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Foundations of Flight | Learning About Learning Freefly—Breaking It Down

By Joel Strickland

Foundations of Flight | November 2019
Friday, November 1, 2019

Brought to you by three-time British Freefly Champion Joel Strickland. Strickland is a full-time freefly coach and tunnel-flying professional and a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Artistic Events Judge. Jumpers can read more of his writing or contact him for tunnel camps in Europe at joelstrickland.net.

When you’re learning artistic freefly, you’re learning to bounce air off your body in different ways to create the desired effects of stability and movement. You can use many surfaces of your body—applied neutrally, angled to work together or positioned against one another—to achieve this. When you are first learning, your body and brain will register this as a complicated combination of forces pushing and pulling you in unfamiliar ways. Understanding which surfaces are doing what and how they work in harmony or in conflict with each other is the key to learning each position. Being in the tunnel or sky also affects how your brain processes information, making the movements for the various positions seem complicated. Additionally, stacking or sequencing even basic moves can make them more confounding.

You can learn everything about freefly—a body position, transition, a line or any combination of the three—by breaking them down into manageable pieces and then reassembling them methodically. As you’re learning, your brain cannot process everything at the same time, so it’s best to use training drills that isolate the body surfaces and allow you to understand how they work individually before combining them.

Everybody is a little bit different, so you’ll have to determine the amount of deconstruction that’s best for your needs. Although some people learn more quickly than others, oftentimes the pace of a student’s progression is different with every move. For one move, you may need to see only a simple demonstration before you begin performing it, while for another move, you may need to break the move down to its individual components focusing on each flight surface, before pulling it off.

Tunnel Example: Barrel Rolls

If you can successfully perform a half barrel roll from front to back and a half barrel roll from back to front, you can perform a whole barrel roll all the way around, because you have mastered both pieces. Additionally, you can start the roll from either your front or your back, since you’re using the pieces you already know and are just ordering them differently. You can also perform more rotations (half or whole), since you’re just adding more of the same two building blocks.

Sky Example: Those First Freefly Breakoffs

Breaking off in a safe way from a head-up skydive is a crucial skill that contains many parts performed in a brief handful of seconds when the pressure is high. During your first sit-fly jumps, you’ll be so intent on getting your body position correct that you won’t be able to easily perform additional tasks. The most reliable way to incorporate this vital skill is to add manageable pieces to your workflow as you gradually increase your confidence with the body position and concurrently your awareness and ability to handle more tasks. If you try to perform all the correct breakoff steps from the outset—checking airspace, rolling off steeply onto your back, tracking in the right direction, flipping over on heading, tracking some more, checking above you, etc.—you’ll be loaded with too many tasks. Try developing this skill gradually by learning each step one at a time on coached or solo practice jumps.

Key Points:

  1. Some students learn very well visually, by seeing examples performed. Others do better when they’ve received verbal information through instruction on the ground. Figure out early on which way you best learn. It will improve your progression.
  2. No matter how complicated a position, transition, line or sequence seems, you can understand it by deconstructing it into its composite parts and gradually putting them together again. If you understand how to properly perform the parts of a move, you’ll understand not only that move but any variations using the parts contained within.
  3. The fundamentals of position and movement comprise many of the more complex and difficult moves, just combined into one single, unbroken move. The building blocks of even the fanciest performances are simple; the order and intensity of their application is where the creativity is.
  4. Once you apply this jigsaw-puzzle process to the main elements of flying—orientations, transitions and lines—you can break these down into trainable sections that you can then rebuild and perform.
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