Weather Hold

Do we fly differently?

Written by Lara

I don’t know if this is allowed or cool or against the rules of reddit or the galaxy, but there is a really good question posted over there right now. An anonymous girl wonders if she’s “that guy” at her DZ — the one people worry about because she’s so unsafe and terrible at skydiving.

The question – and resulting great advice – has nothing to do with sex and/or gender, but it’s what I’m still thinking about. From the start, I had a hunch it was posted by a girl. She talks about only doing small tracking jumps because she’s not 100% confident in her skills and doesn’t want to put other people in danger. I know there are exceptions #noteveryman but I don’t hear that concern from male jumpers often.

And landings. Oh, the dreaded female landing problem. I die inside a little every time I think about this. I want to not see the obvious — that it’s usually women who can’t stand up landings when they want to. It’s usually women who dislike, or even fear, canopy flight. It’s usually women who don’t quite “get” landing patterns. There are lots of really good female canopy pilots, not just competitive CPers, but everyday, good, solid pilots. The people who do have problems though? Yeah. Lots of women.

There is no biological reason why women should have more difficulty flying a parachute than men have. None. You can talk to me about iron levels in the nose or depth perception or whatever crap you want but I simply don’t believe men and women have enough physical differences to matter when it comes to flying and landing a modern-day parachute.

Am I right in thinking that, although women make up 15% of the sport, we take up a lot higher percentage of the people who had trouble with canopy flight – or are not confident in our skydiving skills all around?

If you wouldn’t mind, click the button below to take a super quick survey, because I like data. I have a hunch what the results will be like, but maybe I’m wrong. If you don’t want a pop-up survey, it’s also here: blueskiesmag.typeform.com/to/hsTRD4.


I shall report back with glorious graphs and numbers; in the meantime, what do you think? Do you see more women than men struggle with canopy flight and confidence in general? What can we do about that? Sisters In Skydiving is a great start; are there other programs or tactics you’ve seen work well?

PS: I don’t really know if this is a sex or a gender thing. I use “male” and “female” here in a kind of hazy, generic sex-and-gender way, with no intention to exclude or limit — more because I have no idea where the skydiving-confidence difference comes from.

Have you or someone else you know been that skydiver that other skydivers worry about? … | reddit

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6 Comments

  • I actually saw the post on reddit and I thought: “I know this girl”. Turns out she isn’t the lady I was thinking of, but this just illustrates that people struggling like her are everywhere. That’s why I got my coach rating, they need help to join the fun. We shouldn’t “be worried” about them, we should get busy and HELP them get better.

  • There are definitely physiological differences that make “the average man” more likely to pick up skydiving skills faster than “the average woman”. But there are social reasons as well.

    Strength makes a difference. We’re dealing with significant forces in flight. A stronger man can muscle through the learning curve while a weaker woman (not meant derogatorily) will have to spend more time refining her techniques to achieve the same results.

    Spacial visualization plays a key role in our 3 dimensional playground and studies have shown that men are “on average” better at spacial visualization than women.

    Teaching is primarily conducted by men. Men and Women communicate differently. Maybe women would learn better from a course developed by women for women

    Guys that suck don’t usually stick around. They get chased off by the machismo. While women that really want to skydive don’t give up so easily. So you end up with a more accurate picture of general ability in the female population than the male population.

    • There isn’t much strength involved in learning to fly a parachute, though. Freefall maybe, but the only thing I can’t do as a woman is front riser stuff and I don’t *need* to in order to routinely fly and land a safe pattern. Spatial visualization differences just aren’t there, in my opinion. I don’t believe the studies that show differences are conclusive.

      I do think you’re right with your last point. Do you think those guys who are more sensitive and self-reflective (and the ones who actually do suck) leave based on their own fear of hurting other people or not being good, or are they turned off by the skydiving culture? Do they look around and think, “I don’t belong here,” or is it, “I don’t WANT to belong here.”? I actually left the science world for both reasons — not only was I not a super great chemist, but I didn’t want to be around obnoxious, arrogant, know-it-all men for the rest of my life.

      • There’s definitely strength involved in flying a parachute. If you combine a weak person (penis or sans-penis) with a poorly matched canopy, they’re going to have trouble getting a good quick flare out of it. Sometimes, the difference between standing up and a face plant is how quickly you can move those toggles from your shoulders to your hips. For example, when you initially flare too high and rob yourself of your forward speed. If you let the toggles back up a bit, a quick stab right at the bottom is going to give you more time to rebuild that speed and get more lift than a gradual flare from up higher. Some basic physics tells us the former requires more strength than the latter. I have a couple female students that, by their own evaluation, struggle with this specific issue.

        I also have to disagree with you regarding the spacial awareness thing. In my personal experience, men are generally more mechanically inclined than women. It’s why men are more likely to be architects, race car drivers, scientists or mechanics. Spacial visualization and mechanical problem solving abilities will help in all these jobs. I’m not saying women can’t be good at these things, many of them are. I’m saying women are less inclined to be so. Men and women are just different and predisposed to be skilled in different areas. One gender isn’t better than another, but they are definitely different in many ways. These differences will always be a factor in performance, regardless of the activity

        I think a guy that’s struggling and doesn’t have anyone to provide encouragement just isn’t going to find it fun. Who wants to spend that much money on something that isn’t fun? I think a woman that is struggling is more likely to receive encouragement for two reasons: Women are generally more supportive to each other as a social group and men like talking to women.

        I think the solution to the problem, regardless of gender, is quality coaching. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how quickly you progress. If you can gain stability after going unstable, maintain altitude awareness, pull without scaring the shit out of your coach, and land without hurting yourself or anybody else (even if it requires a properly executed PLF every time), you have what it takes to be a skydiver (but let’s definitely make improving those landings a priority). As long as you’re always learning and getting better bit by bit, you’re awesome in my books. I have as much, if not more, respect for someone who has the tenacity to push through a difficult learning curve than someone who gets it right away.

        In the case of the poster on Reddit, I think she’s actually incredibly mature for her jump numbers. Anybody that has that much awareness about their abilities and is that conscientious about the jumps she chooses to include herself in is way ahead of most jr. jumpers I’ve encountered. She’s right to be concerned about hurting herself or other people. We all should be. That’s why I don’t jump on a 6 way head-down while I’m still working on my upside-down heading control. But she doesn’t need to be afraid or beat herself up about it. Fear and self deprecation serves nobody. Simple awareness and good judgement is what it takes to keep us all alive. It sounds like she’s got that.

        If she just chooses carefully whom she jumps with and communicates with them, they can plan a safe skydive around her current abilities. As long as everybody knows what’s happening, she can safely dump in place while everybody else tracks away from her. Or they could break off a little earlier and she can track for 5 seconds while everybody else tracks for 10 seconds. Not a great strategy for a 20-way with outside video, but a 3 or 4-way? Why not? Of course you’re going to want to make sure the other jumpers are heads-up in the safety department and competent trackers. At lease one should be a really experienced jumper keeping it all organized. Having said that, developing her tracking skills must be a priority for her. As we all know, sometimes shit goes sideways and you need to be able to get away from it. But it sounds like she knows that and is willing to put in the hard work.

  • I think it is not a question of better or worse. I think it is a question of risk adversity. Male generally overestimate their own skills or neglect the risk they are taking i think. So, i think the question should be changed into “how likely are you to sacrifice safety for having fun?”…

What do you think?