We recently saw a lot of threads on social media about canopy choices, wingloadings, downsizing and specifically the challenges faced by ladies. We decided to start shining the light on this to try and understand it better, and make information more readily available to our wonderful women skydivers – and the guys who are so often in the position to give them advice! Introducing Volume 1 of our series Ladies and their Gear, where some of our badass sponsored athletes, female staff members, and a few friends of varying experience levels share their personal experiences with purchasing equipment – the trials and errors they made, lessons learnt, and the do’s and don’ts of canopy progression.
Cornelia Mihai: World-Record-Breaking Swooper
Cornelia. Canopy swooping, world-record-smashing badass superwoman canopy pilot, she’s out there doing it for the girls and showing up the boys. She gives us an inside look at where she started out on canopies and how she got to where she is now.
I started skydiving in 2002 in my home country Romania. I was 17 years old. I admit my canopy progression wasn’t the greatest! I wouldn’t encourage anyone to follow my footsteps from the beginning.
Due to where and when I started skydiving, I started doing static line jumping a Manta 290sqft (I am 60kg now and I think I was way lighter then), followed by a classic accuracy canopy Parafoil 252sqft when I had 50 jumps. I got my hands on a Sabre 2 135 when I had about 110 jumps – I don’t recommend a downsize like this! Yes it was reckless, yes I tried it out and somehow didn’t hurt myself because it was so frikkin fast.
Back then in Romania it was a lot about “how small your canopy is” so I wasn’t following a good example. One day I went from my Katana 107 to a Velocity 103 (when I had about 500 jumps!) because I was light and I didn’t have a lot of wingloading (typical right?!).
All of my approaches at the time were straight in approaches – normal landing pattern, toggle input, no harness input – and I managed to hook myself into the ground with that Velo on the first jump. It was deceiving because of my light wingloading … flying it up high it felt slower than my Katana and less responsive but when I came in to land I bounced off the ground pretty hard. And learned a good lesson!
Later on when I moved abroad I saw people swoop Sabre 2s better than some people on Velos, and I decided to slow down. I realised it’s not the canopy – it’s the pilot.
My high performance progression after I figured this out was a bit better. I started jumping a Velocity 96 with about 1400 jumps and jumped different size Velocities and Comp Velos for about 1500 more jumps. Then transitioned to a Petra 72 when I had over 3000 jumps and was part of the Skydive Dubai Swoop Team 100% focused on canopy piloting. Since then I’ve flown a Petra 66, Petra 64, Sophia 64, Sophia 61, Leia 68, and Petra 57.
Girls, because we’re generally lighter than guys, we often have problems with our landings. In my experience this can be the result of fast downsizing…because somebody said “you’ll be alright, you’re so small, you’re not loading that canopy, it’s not such a big difference.”
Sometimes girls, or even light guys, rush to downsize because of high winds. We’re scared we’ll get stuck or even go backwards when the winds are stronger, or we’re fed up of staying “up there” for so long and everyone waiting for us on the ground. I think it’s the more experienced skydivers/instructors/S&TAs responsibility to discourage this mindset.
Downsizing should be directly related to skills. Skills come with experience/jump numbers, but we are all different individuals and we all learn differently. A certain amount of jumps or a certain wingload should never be the main factor to make a decision, the abilities of the skydiver should be. And when we downsize we should never just consider the perfect situation, we should always think of the worst – off-landing, bailing on your approach because somebody cut you off, landing downwind or crosswind – and if we are still confident and we still think it’s a good idea to downsize then it’s probably time.
If we’re not there yet then it’s ok to stay on the ground from time to time because the winds are too strong …it will pay off in the long run 🙂
Downsizing too fast either ends up with an injury or being scared …I’ve seen this happening to a lot of girls. There are some exceptions but they are just that – exceptions.
Girls …I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being light. Sometimes you’ll have to stay on the ground because the winds are strong ….oh well…it’s better than ending up being afraid of every landing.
My advice: it’s not about the wingloading …it’s about the skill 😉
Olga Naumova: Badass SwooperWoman
A rising star in the swooping world, Olga is not only an amazing Petra pilot – but she does it in pink. Respect. This woman is a force to be reckoned with! Ever feel bad that you’re still jumping an elliptical 9-cell when your mates are on small crossbraced wings? Or that your wingloading is still under 1.5 while your guy mates are hauling ass with a 2.0? Olga flew her first high performance wing after 7 years of skydiving. The moral of the story? A slow progression doesn’t actually slow you down. Yup, wrap your brain around that one.
