding a large, flat field. The things you learn in a one-day canopy course will help you throughout your skydiving years, and may some day save you from injury or death. A respected canopy coach once advised, “put at least 500 jumps on a canopy that feels the right size, because you’ll learn how to extract amazing performance from that canopy even if others are telling you it’s too big for your exit weight. Canopies can achieve high performance at any wing loading if you fly them right.” It is definitely worth one day of your time and the cost of the canopy course to gain valuable knowledge!

Crab during cross-wind final approach and landing: If you have cross wind crabbing is the best option to land your canopy, and always be prepared to PLF. Crabbing involves keeping your canopy flying straight with the wing level overhead during any cross-wind leg of the pattern. To crab, you may find one toggle pulled to ¼ or ½ brakes, maybe even more to keep the canopy overhead and your flight on a straight path. Allowing yourself to blow at an angle during final approach increases danger of canopy collisions, as other may be trying to land on a parallel path in the pattern. Furthermore, in a strong cross wind, a flare from both hands full flight may pitch you in the direction of the wind, resulting in a PLF (if you are prepared) or crash landing. With toggles uneven to compensate for cross-wind, pull evenly until the lower hand is fully extended in the flare, which will keep canopy level overhead instead of pitching you downwind.

In summary, here are some quick tips to improve landings:

Observe skydivers who consistently land successfully. Watch body position and techniques.
Have a plan and follow through
Visualize success and practice positive self-talk
Don’t give up! Finish the flare.
Learn the staged-flare technique and practice it every jump
Feel "the float " in your canopy
Start sooner and finish later. Don’t stab toggles in a quick motion. Start higher for a smoother flare, with float at the sweet spot, and finish with arms extended fully just prior to touchdown
Plan a good pattern and work on accuracy every jump
Practice PLF for those moments when you may need it
Use exercises in SIM to improve canopy flight and landing skills

Here Is one useful video from SDC Rythm: The Landing Flare

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