Red, Green, Blue or Yellow?
by Steven Lefkowitz of SDC Rhythm XP
Competing in 4-way formation skydiving can be a lot of fun and also very challenging. It’s the kind of sport you can enjoy casually on the weekend or devote your life to (like the members of SDC Rhythm XP do)! If you’re thinking of participating, you’ll first need to learn a little about the formations and the five positions on the team. Doing so will make each dive easier and more efficient to execute. In each round of competition 4-way, teams receive a set of formations from a fixed dive pool. The size of the pool of possible formations increases as your team moves up into more advanced divisions. For example, open competitors will draw from a pool of 60 formations, while competitors in Sky League’s rookie class will draw from a pool of 16. The International Parachuting Commission sets the pool of formations, which doesn’t change very often or very drastically.
Defining the Positions
Every formation in the dive pool has a designated name and letter. Here, we’ll look at the formations “Bow” (H) and “Sidebody” (P). In these illustrations, you’ll notice that each jumper is assigned a color. These colors indicate the jumpers’ places in the formation (called “slots”) and where they are positioned during a standard exit:
Though there are exceptions, typically during exit:
• The point is inside the plane toward the front (“front diver”)
• The tail is outside the plane toward the rear (“rear floater”)
• The outside center is outside the plane, in between the point and tail
• The inside center is inside the plane, in between the point and tail
The point and tail are collectively called “the wings;” the outside center and inside center are collectively called “the centers.”
No competition rule requires a flyer in a certain slot to play a specific role in the formation; the rules don’t mention slots at all. In fact, as teams get more advanced, the slot flyers often switch roles both during exits and while flying the formations. Still, it’s wise to use these slots as a guide for transitioning from one formation to the next as efficiently as possible (which is to say with minimal movement from each skydiver). Taking the example of transitioning from Bow to Sidebody, you can see how each skydiver needs to make only a very small move if they follow the color coding in the diagrams. Although the inside center (blue) in the Bow could play the role of the tail (yellow) in the Sidebody, it would be less efficient.
In addition to flying single, stand-alone formations (called “randoms”) in competition, your team will also fly blocks, which consist of a starting formation, a prescribed move (called an “inter”) and a second formation. During blocks, the formation typically breaks into smaller subgroups, which spin around and come back together. Sometimes, one group will fly over the other (called a “vertical”) to complete the block.
The Differences Between Slots
While each slot has its own characteristics that may play to the strengths and weaknesses of team members, just about any skydiver can excel at any position with practice. Most top competitors have played several roles over their careers, and you do yourself a disservice if you limit yourself to flying only one position during your jumping career.
On exit, the point is usually inside the plane at the front of the door. This is a somewhat cramped position, so smaller people have a slight advantage. When leaving the plane, the point has to have good timing and an effective jump to get above the rest of the group in the sky. In the air, the point is often outfacing. During randoms, they often must make small, precise moves in which they present grips to their teammates. During blocks, they have bigger moves with a lot of individual spinning. When there are verticals, they usually go over. Because the point often presents grips and goes over during verticals, it helps if they are not the heaviest member of the team.
On exit, the tail is usually outside the plane in the rear of the door. They are often hanging or squatting down in the door and have to drop down aggressively as they exit. In the air, the tail is usually infacing. During the randoms, they turn a lot and take a lot of grips, especially cat grips (grips on both of one jumper’s legs). Because the centers are often more focused on each other and the point and not on the tail, tails do a lot of responding to where the rest of the formation goes. In blocks, the tail often has very physical moves where they are spinning and moving the subgroup they are part of. When there are verticals, they typically go under. Because the tail drives the subgroups a lot in the blocks, it helps if they are strong and one of the bigger teammates.
On exit, the outside center is usually in the middle of the door outside the plane. Their exit is typically very gymnastic, requiring a balance of power, presentation and timing. During the randoms, they turn a lot. They work with the inside center to set the angles that the point and tail must respond to. They see a mix of infacing and outfacing positions and both present and take grips. In the blocks, they often make small, precise moves that control the distance and levels between subgroups while also being driven by their teammates. When there are verticals between subgroups, they typically are in the group that flies over.
On exit, the inside center is usually in the middle of the door inside the plane. Like the point, they are often in a cramped position. They usually have to squeeze out the door and get lower than the outside center, which requires a balance of timing and aggressively moving through a very tight space. During the randoms, they take a lot of grips and decide when to signal (key) the others to move to the next point. They don’t have moves as large as the outside center or tail, but because they take a lot of grips and get gripped by others a lot, they have to be tough flyers who can deal with being pushed and pulled various ways. In the blocks, they often have small, precise moves that control the distance and levels between subgroups while also being driven by their teammates (much like the outside center). When there are verticals between subgroups, they typically are in the group that flies under.
Because the outside center and inside center set the angles and distances and often drive the pace of the skydive, the most experienced teammate will typically go in one of these slots.
On exit, the videographer is outside the plane on the camera step.They usually leave slightly before or slightly after the rest of the formation. They use a combination of flying skill and timing to place themselves in position to capture all the grips on video immediately after the exit. In the air, they have to keep the group in frame no matter where the members of the 4-way move or how far they get from each other.
The videographer is an integral part of the team, but also somewhat outside the group. This is true during the skydive and also on the ground during preparation and debrief. As a result, the videographer may feel ignored at times and should be comfortable with that. Also, the videographer has the additional responsibility of caring for the equipment and should be comfortable solving problems without bringing additional drama to the team. Because the videographer’s freefall experience can get repetitive, it often helps if they enjoy working on canopy skills or photography skills.
When joining a team, be flexible about which position you fly. While you may have a preference, every slot is a lot of fun and very challenging. Most importantly, never let your preferred slot keep you from being on the best team you can join. Never think, “That team is looking for a tail, but I’m a point.”
On most teams, choosing slots is less about perfect placement and more about teammates compromising to satisfy everyone’s preferences and inclinations. Once you’ve chosen your slot, try to practice that one slot rather than switching around a lot. At the same time, balance that with being flexible if team opportunities require switching. Keep that in mind, and you’re sure to have a great team experience and continue to grow in the sport.
About the Author
Steven Lefkowitz, D-30172, is a founding member of SDC Rhythm XP. Since its founding in 2007, Rhythm has become one of the world’s top 4-way teams, earning medals nationally and internationally. The team also coaches skydivers of all levels at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, and Skydive Sebastian in Florida and runs tunnel workshops at the Paraclete XP wind tunnel in North Carolina. The team also created the Rhythm Skydiving 101 app and founded the Women’s Skydiving Leadership Network. More information is available at rhythmskydiving.com.