My first gear was from a Ukrainian manufacturer as it all I could afford at the time. I had 150 Magelan by Skylark as a main (very similar to a Safire) and I flew it for a few years before downsizing to a Magellan 130 and Odyssey 105 (which is similar to a Crossfire) 😉
My progression overall was pretty slow and I flew my first crossbraced wing after being in the sport for 7 years.
Mostly, that’s because I didn’t have access to proper CP coaching, and I wasn’t flying my sports parachute enough to be current.
Nowadays to get the coaching from the top pilots in the world is sooooo easy! I would highly recommend using that opportunity to progress faster, and doing a canopy course every time you are planning to get a smaller or different wing. And just in general – go and get Canopy Piloting coaching!
I know that most of the skydiving chicks are on the light side and the wings they fly are mostly underloaded. Tough shit ladies! I know it’s unfair! But unfortunately you just will have a slower wing loading progression, than the boys, because the only way for you to match the heavier jumper’s wingloading – is to jump a canopy that is unsuitably small (or eat lots more for the gains).
And remember, small canopies are weapons no matter what they are loaded at. The last thing you want is to be stressed under your wing.
We are all in the sport for the love of flying. Get coaching. Don’t rush your progression. Take your time to get everything you possibly can from the size of the canopy you’re flying at the moment.
If you want to fly high performance wings, you need to feel confident flying it, not terrified from deployment to landing (straight approach on the toggles, because it’s scary AF lol). What’s the point in that?
Have fun and be smart xxx
Shannon Seyb: NZ Aerosports Marketing Chick
On the road for NZ Aerosports as a demo chick when she was just a baby skydiver, Shan’s been on both the giving and receiving end of canopy progression advice since day dot. She’s said, seen and heard it all: the good, the bad and the downright f*&^ing stupid. Her own canopy progression wasn’t the most, er, conventional, so she shares her thoughts on what worked, and why canopy progression isn’t a one-size-fits-all.
As a student at an old static line military DZ in New Zealand I started jumping an MT1X 370. Hahaha yup, the size of a Tandem! At 56kg/123lbs loaded at 0.3 something I was neverrrrrr coming down. I did not even need to flare! That quickly progressed to a 220 and then a 160 sports rig they had for hire (NZ was a bit of a cowboy land 10yrs ago haha).
From there I had an odd progression, being a baby skydiver working at NZ Aerosports. I had no shortage of advice and ideas thrown at me from the boys here!
The first wing I bought was a Crossfire 2 145, loaded at 1.0wl. Definitely not conventional, and being elliptical, not necessarily what I’d recommend now as a first canopy! It’s worth noting this was done under strict supervision – I had been learning about canopies and safety intensely as part of my role, had constant canopy advice from experienced pilots and was a pretty confident flyer early on. No one put the idea in my head that girls were nervous under canopy, so I didn’t think I should be. I was decisive and had decent landings.
I did 500 jumps on that canopy – so with over 500 jumps I was still on a 1.0wl. It taught me SO MUCH. Never underestimate doing lots of jumps on one wing.
For the most part I believe that wing was perfect for me. I had one small incident with turbulence at around 250 jumps and didn’t react fast enough. I just bruised my knees but it scared me and I lost my confidence. I started having some rough landings for awhile until Geoff Mundy challenged me with this piece of advice. “Stop looking at the ground and fly your canopy like you know how. You think the boys are scared? Fly like a boy!”
I’m not competitive, and don’t even like being better than the boys, so that advice obviously had no effect on me 😉 hahahaha. The next jump my landings were 1 million times better! (for anyone thinking that was a sexist comment, it wasn’t, Geoff is a great teacher and knew just what to say to get me to woman up).
Then I quickly progressed through trying a few wings that I was lucky enough to borrow. A Beta 115 that was my wingsuit canopy for awhile, then a Crossfire 2 105 from the factory, and I ordered a Crossfire 2 99 loaded at 1.46wl. I did nearly 500 jumps on that canopy. Yup, over 1000 jumps, just 2 canopies, and still loaded under 1.5. The 99 was PERFECT for what I needed. Confidence inspiring, fun, good for when I was team jumping.
