People tend to think of skydiving as an adrenaline sport caused by the ground rush one gets when falling toward Earth from the sky.
Whenever we tell people we’re skydivers, their initial reaction is almost always: “Wow you’re an adrenaline junkie, huh?” Sure that part is fun. But let’s clear this misconception up once and for all: skydiving is so, so, so, so much more than that!
Skydiving is a sport with several disciplines, similar to track & field, which is comprised of dozens of running distances and different kinds of long and high jumps.
As students, we learn the basics, such as flying on our bellies and safely landing our parachutes. But as we gain more experience, an entirely new world opens up.
From a variety of different freefall disciplines to canopy piloting, skydivers tend to focus on the disciplines that most intrigue them. Many of them spend hours in the indoor skydiving tunnel to perfect those skills, while others tend to compete in competitions, such as the USPA Nationals.
Here we break down six of the most popular, though new disciplines seem to be invented all the time as the popularity of our sport continues to grow.
You’ll hear this discipline called many things, from belly to relative work to formation skydiving. This discipline focuses, as you might have guessed, on any kind of skydiving where the skydiver is belly-to-Earth. The original discipline of skydiving, it’s the first one we learn as students.
While belly flying is considered one of the foundational disciplines — something everyone must learn as part of their progression — it shouldn’t be written off as being just for beginners.
Large belly formations could include dozens of people, more than one plane full of jumpers and hours of strategic planning on the ground. Four-way and eight-way competitions, where groups try to score as many points as possible in a single jump, requires hours upon hours of practice.
Freefly, also known as vertical relative work or vertical formation skydiving, is a discipline that includes any flying where the jumper is vertical to the Earth. Examples of this include flying head down, head up or sitting.
This is a more advanced discipline than belly simply because it requires more know-how regarding how our bodies fly in the sky. At these vertical positions, our speeds can increase significantly compared with belly because of the reduced surface area, thus it’s extremely important to be aware of your skill level and who you are flying with as you’re learning to freefly.
But once you do become sufficient in freeflying, skydivers can form small and large formations, and even turn points like in those belly four-way jumps.
Another discipline we learn as students that each skydiver does nearly every jump is called tracking. This is a type of flying where we de-arch our bodies, roll our shoulders forward and put our hands behind us, creating a forward movement in the sky.
During a normal skydive, we use tracking to create space between jumpers before we pull our parachutes. However, skydivers are now doing tracking-only jumps where they travel horizontal distance for an entire minute across the sky.
The more advanced version of tracking is called angle flying. With angle flying, skydivers are similarly tracking horizontally across the sky, however, they are at a much steeper angle. It’s similar to flying head down in the freefly discipline, except with simultaneous forward movement.
Angle flying is an advanced discipline because of the intense speeds that skydivers gain during these jumps. Once proficient, skydivers can form tight angle groups and even compete.
Wingsuit flying, also known as acro wingsuit, is a type of advanced skydiving discipline where jumpers wear a nylon suit that catches the air they’re falling through. The air gives them lift, helping to give them horizontal movement and keeping them in the air longer.
This discipline requires at least 200 jumps and a higher experience level. Wingsuiting has become extremely popular in recent years because of the videos of BASE jumpers wingsuiting off cliffs (a very dangerous niche discipline of our sister sport, BASE jumping).
In skydiving, wingsuiters can fly together in a flock, make large horizontal formations and compete on speed. There’s also a new type of advanced discipline emerging within this discipline called Wingsuit XRW, which is when a canopy pilot attaches their feet to the back of a wingsuit and flies with them for a distance.
As they advance through the sport, some people might find they enjoy being under canopy more than freefalling. These people tend to choose to focus their attention on different canopy skills, which can range from swooping to high-performance parachute flying, such as XRW.
It’s important to take canopy work slowly, as this is the fabric that saves skydivers’ lives, no matter whether they’re jumping from altitude, around 13,000 feet, or doing a hop and pop, at around 5,000 feet, to practice piloting.
One of the most advanced aspects of this discipline is called swooping, which is a skill in which canopy pilots gain speed on purpose as they get close to ground, often by doing corkscrew turns with their front risers, so that they can plane out and travel for a longer horizontal distance just above the surface of the Earth before touching down.
A miscalculation in this discipline can mean serious injury or death, but the perks of swooping once canopy pilots have perfected their skills can be gratifying. Several dropzones even have swoop ponds so that you can watch swoopers graze the water with their toes before stepping down. Canopy pilots can also compete in a variety of competitions.
Canopy Relative Work, or CrW, is another type of canopy discipline — only this one is focused on forming formations in the sky. This type of piloting often involves several canopy pilots coming together to tap end cells or stack on top of one another like a house of cards.
Skydivers can compete in this discipline or simply form beautiful artistic formations for fun. This, too, can be dangerous if novice pilots try to get involved in a large formation too soon, but the perks of flying so close to your friends and teammates can be unimaginably moving.
As you can see, skydiving is so much more than just falling from the sky and so much more than just an adrenaline rush. If you’re interested in participating in any of these disciplines, your first step is to book a tandem with us and then inquire about the ground course taught at the school.