4 way formation skydiving is one of the most popular ways to get into competing in our sport. Combining speed with technical detail and flowing performance, 4 way is accessible to anyone from the point you gain your FS1 qualification.
Recently, I hosted a live webinar for Skydive Langar where I shared my tips for 4 way FS, based on my experience as a 4 way jumper and, most recently, as part of silver medal winning team Chimera.
Check out the video and slide deck below; I’ve also provided a write up of the session’s main notes for you, and am happy to answer any questions via the Chimera Facebook page, or in person at the DZ. Enjoy!
Your first 4 way team
The first step to a successful team is, well, find a team! That might mean clubbing together with some of your mates and getting started. It might mean posting on the Langar Facebook page or going along to roadshows or events where you can meet likeminded jumpers.
Either way, you’re going to need 5 people (ideally, 4 if not) who have:
- Shared goals; do you all have the same aspirations for the team?
- Similar budgets; is everyone looking to put in the same rough budget?
- Available time; does everyone have the time to commit to training and competitions?
Understanding 4 way slots
Once you’ve found your team (and come up with a suitably amazing name, potentially a t shirt design… it’s good to get your priorities right!) then you’ll need to assign ‘slots’.
A ‘slot’ is the position you fulfil in your skydiving team. Like any sport, the different slots all have slightly different roles but with one key similarity; everyone is working together to make the team as efficient and as effective as possible.
Here’s the low down on the 4 way slots:
Inside Centre, or IC, is the slot that is responsible, usually, for the pacing of the skydive. They normally occupy a central position in the formation and will have wide visibility over the way the skydive is progressing, grips being taken and so on.
That means they usually have responsibility for ‘keying’, which simply means they let the rest of the team know when to move onto the next formation in the skydive, by either nodding their head or with a flash of their hands.
As you become more comfortable and confident as a team, you may find it’s more difficult to actually see a key, because the team is moving in rhythm together. But, the key is still there; no matter how good the team, there is always discipline to ensure every formation is completed correctly before moving on.
Inside centre usually occupies the space in the aircraft on the inside, at the back-most part of the door.
Outside Centre (OC) is the second of the team’s two centres and, along with IC, occupies the central area of the formation. The two centres work together to set the fall rate.
Outside centre, due to the nature of the formations, is usually required to do some of the biggest turns, sometimes being ‘in-facing’ (looking into the middle of the formation) and sometimes ‘out-facing’ (looking away from the formation) – so the moves between the two require big turns.
Outside centre occupies the outside of the aircraft for the exit, on the float rail at the front-most area of the door.
The role of the Point flyer is to occupy the front-most area of the formation. The Point typically spends a lot of their time in out-facing moves, due to the nature of the formations, and therefore has to balance the challenge of being out-facing while also maintaining visibility across the rest of the formation, without detriment to their body position.
The Point flyer is most commonly the member of the team who performs solo moves when a ‘block’ contains one solo and one three person ‘piece’.
They usually exit from the front-most part of the door, inside the airplane. This means the slot lends itself well to physically smaller people, though this is by no means essential.
The Tail flyer occupies the back-most area of the formation. They are most often facing into the formation and, together with the Point flyer, they help to regulate the ‘axis’ of the skydive; by maintaining a common line between P and T, the formation avoids rotating around the sky.
The Tail flyer exits the aircraft from the rear float position, meaning they’re at the back of the door, on the outside. Because of this, they’re often the physically tallest of the team, but again, this is by no means essential.
Last, but by no means least, we have the camera flyer. This is the person responsible for filming the team and ensuring the footage is passed on either to the coach or the judge (or both).
Judging of 4 way is done by watching the video submitted by the camera flyer, so they will need to make sure that the footage they capture includes the full shot of the team in a manner which makes it as easy as possible for the judges to judge.
It’s beneficial if the camera flyer has a strong working knowledge of 4 way, too. This allows them to understand the formations and capture them appropriately, and to position themselves well in the exit.
It is also important the camera flyer understands the different needs of those people watching the footage. On a training camp, the coach will be keen to see the footage from a close up angle to allow them to see the detail. The judges, on the other hand, would prefer the camera flyer be slightly further away, such that the screen is not filled with them but the grips occupy a central area and that the screen does not move around too much, making it easier for them to view and quickly see all the formations as they build.
In 4 way, there are also two ‘pieces’ – the ‘front piece’ and the ‘back piece’.
The front piece comprises Outside Centre and Point, with the back piece therefore being Inside Centre and Tail. In block moves where the formation splits into two parts, the parts are these two pieces.
In some moves, the individual team members are required to ‘slot switch’, meaning they swap from being the Outside Centre to being the Point, and vice versa (the same applies in the back piece). This means that a flyer might be Outside Centre as their “A slot” and Point as their “B slot” and will need to know each slot well in order to compete at the highest level.
The ‘formations’ are the shapes you’re required to build by taking hold of one another, usually on the upper arm, wrist and legs. This is why formation skydiving jumpsuits have grips on the arms and legs, to facilitate grip taking.
The formations can be broadly split into the categories of:
Technically speaking, there are 16 randoms, denoted by alphabetical letters (and excluding ‘I’). The formations are all ‘static’ shapes, meaning in order to perform them correctly, the team need only create the shape they see.
Once you get into FS, you’ll see that there are not just 16 randoms, but that many can also be mirrored or slots changed depending on what the preceding and following formations might be. For example, you might choose to build a formation as a mirror of the original if this gave a better shape for the next formation to be built quickly.