Around the 1000 jump mark when I was doing pretty decent 90s and using rears risers to plane out etc, the guys at the factory handed me a JFX 84 to try, and I fell in love. I ordered my JFX 80 and the rest is history. I load it at 1.8 and have over 800 jumps on this wing.
Did my light wingloadings cause me issues and annoyance over the years? Sometimes. It’s frustrating to be going straight down, or dragged by a big wing. It’s even more frustrating to be stuck on the ground while your friends jump because you will be going backwards. It’s a pain to be in the pattern behind low experienced bigger guys flying unpredictable patterns on their highly loaded 139s. But you know what’s more painful? Being out with an injury because you jumped a wing that didn’t give you margins for error. Those lightly loaded wings have kept me safe in any number of “out-of-the-norm” situations like off-landings – one particularily nasty one in a vineyard that I escaped from unscathed thanks to that “annoyingly” lightly loaded canopy. You know what I always had that the highly loaded boys didn’t? Range.
What did work for my progression was more jumps on each wing, rather than constant little downsizes. I was very current at each of the change points, had lots of good advice, and was a confident (but not reckless) pilot that the people who mattered trusted with those biggish leaps down in size. But everyone is different – we all have a unique background and story that makes different wings suitable for each of us. So what actually worked for me…was having the right people, to give me the right advice for the stage I was at, and making good choices based on that.
I’m currently waiting on my JFX 2 72 to be built, and the guys at the factory are only letting me fly it once I have my 270s dialled in (my turns are errr, okaaayyy, it’s a work in progress haha). Because they’re good c&%ts that way and wanna make sure I’m safe. On a 72 I’ll finally hit a 2.0wl (woot woot) – which most of my guy mates with less jumps had years ago. That’s just life ladies. It’s just a number. And l have it on good authority that a girl on an 80 or 72 is more badass than a dude on one 😉
Some guys think girls can’t fly canopies as well as them – so let’s be like Cornelia, Jeannie and Olga and prove ‘em wrong!
P.S. I don’t mean all girls should be rad swoopers (goodness knows I’m not haha). If that’s your thing GO FOR IT! But I have ultimate respect for a woman who has over 2000 jumps and flies a Safire 3 safely and predictably like a boss.
Jill Grantham: Aussie’s Project 19 Regional Captain
Jill is one of the most loved women in skydiving. Her gentle kind nature, sarcastic wit, 30-second-long Jill-hugs and loud, amazing, yet somewhat piercing laugh earn her a place coaching at events around Australia and Europe. Many that meet this lovely long-haired badass are surprised to find out a skydiver of 15+ years and 2000+ jumps jumps a Safire 3. Here she shares why it’s so important to be informed and make your own canopy progression decisions – and some of the good and bad decisions she’s made over the years for us to learn from.
My first gear was a Pilot 168 and a Smart 160 reserve in an icon i5. I loaded it at 1.17. My first CI Mutley helped me buy it – at the time I had moved to a different DZ but he was a legend and really helped me out making sure I didn’t buy something crazy.
I was in a mad rush and wanting to couple together any main and reserve that I could. Thank god he stepped in and made sure I got the good stuff!. I went on to jump this container for almost 10 years, until I had about 1000 jumps when I moved to a Safire 2 139.
I now jump a Safire 3 129 that I load between 1.3 – 1.44 depending how close we are to winter or how many episodes of Sugar Rush I have watched. I have 2500 jumps so this may not be a typical progression, but I go through periods of super current to not current and this canopy accommodates that because I can fly it a lot (as in using fronts and harness etc) or very little (just toggle turns) and it performs really well and safely.
There are some things I would change about how I progressed through canopy flying though. I would cut my self-doubt, listen to unhelpful criticism less and learn to be a pilot rather than a passenger earlier and better.
There is so much that can be learned from others in the sport: but there is a skill to deciphering comments of advice with good intentions, and off-the-cuff smart arse comments.
I never would have taken criticism so personally in other facets of my life, but being low experience and impressionable in the sport, I let the negativity eat away at me. This undermined my sense of self confidence for too many years.
I remember being under canopy and telling myself “you can do it, you can do it” coming into land, and then at the last second saying, “no you can’t” and sliding in on my butt for the 1000th time.
