When you are first learning to skydive, the parachute you’ll use is large and docile, with friendly characteristics that help you to develop the foundational skills and required awareness. As you get better and better at the process of skydiving, other disciplines begin to open up as an option. “Swooping” or “canopy piloting” is a gradual progression to smaller, faster parachutes with sportier physics. Flying parachutes in the air is a lot of fun and there are disciplines (and indeed competitions) that happen high up in the air. But swooping is the part when you land, basically by generating speed and distance across the ground before touching down.
You can, but be prepared to invest significant time and effort to do it properly, as the faster you go while close to the ground the more risk that’s involved. Developing the skill and muscle memory for swooping while at the same time downsizing through smaller canopies requires a lot of focus and dedication. Do not be discouraged by this, though. The fact that learning to swoop takes a great deal of practice is one of the best and most rewarding things about a career in skydiving. You can always grow, always be better and never stop learning.
Want to know how to get started? Coaching is how. Skydiving is not a cheap hobby, and although it might feel like paying for extra coaching is a bridge too far, it is very definitely worth the money — particularly when it comes to swooping, as the right pair of eyes on your landings can help by leaps and bounds. While it is possible to develop your canopy piloting skills in tiny increments without direct feedback, a good coach can impart their hard-earned wisdom into your brain in a fraction of the time it takes to figure it out for yourself. This makes the investment of cash the right choice.
A quality coach understands that their job is to push their students forward at their best speed, and this is incredibly important while learning to swoop. Managing the risks properly at every stage is vital.
Like most things, it did not take long for humans to start trying to decide who was the best at swooping. The most visually exciting of all the skydiving and parachuting disciplines, competitions are judged across three categories: speed, distance, and accuracy. Elite swooping involves very small canopies made of special materials and cannot only travel huge distances across the ground at great speed. But swoopers can also land them precisely in a little box marked out with some sand.
A swoop pond is a super cool thing to have on a dropzone as it allows for high-end training and access to the competition circuit. The water presents a flat surface for setting up the gates and technology for measuring performance, and offers a somewhat more forgiving part of the ground to bump into while going fast.
It is important to understand that while a swoop pond does add an element of safety, crashing into the water under any circumstances is a thing that needs to be avoided. Having the water there can lull people into a false sense of security and see them pushing too hard too soon. Dropzones understand this well and will always have rules in place for those who wish to use them, such as a certain level of competition experience or authorization from a designated coach.
Learning to swoop well is immensely challenging and equally rewarding. Don’t be discouraged by the ground you must cover to become a canopy pilot — the journey is amazing. Swoopers might seem (and yes, sometimes act) like they are super-humans, whooshing and zooming across the landing area in front of everyone, but the community that has developed around this discipline is very supportive and much more inclusive that perhaps it seems at the start. So long as you approach this adventure with the right attitude towards doing it in the right way, you will be welcomed with open arms. Go for it!