Dynamic flyers, more than any other indoor skydivers, face a massive challenge by training at their home tunnel and competing in a different one. Like Formula One racing drivers, they must be able to adapt quickly to master a new track.
In the run up to the third FAI World Cup of Indoor Skydiving in Bahrain, we asked Josh O’Donaghue, multiple dynamic champion, how to overcome the difficulty of flying at full whack in the two different environments, training at home and competing at Gravity…
You start by training in your own tunnel. You repeat the lines over and over again, so it become more of a reaction to what you do instead of going in there and always thinking about your next move. You want to get to a point of muscle memory that you go in and just do the move, not thinking about the move itself, just thinking about the lines and where your partner is. You try and think about pushing forwards as fast as you can and staying as close to the lines as possible.
A great tip to get better is to record the lines on the cameras – it is perfect if there is a delay footage set up and you can see where you bust – so you go straight back in and do it again. If there are no cameras it becomes harder as you have to guess. Ultimately then you will have to fly wider lines to be sure of not busting. The penalty for a bust isn’t worth the time saving of flying tighter. To assess the busts, you need a minimum of two cameras set up - one that has the center and one the side line. Three cameras are ideal but you have to make the best of what you’ve got.
For example, at the UK nationals in Bodyflight Bedford - there were no cameras on the lines before the competition, so we just had to fly big, wide lines to guarantee of not busting. We were helping other teams by watching them and telling them when they bust, then they did the same for us - so you can work together.
Windoor is great because they have all the cameras on the lines, and a delay so you can see instantly what you’ve done - Gravity does have the three cameras but currently no inbuilt delay so can’t instantly watch what you did – although you can watch it just after the session to see the busts so you can improve on the next session.
The second person (Flyer 2) can follow at the beginning but then you have to know your own lines, you can’t just rely on doing the same as number 1. You pretty much have to fly as an individual. Whether it’s a speed round or a free round, you need to know where you have to go and then you can look at your partner for the big picture.
You need to judge speed, so you avoid a synchronization bust – you can’t be more than 2 lines ahead of another flyer. Normally this happens if Flyer 1 is too far ahead but it can be because Flyer 2 gets ahead of Flyer 1. It happens in teams that are very good or in teams when there is a big difference in ability level. Flyer 1 needs to slow down if needed to avoid getting too far ahead, and Flyer 2 needs to makes sure they don’t overtake Flyer 1, and to try to catch up calmly if needed.
It depends on the technologies - if you are training in a 14 foot diameter tunnel and go to another 14 foot tunnel, it should be reasonably similar. Going from 14 to 17 feet diameter is going to be a LOT different - you can kick off the side on the tunnel in a 14 footer, which can be quicker. We use that technique a lot in Windoor but it doesn’t really work in a 17 foot tunnel. The glass has a bigger angle on it with a different diameter - so then you have to fly differently without kicking. It can be quite hard to adjust your flying style, especially if you have a lot of reps, so a highly inbuilt muscle memory.
The air is also different – very different. Some tunnels are faster, slower, bumpier; some air is hard and some air is softer. You must get used to that - and the pockets by the door and there can be some by the walls. Sometimes they are a bit random. At Windoor we have a great airflow, I train there all the time. Your body takes time to adjust to the differences when flying in a new wind.
The technology makes a difference too – Windoor and the Prague and Switzerland tunnels are basically the same design. Your body adjusts to the air and then muscle memory becomes consistent. ISG tunnels and Aerodium have different technologies with different set-ups, so then you get used to that wind.
All the tunnels are slightly different, even the same or similar models. They have different shapes – hexagonal and round. I like to be able to drag my ankles but I can’t do it in all tunnels. It’s like everything is a different feeling.
You have to consider that when training. If I know am going from training in a 14 foot tunnel to competing in a 17 foot then I train accordingly. Always know where you are going for the competition and what the tunnel is like there. Don’t train kicking off the side if that technique won’t work at the meet.