I was a passenger under my wing for too long and just let it fly me. Once I understood I could touch it under 500 feet then everything was much better.
The most important thing to do is make your own decisions.
Sometimes we can ask for advice and follow it without discerning its validity. Ask for it, but always synthesise the information to make your own decision. If you aren’t happy to go ahead with something then don’t. If you need more information to make the decision then get it. Be responsible for your choices.
That way if you make a choice and it is the wrong one, you can look back through your reasoning and work out where you need to add this additional information into your thinking and make a different choice next time.
I have been disappointed in myself and felt pressure to jump in conditions that aren’t right for me so many times. Sometimes having a bigger canopy that is more vulnerable to high winds and bumpy conditions makes me question am I being too soft, am I making the right decision? There have definitely been times I have been envious of those still jumping – but there have also been times that people have been rueful in their decision to jump and perhaps wished they had stood down too.
My main point is don’t make excuses or be too hard on yourself. But do take responsibility for your choices and progression. And remember – you are doing this for fun!
Jen Burgin: NZ Aerosports Lead Sales Monkey
If you’ve ever purchased a canopy from NZ Aerosports, you might have bumped into Jen or one of her Sales Monkey’s along the way to either 1) answer your questions about what canopy you should get next or 2) check up on your experience to make sure you’re right for the wing you want. This background insight into safety standards gives Jen a somewhat unique perspective on canopy progression! This is her personal thoughts on what to think about when buying gear and downsizing.
I came into skydiving knowing absolutely nothing about the sport! Who the top athletes were, what a skydiving boogie was or that there was even more than one type of parachute! My passion for the sport began much the same way as most who come into skydiving – with a tandem jump. And then I was hooked! I found out about the New Zealand Skydiving School and joined up.
The school was a little different back then – we had a weekly beer night to watch videos and pay beer fines. I hadn’t been in such a male dominated sport before and there was definitely pressure to act like one of the boys. I was one of 3 ladies on my course intake and each one of us found it hard to progress in our canopy piloting. I’m not small so I haven’t had to deal with a light wing loading, but I didn’t have much confidence in myself and that showed in my ability to fly a canopy. I ended up on a 260 for aaaages before my instructor took pity on me and got my landings under control.
When it came to buying gear, I had no idea! My budget wasn’t small, but all my classmates were buying second-hand gear so I thought I had to do the same. Plus, I was told it was super hard to pack a brand new parachute and I sucked at packing at the time. In the end, I went for a very old and ragged out container that didn’t have an RSL, a Raven Reserve and a Sabre 1 170 (all made sometime in the 1990s). My canopy skills were still terrible so I wasn’t ready to jump a canopy that small and only put a couple jumps on it before I left for my work placement.
That is where I am so thankful to the rigger who was based at Skydive Bay of Islands at the time. He didn’t like the look of my container and decided to pop the reserve and do a full inspection before I was cleared to jump at the DZ. Thank goodness he did! After the reserve was popped, there was a total malfunction and the container would not have deployed the reserve. So if I had cut-away my main parachute, I would have ended up with a double malfunction, no parachute above my head and wouldn’t be writing this right now.
Needless to say, I decided to buy a different set of gear after doing a lot more research (there’s nothing like a near death experience to open your eyes up!) and checking with the instructors on the DZ. I went with a Javelin, a Sabre 1 150 and an Airforce Reserve (all made in the 2000s). These were bought locally and I was able to try the rig on before proceeding with the purchase to make sure it fit me ok. I had the rigger who did the original inspection pack my reserve and to this day, I still have the same container and reserve.
My main canopy size hasn’t changed much either, I went to a Stiletto 135 at around 350 jumps and stayed on that for 500ish jumps. Then I bought a Crossfire 3 129 when I started working for NZ Aerosports. I don’t jump much these days, so that is likely to be my canopy for the remainder of my skydiving life.
Buying skydiving gear for the first time can seem like a minefield and just a little overwhelming! My personal experience? It’s definitely on the more extreme end, but can happen if you don’t seek advice from the right people and think everything will be sweet. Do your research. Talk to your instructors. Contact the manufacturers for information about their products. And don’t be scared to ask questions.
