Flying Habits to Start for Highly Effective Canopy Pilots

May 17, 2022

Are you just out of AFF? Got your A license and are buzzing to get stuck in? Or have you been devoting all your time in learning new skills in freefall, but your canopy skills could do with some refining? Then have a read of our latest article ‘Flying Habits to Start for Highly Effective Canopy Pilots’. It’s packed full of useful tips to improve your canopy flying. And who doesn’t want to be a Highly Effective Canopy Pilot??? We asked a few of our Athletes to tell us what are some small and simple habits you should start now that will make a difference to your canopy piloting. Read on for all the tips.

Introducing our 4 Highly Effective Canopy Pilots

Simon Colmer

Hello! My name is Simon Colmer and I’ve done 3000 jumps in 9 years. I would not describe myself as a naturally gifted jumper, I actually cried when I sunk out on a 10 way belly jump because I was so frustrated from being heavy. I overcame that problem by never flat flying again and taking up freeflying – problem solved. I’ve devoted myself to being vertical and degrees of vertical (angles) but after many years, I was looking for new angles, 90, 270, 450, 630 – all the holy swoop numbers.

These days, I spend my time with smelly wingsuiters up the front of the plane for XRW, or with smelly swoopers up the back of the plane. I often reminisce on the good old days of nice smelling freefliers in the middle of the plane. I have been lifting weights most of my life, but when I’m not doing that I like playing retro video games and more recently I have been learning how to DJ. If you ever see me around the dropzone, come say hello and if you’re lucky I’ll tell you about my modded Gameboys – I know you want to hear a lot about this – it will be my pleasure. Maybe we can go for a skydive after, but only after.

simon colmer flying icarus leia behind two canopies over barren landscape photo credit kian bullock

Simon flocking with his mates. Learning to fly with others is a key skill for canopy piloting. Photo Credit: Kian Bullock

Flying Habit | Debrief Your Canopy Rides Like Your Freefall

I have done a lot of freeflying over the years and religiously after each jump, whoever was on it would gather and watch every single angle to critique what we just did with the hopes of finding some improvements to continue the progression.

After a while I noticed that a lot of people tend to turn off their cameras after deployment, as if the part that was about to take place was not of any value. That’s when I noticed what I was doing versus what others were doing – I was watching each of my canopy rides/landings at the end of each weekend trying to work out how to improve individually.

The advanced end of canopy pilots do this in order to find improvements that over time, layer upon each other to produce a competitive outcome. Beginners and Intermediate canopy pilots alike can also benefit from reviewing all the little things which over time turn into big things. Record and watch that footage like it’s as important as your freefall, because it really is (and often more important).

To this day, I still watch every jump I do at the end of the weekend and make notes on how to improve.

Flying Habit | Read the Day’s Conditions

Every morning I stand in front of the dropzone board and overlay the day’s expected winds, run-in direction, short/long spot and the like. I do this so I can determine what the likely safety implications of tracking jumps might be, what likely locations a high or low altitude cutaway might place a canopy but also to make sure we are accounting for things like freefall drift in the jumps we do.

The main take away though is to establish the best place for me to access the landing pattern, so I’m not scraping the bottom of the barrel to make it back to land straight in. I want enough altitude so I can do my turn! I never leave any part of my skydiving up for chance, if I can overcome it with information and preparation. Safety is always number 1, it’s number 2 and number 3 as well – but I want to be able to make it back with altitude so I can swoop, so for me knowing the conditions is very important in enabling that.

Beginners may be overwhelmed understanding how it all works, but every journey starts with a first step and you should make that step. I am now a Canopy Coach, so I am in a position to influence people’s behaviours and I spend time talking about how to read the conditions and how they affect patterns. It’s nice to be able to help people with this stuff as I think it’s very important.

Flying Habit | Visualise

This one is something I have wrestled with my entire skydiving career. I know it’s good for me and when I do it, it’s really good. When I don’t do it, it’s not so good. Mental rehearsal is that thing we do in the plane when we close our eyes, visualise the jump, every aspect of it, repeated at least once so when we get to the real thing we feel like we have already seen it.