Try to use the side line, the center line and the rings - use those as your only references, not points outside the tunnel as these will change. Don’t use the door (unless the comp tunnel is identical) because if you use it as a reference and it is in a different place, it will mess you up. For example, back in 2014 we were training in Switzerland for World War XP, using the outside of the tunnel as a reference point. When we went to America those points were not there any more – the walls were in a different place so then I had to look at a poster instead.
So, allow time for training before the competition in the new tunnel, as much as you can afford. We normally try and do about 2 or 3 hours, doing free and speed. You need to practice all your free round tricks. If you’re only doing speed then normally an hour is okay. Go 3 or 4 days at least beforehand – if you’re serious, then a week before. Acclimatize, get used to the new environment so it feels more like home. Spread the training out, get used to the tunnel so you can fly comfortably.
The temperature makes a big difference, which can be significant, especially if you change climate. A cooler tunnel is faster; hotter is slower. Some tunnels have better cooling systems than others. If you’re training the whole week at 30+ degrees, then at the comp the temperature is 20 degrees the air is faster. You can try turning the speed down or just crack on and deal with it.
That’s pretty much it with every competition – you have to adapt. For example, if doing a free round, someone may come unstuck a little. In competition you can’t let that affect you, you have to keep flying it. Normally in competition you will mess up in places and just have to get back on it, fast.
Try to fly with as many different people as possible, to get insights from everyone and not get stuck in your ways. Get inspiration from as many people as you can, they may have a different way of looking at things that works for you.
There are different ways of combining D2W teams – you can put Team A following Team B, or mix up the A and B flyers – A, B, A, B or even A, B, B, A.
In a 4-way team there are four flyers,1, 2, 3, 4 . If number 1 is really good at memorizing the lines and so is number 2 that’s a good start. In 2-way dynamic is always good to have the faster flyer as number 2, but you might want to switch it around for 4-way and have the fastest flyer as number 1, or even number 4.
Number 1 has to be best at memorizing lines, they set the pace for the 4-way team.
Number 2 is mostly following number 1 but has to be quick on layouts and mirrors - as they are leading, because it’s a pair.
Number 3 has some difficult connections, for example, it can be quite difficult to slot inbetween the flyers.
For Number 4 the pace will change quite a lot. Number 4 just has to fly as fast as possible, if all is good. If there is a mishap the ‘sh*t blows downhill’ - so number 4 has to deal with the problem - speed up or slow down. So it makes sense for number 4 to be an experienced flyer with quick reactions.
So, each flyer has their own responsibility - but they all have to adjust to different circumstances.
What is going to be the biggest challenge at the World Cup is that there are a lot of really good teams, so competitions are getting harder and harder.
Acclimatizing is important. Going from your home town with friends and family there to a new culture. If you go to Bahrain it is massively different – the weather, the endless air con, hotels, food, sand… driving was incredibly difficult. Everywhere has its own feeling so arrive with enough days spare to get used to it, and to any time difference.
There is a good airflow in Gravity but as I already said, you need to allow plenty of time for training to get used to it. Make good use of their triple camera set-up in training to fly tight lines without busting. With your free round, think about the height of the tunnel, it’s one of the tallest out there; you will get points for using as much of it as possible.
Whenever flying you have to forget about what’s happening outside the tunnel. Maybe something bad happened in your personal life, maybe you had a poor last round, just put it aside and just do what you do. For example, in the Flight Fighters competition at Gravity I was very, very ill. I could hardly stand, I was shaking. But I couldn’t let my teammates down so I just got in and flew the best I could. You have to forget you are sick when you get in the tunnel.
Oh, and remember your sunscreen and bring a jumper, cos inside the building the air con is always at full power! Above all, enjoy every second of the World Cup, you’ve worked hard to get there! Get to know the other flyers from all around the world and learn as much as you can. See you there!