When it comes to progression and downsizing, there is no rush! Taking your time and getting coaching specifically in canopy flying is a good thing. To this day, my canopy skills are lacking and my only regret is not getting coaching at the start of my skydiving life. I still find myself slipping into the bad habit of picking my feet up on landing and sliding in on my bum, particularly if I am not current.
My advice? Kick the bad habits as soon as possible. Be a badass and own that shit. Don’t listen to the negative talk about girls being crap canopy pilots (you’re ladies anyway, so that shit doesn’t apply). Make it your journey, not anyone else’s.
Nina van Pallandt: Our favourite canopy newbie
It wouldn’t be right to leave out a perspective from a real-life legit canopy newb who is currently going through the process of buying gear! So we asked the lovely Nina to share some of her struggles looking for gear, and some of the advice she received.
I am currently a student at the New Zealand Skydiving School (NZSS) at Skydive Auckland.
I started on a 210 with a wl of 0.7 and then gradually downsized to a 190, 170, 160 then to a 149 with an average of 20 jumps on each canopy. Canopy skills are a general part of the course. We perform a series of exercises on each canopy before downsizing, film and review our landing footage and frequently receive tips and advice from instructors. Since we do many jumps in a short amount of time with amazing coaching it allows us to progress quickly.
As I was looking for my first rig and due to my budget constraints I decided to go for second-hand gear – but being smaller than the average skydiver at 5″3, finding a suitable rig was quite the task. I struggled to find a container for my height and weight, within my budget, and anything less than 15 years old or an extraordinary number of jumps on it.
Being at the New Zealand Skydiving School has been extremely helpful during this process as I had the chance to live and jump with a group of senior students that had just bought their first rigs, as well as being able to discuss and search with my own classmates going through the same process.
Living with so many skydivers provided a massive network of contacts and proved to be a real advantage too, as I bought my main canopy, a Safire 2 139, within my first two weeks through a friend of someone at the dropzone. My wing loading on a 139 is 1.02 and my first jump on this wing was number 100.
Some of the best advice I received was to look for gear on Facebook pages, a challenge in itself for me, having never had Facebook myself. The various Facebook groups I joined had by far the most gear and most extensive range listed and though I ended up buying most of my rig – an Icon I3, PD Optimum and Cypres 2 – through Meeloft, they advertise their listings on Facebook too.
Being so fully immersed in skydiving life also helped me navigate the endless new terminology that can be, at first, incredibly confusing and overwhelming, while packing and jumping a variety of different rigs meant I was able to actually understand what I was buying.
My instructors didn’t give much advice on buying our gear, but provided us with information and the tools to make informed decisions. I didn’t receive any advice I would consider bad advice but there was a lot of different advice based on various people’s personal preferences and experiences. This sometimes made it difficult to know what to believe or what was most important.
The best advice I could give someone looking for skydiving gear for the first time is to talk to people in the industry; take the time to research and understand the gear you’re purchasing.
You’ve got this!
So that’s just a few stories, tips and tricks from some of our lovely ladies – to recap some of their main points:
- Don’t rush to downsize.
- It’s ok to stay on the ground sometime when the winds are too strong
- It’s not about the wingloading, it’s about the skill.
- Get canopy piloting coaching early on
- Ask questions about gear, and do your own research
- Appreciate the range a lighter loading can give you
- Never underestimate doing a LOT of jumps on one wing. Master each one before downsizing.
- Be responsible for your gear choices.
- Remember – you’re doing this to have fun!
Which of these ladies stories is most like your own? What’s your canopy progression been like? Share your stories in the comments, or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we wanna know what you did right (or wrong!).
We’ll be back next time with Vol. 2 of Ladies and their Gear…standby.
Check out the Women’s Skydiving Network on Facebook. It’s a closed group for women only where you can ask for advice, chat with like-minded women skydivers and see what skydiving events are happening around the world for women.
Girls Can’t Fly was a seminar presented by Laura Golly and Allison Reay at the PIA Symposium last year. It’s a super cool talk on how wing loading shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing the right size canopy. Also, Allison is a badass test jumper for PD 😉
Wanna know what the best canopy for you is? Plug your numbers into our Canopy Picker and see what it suggests.
Pure Skydive have a very useful tool that calculates the wing loading for you. Funnily enough, it’s called Canopy Wing Loading Calculator.