Much like flossing, I know it’s good for me but occasionally I say “maybe we skip it today” and often I regret it the next day. Every competition I’ve done where I’ve been very strong on visualisation, I have had a great result. The one that I did not visualise, I finished 2nd last and I hit a buoy on the water. I’m not saying visualisation will put you on the podium, but I do believe it goes a long way to keeping you safer, producing a better outcome and integrating learning which over hundreds and thousands of jumps leads to great results.

Take every opportunity you have to get in front of your skydives, visualise and I promise you’ll perform better more consistently.

Tales of a Skydiver

It’s all in the journey…

At 50 something jumps I did my first canopy course. There I was, scared of heights and rocking what I can only call a pretty rubbish flare. So my coach, in all his splendour, says to me “pull the string and don’t go in.” Fantastic, thanks mate. Anyway that guy (Griggsy) went on to become one of my best friends and he never stopped giving me that sort of advice. I remember for dozens of jumps actually repeating that in my head and by some measure of magic my landings went from woeful to not great – success.

Time went on, years lapped on and Griggsy taught me how to do 90s, 270s, 450s and how to compete in CP. It wasn’t until 2019 though that I had the unique pleasure of being in the same aircraft as my first canopy coach, my swoop mentor and my very good friend – a really very special experience for sure. Now I’m a canopy coach myself, giving slightly more modernised advice but the general gist is consistent.

What this journey has shown me, now that I’m a canopy coach myself, is that it’s all made of many many many small steps that you take continually. Sometimes those steps are forward, backward and often sideward but you just keep taking them. Hopefully one day I will find a student who I will get to share the experience of coaching until they are a peer and hopefully a friend too.

Mason Holden

My name is Mason Holden. Born in Wellington NZ and learnt to skydive in 2009 at the New Zealand Skydiving School when it was in Methven.

I became AFF and tandem rated at 20 years old and worked at the skydive school for a few years as an instructor. I moved to Australia and worked there doing all sorts until I got a job offer in Dubai at the Desert campus. Moving to Dubai was the best thing I could have done for my skydive career as the talent and knowledge there was crazy. Having free staff jumps and access to the tunnel definitely helped my progression.

My partner Liz Peace and I moved back to Aotearoa to see what mischief we can get up to here. We started a little company called FunJumpNZ with the goal to help promote sport skydiving in NZ and get people flying like bad asses from overseas. Based in Taupo NZ with amazing lake views we are having an awesome time swooping the daisy’s this summer and teaching what we have learnt from around the world skydiving and tunnel flying.

mason holden flying icarus leia pulling on rear risers and dragging feet along grass

Mason demonstrating how to use your rear risers to land your canopy. Photo Credit: Carlos Munoz

Flying Habit | Take A Moment To Stop & Think About Your Landing After Touching Down

Far too many people land, pick up their canopy and walk straight inside without thinking about why they landed where they did. This small step can hugely improve people’s accuracy and landings by just taking a short time on the ground to look at a windsock, think about the pattern you just flew and try to work out why and how you’re standing on your target or why you landed off. This technique should be started right from AFF and taken through to every jump you do. Consistent landings are the first step to good landings.

Flying Habit | There Will Always Be Another Time To Swoop

Many people think they need to do a good swoop to make the skydive worthwhile and I’ve heard people go as far as saying their canopy doesn’t land well unless they do a turn for landing. If you can’t land your small highly loaded canopy straight in while landing off, you need to upsize. Aborting a turn on landing is far better than turning low with not sufficient altitude to recover or turning in the middle of busy canopy traffic.

There will always be the next jump to impress your mates with your sick swoop, If you make it to the next one. This is for anyone starting turns of any sort on their canopies.

Flying Habit | Stacking In The Holding Area & Having Your Head On A Swivel

Often I see multiple canopies all flaring onto the landing area at the same time with no great separation between them. This all starts early in the landing pattern where people don’t pay attention. Try workout people’s loadings and canopies before getting on the load so you know who should be landing faster than you. Far too often I see people doing multiple turns in the holding area without looking around for traffic. There is no reason someone on a Safire 3 170 should be beating my Leia 68 to the ground.

