Participants in the 16-way training camp gather for a group photo. Photo by Jeff Bodin.
On Saturday, June 20, organizers Jeff and Karen Bodin, with assistance from John Verley, held a 16-way sequential formation skydiving training camp at Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California. The weather was ideal: cloudless and sunny with 18 mph winds, relatively low for the DZ lovingly known as the Windy City. The big-way event was unusual for the drop zone, and the community is used to more modest 4- to 8-way dives. However, the sequential belly community at Byron is growing with the enthusiastic support of Dave Bellak, John Dobleman and the Bodins.
Like many of the best teachers and coaches, Dobleman (who has been load organizing since the mid-‘90s) armed the team with tools for success. With clear instruction, a lot of patience and directed feedback, he challenged each player past their comfort zone to see a sight picture beyond “my right hand goes here, and my left one goes there.” He emphasized safety by having the team mock up safe escape routes from each and every point, which helped ease newer skydivers’ nerves about having that many bodies in the same part of the sky at the same time.
After thorough dirt dives and discussions of sight pictures, aircraft exits and safe bail-out strategies, the group loaded the Grand Caravan, executed the dive, packed, debriefed, then “rinse and repeat” for a total of four dives. Although the group never made the entire 16-way formation (15 was pretty close, and the biggest yet!), they had a great time playing, learning and growing together in the sky.
The team improved by tightening exits, cleaning up the approach to the formation, locking in eyes and hitting more effective body positions for safer tracks. Winds gusting to about 28 mph put a halt to the day. As a jumper remarked, “When the locals stop jumping, especially Mad John [Dobleman], you know the day is done.”
The event required each participant to wear a face-covering at all times (including in the plane on ascent to altitude) and maintain a safe social distance for the duration of the day. The camp provided an example of how to safely and successfully host skydiving events during this strange time. The training camp was also an excellent example of how to support a growth mindset, especially among newer jumpers. By applying techniques for improved airplane exits, body control, sight pictures and bail-out strategies on each and every skydive, the skydivers had the tools to move past “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” and improve their performance and safety in the sky.
Lauren Liddell | B-51403
Palo Alto, California