Through 9 years of wingsuit basejumping I’ve thankfully never experienced close calls or scary situations. I believe a large part of that has been my big background in skills through methodical training in skydiving and having had friends guiding my decision making skills and mindset in a positive way from the start. I use a personal set of rules and guidelines to try and practice the sport as safely as possible. There is of course a lot more to Wingsuit Basejumping than this. Note these are all my personal views, and not everyone may share the same thoughts and ideas.
Never ‘try’ a new suit in the base environment
Any wingsuit or tracksuit you haven’t flown before might have unexpected new, unfamiliar or different flight characteristics than you are used to. Even on the highest of jumps there is never a huge margin for unexpected turns, instability or deployment issues. Little or no experience in a certain suit or model can quickly turn from an inconvenience into a life-threatening issue. No longer participating and using skydiving for training is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to skills, progression and safety. Skydiving is a safe practice and training ground and should always be used and treated as such. Lack of currency in skydiving can be quite visible when it comes to wingsuit base when it comes to performance and control. As a personal guideline, I always try to have minimum 25 or more flights on a suit before taking it into base. Experience wise, the goal is getting to the point where I’m not just ‘comfortable’ in terms of feeling, but also by actual experience, properly trained on all aspects that can come into play when flying the suit off a cliff.
Don’t take issues for granted
If you are experiencing practical issues that cause stress or discomfort while jumping, deal with them methodically and immediately. More importantly, where possible, deal with those issues outside of the base environment. If you’re feeling wobbly during certain flying speeds, or you’re having trouble locating your pilot chute, or you’re not feeling fully in control of your suit, base is not the place to figure out those issues. Through training and experience, try to increase your skills and awareness before taking things into the much more dangerous base environment.
Don’t jump with random strangers
Note that social media image and the number of likes don’t always accurately reflect a person’s attitude and mindset. Though people can be super friendly, not everyone is a fair judge of their own skill. The most skilled person in the sport might also not be aware of, or respect your lower experience or comfort level. Both scenarios can quite quickly turn a shared base jump into a terrifying one, with other people unintentionally putting your life at risk.
Don’t follow the herd
It’s very easy to be pushed into things you shouldn’t be doing by following herd behavior. Just because the other three people before you did a gainer or flew past a certain landmark in distance, doesn’t mean you should. It’s easy to end up pulling lower than you want, or ending up trying things in base without proper training and practice due to trying to mimic or follow the actions of others. Stay true to the limits and levels of comfort you set for yourself, and don’t let the actions of others affect your common sense.
If you see someone attempting or performing something in a base jump that makes it more dangerous than it should be, speak up. Be it flying a suit not fitting their experience level, or showcasing dangerous behavior like pulling low, or not showing the proper control or decision making skills. A common mistake is to try to please people, and give feedback without hurting their ego. But realize that’s not always possible, and telling someone respectful, but direct to take a step back in their approach can sometimes be the better thing to do, instead of trying to salvage a dangerous situation with minor tips. Make sure you give a person the feedback they need to hear, instead of what they want to hear. Any person can tell you it was awesome, but a good friend will also tell you when it wasn’t. So be direct if needed! It may save a life.
The only way in which we learn, is by also being open to feedback from others. Being told to change certain habits can be confronting or even emotional, as it’s a direct assault on our ego. Even if you see it as criticism, accept it for what it is and don’t be negative towards someone who points something out. People tend to be careful with feedback, not wanting to offend. If they speak up, it’s usually because they mean it. It takes courage to tell the truth, so learning to listen when others tell you, is one of the biggest steps you can take towards continuous self improvement.
Know when to stop
Not feeling optimal in terms of health or being tired can have a huge effect on your personal safety. It can lead to slower reflexes, muscle weakness, dizziness and impaired decision making. Slower reflexes are an obvious issue, especially during emergencies. Balance issues that come with the common cold can also affect your exit and deployment in a big way. These side effects are often things you don’t realize until afterward. Always give the body the proper time it needs to rest and heal, and try to only jump when you are in optimal shape.
Jump with a clear mind
Distraction is a big factor that’s often not factored in. Part of that can be worries or negativity, making your mind wander and making you less present. Affecting your response. A negative mindset can also create various insecurities that are not contributing well to your performance. If you’re not feeling good about a new exit, know that walking down might be a better option than jumping while feeling insecure about it. Nerves are healthy, but fear can be paralyzing. Drugs and alcohol are sadly also factors that show up in the sport. Be it the use during active jumping, or the hangover from the night before. Any substance making you struggle with being present with a clear mind has no place in this sport.
Quality over quantity
A hard to grasp concept is that of quality over quantity. It might be easy running laps on a certain location, jumping as many times as the available daylight allows. But note that 8 times repeating the same incorrect technique, only makes it more difficult to change and improve. Work on your skills and technique through visualization, feedback and analyzing of results. Also be aware that mind and body do better absorbing new information with a bit more time in between flights. Also realize your body will not be as fresh by jump number 8, and doesn’t respond the same as it would on jump number 1 or 2. Don’t use rushed repetition to create the wrong trained response and bad muscle memory. Keep quality as your focus, and maximize the learning and progression.
Don’t let cameras alter your actions
Filming someone else’s exit or pull is an easy setup for paying less attention to your own technique or deployment altitude. Having a camera on yourself, and being aware of the cool shots you may get, could be a reason to fly lower or perform actions you normally wouldn’t. A long camera extension (aka unicorn mount) for reversed angle shots, and even normal mounted action cameras can pose a serious risk of entanglement in deployment when combined with pilot chute hesitations or line twist. Keep your personal enjoyment as the main focus. Don’t let a camera or people watching you jump make you perform actions outside of your own comfort zone and skills. When using cameras, make sure they are mounted professionally, without posing a snag hazard. Realize it takes years to train being able to shoot video, while keeping a visual and staying aware of your flight path and altitude. Training that is best done in skydiving. Sadly also there, we have too many examples of camera pilots in base accidentally touching trees, pulling low or even flying into terrain.
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