Randoms can themselves be split into:
- One person centres; for example, a random A, which has the OC occupying the centre
- Two person centres; for example, random H, which has both the IC and the OC sharing the central area
- Rounds; for example, random J, which has no one in the centre
The above categories can really help when working on the ‘engineering’ of a jump – which means working out how best to move from one formation to the next. If you’re struggling to work out the most efficient move, try drawing a point in the middle of your creeping area (creepers being the trolleys on which we lie to practice formation skydives) and consider how many people, and who, should be occupying the central area and also whether or not the formation is moving away from that central point as you progress. The aim is to keep the formation as static in the sky as possible, to be as efficient as possible.
Blocks, unlike static randoms, require movement. A block comprises:
- A beginning
- An ‘inter’
- An end
There are 22 blocks, denoted numerically, though, like randoms, these can be mirrored and slots can be switched, depending on what makes for the best engineering. This means that teams at the top of their game will have to learn 22 original blocks, plus all of their variants, and in their A and B slots. Phew!
It’s really important, with all of the above in mind, that you aim to fly well together.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest flyer in the world; if you can’t fly well with your team, calmly and with the correct timing across the team, you’ll struggle to succeed. Work together to make the skydive as efficient as possible and you’ll be rewarded with better skydives.
Competing in 4 way FS
Competing in 4 way is a great way to hone your skills and develop your abilities in the discipline.
The aim of the game is…
- Build the correct shapes
- In the correct order
- As many times as possible in 35 seconds
Each competition comprises 10 rounds (6 in a smaller competition) and every round comprises a sequence of formations which are draw at random prior to the competition starting. So a round might be F-J-7 and you would need to complete that sequence as many times as possible in 35 seconds.
Sounds simple, right? And, well, it kind of is… until you have to start actually flying it! The premise is easy, which is what makes it so accessible even to those just starting out in the sport. And you can compete as soon as you have your FS1 and are comfortable and safe to do so, with categories existing that encompass any experience level.
There are four categories in 4 way formation skydiving competitions:
Rookie is the category for those just starting out. In rookie, you are given a maximum of 3 formations to complete in a sequence, which you have to complete as many times as you can in the 35 second working time. Rookie teams only perform ‘random’ formations.
On the other end of the scale, AAA is for the most experienced teams and requires the team to perform every random and every block. In a AAA team, you are required to complete a sequence of 5 or 6 formations as many times as possible in 35 seconds.
The judging of formation skydiving is done by a team of very skilled judges who watch the videos captured by the camera flyer.
The key thing to note as a team is that it is your responsibility to show the judges the complete formations, and not their responsibility to see them. That means you need to fly with the judges in mind, being clear in your grip taking and building the correct formations calmly and together.
A coach is an invaluable addition to any competitive skydiving team.
Your coach will be able not only to show you how to do each move, but they will also be able to refine your moves as a team and help you find the most effective and efficient way to score as many points as you can.
You can pay for a coach, which is the best way to get high quality, dedicated coaching. However, it’s also worth considering the free coaching available to teams thanks to drop zones like Skydive Langar which host things like Progression Weekends, and also the roadshows run by British Skydiving throughout the year.
It’s just about skydiving…
There are plenty of tips you’ll gain over the years of formation skydiving, from how best to perform certain blocks, to techniques to exit the aircraft, to the best suit to wear and more.
But it’s not just the skydiving that will help you improve. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned as a team is that the ground stuff we do is arguably as important as the in air practice we get.
Here are some of our top tips for a successful team:
Be a good teammate
Being a good teammate isn’t just about being a great flyer. It’s about understanding the common goal of the team and working together to achieve success.
One way to be a better teammate is to spend time getting to know one another. Find out things like how stress manifests itself in each teammate and how they like you to respond if they are stressed. Learn what makes them happy and how to make them smile if times are tough.
It’s also really important you share your aspirations and understand everyone’s goals and experiences; remember, there’s a lot you can learn from one another and a whole lot more you can gain by working together.
Arousal – meaning the level to which our adrenaline is pumping – is a really valuable tool at your disposal.
Sports psychology suggests that, when we are at an optimum arousal level, we are best able to perform at our peak.
When our arousal levels are too low, this is where we’re too ‘chilled’ and can’t get enough energy to perform well. At the other end of the scale, if your arousal levels are too high or you’re too stressed, you’ll struggle to perform, too.
How this looks for each individual might differ, so get to know what optimal arousal looks like for you and your teammates. You can then find ways to mediate your arousal levels; feeling too stressed? Consider things like meditation or calming music before a round. Not feeling energetic enough? You might go for a run or get some pumping music going to get you ready.
While skydiving kind of is ‘just falling’, the reality of performing at the highest level is that it’s important to stay fit and healthy.
Work on your cardio fitness through exercises like running, cycling or swimming to prepare your body for training camps where you will have to work hard for sustained periods of time. Try yoga or pilates to help improve your flexibility and better perform the moves required. Use weight training to build your strength.
Exercising as a team can also be a great way to raise your endorphine levels which makes you feel happier and more energetic.
So… what now?
Whether you’re looking to get started in 4 way FS, or you’ve got a team already and would like some further tips, there are plenty of resources to help you, including:
- Events at Skydive Langar; there are events throughout the year, including Progression Weekends and events run by Chimera, to help you learn more – keep an eye on the Langar Facebook page for more information
- Roadshows and UKSL meets; British Skydiving hosts regular roadshows and smaller competitions throughout the year across the UK; keep an eye on the British Skydiving website for event information
- Skydive The Mag; has loads of articles you can read to learn more about FS
- YouTube; find videos of teams like Hayabusa and Arizona Airspeed to see how the best of the best do it
- The Chimera Facebook page; we regularly share our tips and can also be contacted for coaching and any help you’d like
Good luck and enjoy!