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Indoor Skydiving - An Instructor's Journey

31 August 2017

What it's like to be an indoor skydiving instructor and the journey to the top

AirRider has just completed the recruitment of its’ indoor skydiving instructors. There is still the training course to go and we know it will be full of excitement, exhaustion (physical test!), and amazement at the caliber of applicants.

But…(there’s always a but), this is only their first step in an exciting career of Indoor Skydiving instructing. In this article I want to give you an insight into what it takes to be an instructor, the journey they have to undertake, the skill proficiency and work required to be the best, and ultimately – what drives these incredible people to make Indoor Skydiving their passion.

We chat to 2 experienced Instructors: Mike Brigg, a level 4 International Bodyflight Association (IBA); and Frazer Smith, one of 6 IBA examiners in the world. It took Frazer 6.5 years to gain his examiner status. Let’s have a look at their journey to get to the top and some advice they may have for all of us

girl entering wind (2)

Rookie year
All IBA instructors start as a Level 1, meaning they can only teach (or spot) basic belly and back fly in the airflow. A typical day would be spent taking new indoor skydivers for their first flights. New flyers include kids as young as 3, families, school groups, corporate teams and skydivers hopping in the wind for the first time. This is an important step in an instructor’s development – learning to actually teach people, manage the various skill levels and personalities, and become comfortable in their front line role.
At the end of each first time session, the Rookie has the opportunity to do a Demonstration flight. This helps show the possibilities of the sport to customers, and a chance for the Rookie to further develop their skills.

Although rookies are getting plenty of flight time in the wind, they spend a high majority of time being…a rookie! They are usually briefing students, driving the tunnel or issuing flight gear such as helmets and jumpsuits. But all those jumpsuits need to be washed and all the goggles need to be sparkling – so who gets these jobs? You guessed it… the rookie instructor! Mike reckons cleaning the tunnel glass at the end of a long weekend was pretty demoralizing. The equipment, including the fans, need cleaning on a regular basis. Think of the dust that collects in your home, multiply that by a few hundred, add in some sweat, snot and saliva and that’s what our instructors have to scrape off the fans. It’s not a pleasant job by any means!

Rookies will receive ongoing training from their local IBA Trainers.  This may be their own Chief Instructor where possible, or another IBA Trainer who comes in regularly. Their personal flight skills will improve and will soon be able to lift their feet off the ground and fly with more experienced customers. Mike says his own flying progress is definitely something that kept him going, along with the awesome staff that made being at work enjoyable.

Career junkie
It’s not just our customers that become addicts! Our instructors will often spend their own money to clock up additional hours, join friends or enter tunnel camps. There is always something new to learn, so naturally our instructors are pushing the boundaries to become the best indoor skydivers. Mike re-enforces this, “each week I was clocking up 20 mins flying for myself and about 10 hours coaching/teaching in the tunnel…I was always asking for advice and help to ensure I progressed faster”. Instructors also get frustrated with certain moves, just like all students! Mike says he struggled to master sit to sit backflips due to a mental block and “I remember getting very frustrated initially when learning to fly head down. I probably spent about an hour of my life doing a head stand on that net. Another instructor and I joked about not bothering with head down, convincing ourselves it was for losers!!“

Training time is used to get more of those tick boxes on the IBA instructor chart. Skydivers request ‘sit fly’ or ‘head down’ spotting but first time customers can also benefit with the High Ride – when the instructor takes hold of the student and whizzes them up towards the top of the tunnel.

This now means our instructor is in high demand and may have to do extra classes to cover the requests. One of the minor downsides to being in demand for high level spotting is that you may spend your 30 minute class holding skydivers head down on the net. That’s 30 minutes crouched down in speeds of more than 200kph! Mike does say the ability to teach a variety of flyers and groups (such as hens parties!) is fun and in general it made his progression much easier.

Mid-Life Career
A level 4 indoor skydiving instructor can teach all the skills on the IBA flyer rating chart. They can be in high demand for private coaching especially with skydivers who’ve taken a liking to their coaching style and recommend coaching to fellow jumpers. It’s probably taken at least 2 years to get here. This gives the instructor a bit more cash is their pocket, but eats into a lot of their free time. If a student is flying 2 x 20 minute coached sessions in one evening, the instructor will probably be at the indoor skydiving facility for 3 hours to allow time for briefing, flight time with rotations, and debriefing.
Even a level 4 instructor is still expected to take first timer classes, just like the rookies. By now, they have flown 1000’s of customers and taken 100’s of classes. Each class the same as the last, the same as last week, last month, last year…. So how do the flight crew stay focused? Mike gives a hint “a positive attitude and lots of patience are a must!”

It’s now likely that any non-skydiving instructors will have tried at least one tandem skydive. Curiosity usually gets the better of them! Working in the Indoor skydiving facility gives you a natural advantage when training for the sky. Some indoor skydiving instructors have been known to complete their AFF in just 2 jumps!

Top of the game
You are now at the level to decide if you want to follow the indoor skydiving trainer’s path. A trainer will coach the instructors on how to teach customers! A top level trainer (T4) can train students to become instructors, which takes us full circle to the Rookie level 1. This is a highly satisfying and fulfilling part of their career as they help others find the same passion they have for indoor skydiving.
So what does it feel like to be at the top of a fast growing sport?
Speaking to a number of indoor skydiving instructors, it seems they don’t feel like they are at the top. They travel to Europe and see all the dynamic flying that’s happening. They travel to America and see the sequential groups, high level VFS and Big Way flipping going on. There is truly always something new to learn in this evolving sport! (see our website for more details)
We only need to look at their list of achievements to realise these coaches and trainers have built envious profiles for themselves. Mike won gold at Coupe De France 2013 with French Freefly team AirWax and took part in the UK Head Down record. Frazer has 6 gold medals in VFS and Freefly, was a member of Volare, a world record, and has appeared on the cover of the USPA parachutist and the British Skydive magazine.

Frazer on the world record

Being a top level coach does mean you are in demand throughout the world. Both Frazer and Mike have been able to travel with their work, which eventually brought them to Australia. But it’s not all glamorous at the top. Trainers and coaches will still take first timer classes, still wash the suits and clean the goggles.
It’s not all freeflying and high fives… but it certainly makes it easier and exciting when you can fly like a ninja!