Remember stacking involves all pilots to be aware of who’s around and for everyone to make wise decisions on who should make some turns to get lower and who should sit on brakes to allow for more separation.

Tales of a Skydiver

The longest turn of my life…

It was the Dubai International Swoop Competition and I was on a Distance round. Setting up for my turn, everything felt good and I had been having a good comp so far. I did my normal left 630 and coming out of the turn I thought everything was normal. Once I stopped turning and straightened my canopy I realised I was much lower than I thought and was facing 45 degrees across the pond. I stabbed out on toggles and just missed the edge of the pond.

Sliding in on my arse on the grass beside the pond, the turn that I had done was still happening in my head. My vision was spinning and the whole world was rotating. I came to a stop but the spin in my head didn’t. I ended up being on the ground for the next month with vertigo which must have been brought on with that last turn. The world continued to rotate and I spent a lot of the next month laying down.

That last 630 from that comp lasted a whole month and really wasn’t much fun at all. If in doubt, toggle stab it out.

Read more: 10 Examples of Skydiving Mistakes

Liz Peace

Hey I’m Liz Peace and I think skydiving is the best. I’ve been jumping full time since 2011 and couldn’t imagine life any other way. I started out at the New Zealand Skydiving School, then got my first jumping gig as a Camera flyer in Aussie, then headed to Dubai where I got my ratings and had awesome opportunities to learn from amazing hard working skydivers.

It’s not all about the work though, I’m always craving those fun jumps with sequential freefly being my fave and of course dialling in those turns under canopy. My soon to be hubby Mason Holden and I are based now at home in Aotearoa working under FunJump NZ with the goal of building and supporting the sportie scene in NZ. Come visit us at Taupō Sport Skydivers!

When I’m not jumping, I love flying in the tunnel (if anyone would like to build a tunnel in Taupo that would be great), speed flying, scuba diving, and hanging out with animals.

liz peace landing jvx on grass with mountains in the background photo credit carlos munoz

Liz landing her JVX. Photo Credit: Carlos Munoz

Flying Habit | What is everyone else up to?

Get to the loading area early and have a chat with everyone to figure out who’s on what wing and what their plan is, this way you can have a good idea of who will be in your airspace and allows some sort of planning for landing separation. This is especially important when there are multiple people all on similar wing loadings doing similar landing circuits and turns.

Flying Habit | Don’t Be Flying Up That Jump Run

As tempting as it may be to point yourself straight back to the landing area after opening, it’s no bueno. Get into the habit of always flying perpendicular to the line of flight of the aircraft until you notice the group after you have opened their canopies. This way we avoid flying under other groups and we keep enough airspace for separation after their jump.

Personally, I’ve had the experience of having to track over a canopy flying up jump run, clearing it by a couple metres, scary shit! Canopy collisions are just no fun.

Flying Habit | Stow Or Remove Your Slider First

May seem like a small thing but I’ve got into the habit of stowing my slider first before turning my camera off and getting comfy under canopy. This saves a bit of wear and tear by disallowing those slider grommets to rub up and down the lower lines longer than they need to be.

Tales of a Skydiver

Wake up call in downsizing…

Long ago, it was an overcast, gusty, windy kind of day and I had a borrowed 150 that was packed into my rig the night before. I hadn’t jumped a 150 before but I had around 30 jumps on a 170 and I was absolutely nailing those slide and sit down landings.

I asked one of the instructors at the DZ if it was still sweet to give it a whirl. He asked me a bunch of questions that tried to prompt me in to taking the initiative and not downsize at this time.They left it open ended by saying ‘if it were them, they wouldn’t downsize on a day like this’. Cheeky and stupid, I rationalised in my head that I’d be fine and popped myself on the load.

It was the first load of the day, and I ended up getting out deep. I made a poor late decision which put me downwind in a paddock. Because I was going a wee bit faster than usual I decided I’d use that sit down and slide technique to slow me down as I was headed directly for a deer fence, I stopped a nose before it. I got up, had a look around and that’s when I locked eyes with the death stare of I F’ng told you so coming from that same instructor in the main landing area.

