As females in a male-dominated sport, we’ve all heard it before. “You’re too weak to flare your parachute” or “you’re a girl, so you’re not strong enough to flare”. And then there’s that classic phrase “girls can’t fly their canopies.” Well, Cornelia Mihai, at just under 5’4”, has no issue with flaring her canopy and she’s one of the best canopy pilots in the world! Here she fully debunks that age old saying and proves that anyone, and we mean anyone, can land their parachute safety.
The importance of flaring your parachute
There is no way around it …it is very important! You can get someone to help you with a radio at the beginning so you can get the timing right but you’re gonna have to flare all by yourself and if you don’t flare you will eventually hurt yourself.
True or False?
I will just start straight away with busting this myth or misinformation, but it seems some people say it and some people (especially women) tend to believe it or use it as an excuse. I think we are all strong enough to flare a parachute, at least the ones generally used in skydiving. It is a different scenario when we talk about whether we are strong enough to flare tandem parachutes but I’ll get to that later.
So this is for you ladies and maybe some guys that have issues with flaring. Either you have just started skydiving or you have been jumping for a while and somehow didn’t fix your flaring issues until now. I hope you didn’t get hurt or stopped skydiving all together.
Technique is where it’s at
I started skydiving when I was 17 and I was quite a skinny girl (around 50kg). I can’t say I was super strong, but I was just normal for my age. Being “strong enough to flare” was never a problem though and I started jumping on quite a big parachute (Manta 290 sq ft). So I think it all starts with bad technique and can even get worse over time (or it doesn’t get better) due to insecurities and bad advice.
You do have to time the flare and this can be a bit overwhelming for everyone at the beginning because we’ve never landed a parachute before. But after the first couple of jumps your instructor should be able to help you fix it. I agree that in any type of activity that requires some physical strength the girls need to focus more on the technique, while the boys can just muscle through it. It happens in many sports.
For example, I went bouldering (a type of rock climbing) and watched a guy climb and watched a girl climb. It’s so different. I definitely had to use more technique than strength. The same rules apply in skydiving. If you were able to carry that parachute to the plane, jump out, freefall, open your parachute and steer it to the landing area then there is no excuse ….you are strong enough to flare. If you’re just that weak that you can’t even carry your own parachute to the plane, then I do think you need to get a bit stronger 😉 Nothing crazy… just the minimum.
There are a few mistakes that people tend to do while flaring and it all starts with the timing. Because how do we know when we’re at 10ft from the ground? At the beginning we will either flare a bit too high and you have to hold for longer or a bit too low and you have to push down those brakes harder.
A very common mistake is flaring with your arms away from your body and I think this is where a “not so strong” person will struggle. If you’re strong enough you can just ‘muscle’ through and you might get away with it. Then again, if you’re reading this it’s probably because you think you aren’t strong enough to flare.
However, all you need to do is apply the right technique and you’ll notice the difference straight away. Start your flare, pull evenly straight down in line with your shoulders and when you get to shoulder level, rotate your hands down (fists facing down) and then it will be easier to finish flaring. You may even think of putting your chest forward slightly while you rotate your hands, which will make it easier to keep your arms close to your body. Technique makes things easier all the time.
The mental side of things
It’s funny how our body works…when they say it’s all in the mind, it actually is. If you allow fear to settle in I think you’ll end up making the situation worse. Instead, if you manage to tell yourself that if so many people can do it (women and men) then you can do it as well. You will be surprised what you can achieve if you choose not to listen to your own doubtful and negative thoughts or pay attention to what others think.
The number of women in skydiving is pretty low, so there is a big chance that you will have a male instructor at your drop zone. It’s possible that when you go and ask for advice, maybe he won’t be able to relate. He might look at you and see that you are pretty tiny and he probably won’t be able to put himself in your shoes. You’ll just have to listen to whatever advice he can give you and find a way that will work for you. It is very important that you believe in yourself. You are strong enough to flare! Trust me.
A little help goes a long way
If you are struggling due to lack of strength or lack of technique or both (most probably both) you can always ask for help. Get someone to film your landing and compare what you’re doing with what other people are doing (make sure they flare properly!). Do you see any differences? Try also watching other people your own size flying their canopies and if you’re a woman, compare yourself to other women (if there are any at your dropzone).
