If you still have an image of a round parachute in your head when you think about the kinds of parachutes used for skydiving, we have a little surprise for you: That’s just not even a thing anymore. Round parachutes represent totally ancient tech in our sport, and you’ll never see ‘em jumped anymore (unless you’re watching a novelty demo or a cargo drop).
Why? Round parachutes hurt, dear reader! They were essentially unsteerable, had ugly deployment problems and made ankle-cracking landings a fact of life for the folks that founded the sport. We’ve long since phased them out and replaced them with a shimmering pantheon of nylon that outstrips round performance by an exponential factor. They’re beautiful, they’re colorful, they’re fun to fly–and they’re pretty much square.
If you’ve come here to learn a little about the parachutes we use for modern skydiving, you’ve come to the right place! We call our parachutes “canopies,” and we can break them down into three major categories for your learning enjoyment.
While today’s “low-performance” canopies are still worlds of performance beyond the good-old-bad-old round, they’re still the slowest, gentlest ride in the sky. We use low-performance canopies when we want to make sure that the jumper(s) underneath have the most predictable, easiest-going experience: for example, our students. Students venturing out on their first tandem skydiving jumps can absolutely expect to be saddled up under a low-performance parachute, as can our AFF students who are working towards their solo licenses. We deeply believe in keeping these first experiences as secure and predictable as possible!
Statistically speaking, most solo sport skydivers in the air rock a medium-performance parachute. Like a good sedan, a medium-performance parachute can get zippy when you ask it to, but it’s built to be a daily workhorse, and it’s built more to protect its pilot from the vagaries of the many variables in the environment than it is to be OMG TOTALLY AWESOME. Medium-performance parachutes tend to advertise themselves based on their comfortable openings, their get-back-to-the-dropzone-from-a-long-way-off glide, and their soft, buttery landings.
In the same way that a certain personality can’t wait to trade in the sedan for something, well, racey, sport skydivers often gravitate towards this–the zippiest of the canopy categories–to deliver heart-thumping dynamics in the sky.
These are the high-performance canopies (which require a lot of experience and training before handling), and they’re the tool used by skydiving athletes of the “swooping” discipline, which emphasizes really fast landings. (Top swoopers can whizz along the ground at 100MPH!) These are super-specialized parachutes. In the highest-level cases, they must be deployed immediately upon exiting the plane ‘cause they can’t take the stress of a terminal opening. (If that sounds gnarly, you may be assured that it is.) Swooping sure isn’t for everyone, but it sure is pretty. Pro tip: There’s a certain magic in hanging around the dropzone to check out the local dropzone’s best talent try their luck at a sunset swoop-and-chug.
What do you think? Once you get that solo skydiving license, which parachutes do you think are going to be in your gear bag? We can’t wait to find out with you!