That experience really drilled in the importance of being totally competent, not only confident, but also always having the respect to take on that advice especially from those who are only interested in everyone’s wellbeing.

Flying fast is fun as long as the fast is accepted with confidence and control, not with uncertainty and fear.

Read more: 25 Ways to Become a Better Canopy Pilot

Bruno Geada

I am a professional canopy piloting coach based in sunny Algarve, south of Portugal. My introduction to skydiving was in the army, at the Paratroopers School, back in 1999. Five years later I took my  AFF course and started working at dropzones right away. I started as a packer and, not long after, I was already working as a camera flyer. I just couldn’t take my feet out of the dropzone and wanted to do everything in my power to keep learning and moving forward, so I took the Tandem Master course and, right after that, the AFF Instructor course.

A decade ago, I started working at Skydive Algarve, one of the biggest and most international dropzones in Europe, where I ended up becoming the Safety Officer during one of the busiest times this dropzone has ever seen.

Meanwhile, after exploring some different disciplines in the sport, such as Freefly and Atmonauti, it’s in Canopy Piloting that I found my true passion and started dreaming about having my own canopy school! So, in 2013, I founded the FlySafe Canopy School and started teaching hundreds of students of all levels of experience. Two years ago, I decided to dedicate myself exclusively to the school!

In my free time, I love spending quality time with my family and cooking for my friends! I’m a rather good cook and love showing off my signature dishes! If you find me at my home DZ, be sure to make yourself invited for a dinner party!

bruno geada leaning forward in harness flying petra on rears over pond profile view photo credit paulo cotrim

Opening your chest strap allows your canopy to perform at its best as demonstrated by Bruno and his Petra. Photo Credit: Paulo Cotrim

Flying Habit | Loosen Your Chest Strap

When you get to your Holding Area, you should loosen your chest strap a bit (loosen, not remove). This will allow the canopy to adopt its optimal shape and fly the way it was designed. Don’t worry, it might be a bit scary at first but once you get used to this, you’ll feel more comfortable and more connected to your canopy; course headings will be easier to maintain, and you’ll have more mobility without interfering with your flight pattern. When coming to flare you’ll be freer to move and run since the centre of gravity will be lower down, this simple procedure will help for better landings.

Remember, if you have to use both hands to loosen your chest strap, make sure you go through your canopy control checks again, it’s very easy for the toggle to loop over the brake line.

Flying Habit | Use Your Harness To Turn

You can steer your canopy using your harness only, to do so adopt a seated position with your knees at 90 degrees to your torso, you might need to move your leg straps down a touch to get comfortable, keep your arms high on the rear risers adopting the Active Pilot Position (APP). From this seated position when you press one leg down by simply extending it, the canopy will turn to that side.

This is a very useful tool you can use in every jump allowing you to also make small corrections on your final approach without inducing any roll in the canopy. This useful tip will keep your canopy flat and level for landing, allowing a full even flare for landing.

Flying Habit | Transition From Rear Risers To Toggles

After the canopy has completed its recovery arc, right at the beginning of the ‘sweet spot’, keep your arms as high as possible while holding onto the rear risers while smoothly pressing them out. This will level off the canopy without inducing added drag which will slow you down sooner.

Ideally you should fly 90% of your sweet spot on the rear risers and leave the last 10% for the transition to your toggles maintaining enough power and lift to carry on flying and to be able to perform a full flare for landing.

Tales of a Skydiver

Land for yourself, not for others…

We are human and we all make mistakes, any added external pressure might not be obvious, but the results can be! Always ask yourself who you are flying for. A couple of years ago on a demo swoop jump over water, I wanted to show off for the public and ended up pushing it a bit too much, the result was a high-speed crash with a broken rib. The lesson learnt from this is we should never lose our focus and try to impress more than what we have trained for.


Ladies and their Gear Vol. 1
Strong Enough to Flare or Not? Myths Busted
5 Ways Meditation Can be Valuable in Skydiving
Managing Energy Levels in Skydiving: 5 Key Ways

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