Go to your instructors and ask for advice or even better, a Canopy Coach. If the answer is “you not strong enough to flare cause you’re a girl” go to someone else. There is always a way!
It might be that you are weak and you’re just not used to using those muscles (because the muscles are there… you do have them), then figure out what exercises you need to do to strengthen those muscles. I recommend triceps dips, triceps extensions and narrow push-ups, but I’m not a personal trainer so it’s better to seek proper advice.
What if you are coming back from an injury?
There was only one time in my career I felt I wasn’t “strong enough to flare”. I broke my collar bone (not skydiving) and I was grounded with my arm in a sling for 5 weeks. For three weeks I couldn’t move and 2 weeks of physiotherapy. It’s crazy the amount of muscle you lose and how fast. My first jump back I literally couldn’t flare with my left arm. I kinda pulled to the right and slid in. I realised then I needed to do something fast and worked on it right away. It didn’t take long to build up my strength but I already had the strength before, that was never an issue. It will definitely take longer if you never use your upper body. Patience is a virtue.
Put the extra work in
So you’ve found out what’s wrong and you realised you just need to work harder than others. You’ll get even more satisfaction out of it when you won’t be afraid anymore for every landing and it will not be a gamble if you hurt yourself or not. You need to get a bit stronger? Work out! You need to improve your technique? Spend that extra time in the hanging harness at the dropzone and practice, practice, practice. And don’t forget to visualise over and over again how you’re going to flare and eventually you’ll get there.
So you want to be a Tandem Instructor?
This is where the game changes quite a bit because you are now responsible for another person. If they don’t lift their legs up for landing (like they’re supposed to) you can break their legs if you don’t flare properly. Apart from this, the truth is it’s noticeably harder to flare a Tandem canopy. You have more material that you need to pull on and it’s way more pressurised because of your wing load.
Before even thinking of becoming a Tandem Instructor I never saw another woman doing tandems. I asked around and there weren’t many at the time (at least not in Europe) and the one I heard about apparently she was way bigger than me and super strong. But this never pushed me back. When I finally decided to go for the course I had no doubt I could do it, I just needed to figure out how.
When I did my Tandem course I was quite surprised by the difference between a 60kg passenger and an 80kg one. During my course I struggled quite a bit with the 80kg person. It was all new, I was responsible for someone and I was definitely pushing my comfort levels. But whoever knows me, knows I am stubborn and it never crossed my mind that I was not able to do it.
Everyone has to start somewhere
At the beginning you get tired and you definitely need to conserve your energy for the landing. Flying around under the canopy is not that easy anymore. With reason a lot of dropzones help the newer instructors and try to give them lighter passengers for a while. It can’t be done all the time but it’s a very helpful and a safe thing to do. Even strong men struggle at the beginning so it’s normal to be tired and overwhelmed. Like anything else, we get used to it and everything that I’ve said above (regarding the flare of sport parachutes) applies to tandem parachutes as well.
It’s a mix of strength and a lot of technique. Even men will need some technique for this one, just muscles won’t be enough. Keep frustrations away, work out and work on the technique. Look at every landing video and learn. Compare it to the most experienced instructors and see what you can do better. Try to keep the energy for the landing. Honestly, I give the toggles to my passengers until 1500ft and I show them how to fly the parachute. They are having fun and I’ll have enough energy for possibly 10 jumps with 100kg passengers every day.
And to summarise?
All in all, men or women, we are all strong enough to flare our parachutes. Some will have to work more for it but this applies to everything in life. Since now we’re all stuck at home, you better get on those triceps dips. No excuses for when we get back in the air 🙂
Want to know more about Cornelia? (she’s awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)
Cornelia did an interview with Skydive Mag recently – ‘Catching up with Cornelia Mihai‘ by Andreea Pistia. Read it here.
For our Romanian readers, check out the live stream TNT Brothers held a few weeks ago with Cornelia.
Our blog article ‘Ladies and their Gear Vol.1‘ gives a unique perspective on their experience of buying gear from some of our staff and athletes including Cornelia. Have a read here.
Thanks for reading!
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