So, the 4 way formation skydiving championships is over for 2021 – but the 8 way version is still to come! Whether you’re in the early stages of training, are thinking of putting two 4 way teams together or just fancy doing something fun with some buddies, this post is here to help you, with some tips from some of our 8 way friends from Microclim8 and Chimeros.
And remember, if you’re not heading up to Hib for the 8 way, there’s going to be plenty going on right here at Langar to keep you entertained too!
What is 8 way and who can do it?
OK, first things first. What is 8 way formation skydiving?
8 way FS is the term used to describe the building of shapes (formations) in freefall using 8 people, plus a camera flyer who films it all.
The aim of 8 way FS is to complete as many formations as possible in a 50 seconds of working time. 50 seconds starts at the point the first person leaves the aircraft. You score a point for each formation and the team with the most points after 10 rounds is the winner.
Speaking very generally, the more people are in the sky together, the more potential hazards or risks there are, so if you’ve only just got your FS1, it’s advisable to stick to smaller groups before progressing to larger groups like 8 way. But if you’ve done quite a few 3, 4, 5, 6 ways, the upcoming 8 way comp could be a good chance to get your teeth stuck into something new by putting together your own 8 way team!
There are 3 categories of 8 way competition:
- Rookie – the most junior of categories, ideal for first timers, you’ll only fly the ‘random’ dive pool
- Intermediate – slightly more senior, good for people with a bit more experience, you’ll fly the ‘random’ dive pool and some of the ‘blocks’
- Senior – best for experienced 8 way-ers, you’ll fly all the randoms and blocks
If you’re new to 8 way, rookie is the category for you.
8 way vs 4 way
For those of you who have done 4 way before, it’s worth knowing that 8 way does have some similarities, but also some key differences.
Like 4 way, 8 way comprises a ‘dive pool’ which is a list of the shapes we need to make in the sky. And like 4 way, some of those shapes are static (“randoms”) and others require movement of solo flyers or ‘pieces’ made up of 2 or more flyers (these formations are called “blocks”).
8 way is also done belly to earth, the same as 4 way, and judged by judges on the ground who watch the camera person’s footage and count the number of successful builds and completions of the specified randoms and blocks in each round of the competition.
8 way teams, like 4 way teams, comprise various positions and ‘slots’ and you’ll retain your ‘slot’ throughout (unless the dive dictates you swap with someone in a ‘slot switcher’). However, there are more instances in 8 way where you might build formations with different ‘slots’ in different places than you would in 4 way, meaning that Point in your team might be in a different place to Point in your friend’s team depending on how you choose to build the shape.
The main difference is quite obvious – more people! Because of this, small discrepancies in the shapes at one end of the formation can have a huge effect on the other end so in some ways, 8 way does require even more precision to get it right (though the most successful 4 way is also that which is very precise).
Speaking very generally, 8 way is more difficult than 4 way for less experienced flyers for three reasons:
- The exits are trickier for less experienced jumpers; the ‘chunk’ launch is very stable but only if everyone gets their move right – but 8 way teams will mainly only do this exit so you at least have the advantage of being able to perfect it by doing it again and again
- The formations are trickier because they require more precision – but using our tips below will help
- The break off and canopy flight are potentially more hazardous, because there are more people in the sky
The 8 way dive pool
The 8 way formation skydiving dive pool can be seen below. The first is ‘randoms’ and will be used by rookie teams – you will only do randoms. The second is ‘blocks’ whch are used for intermediate and senior categories.
Knowing the dive pool will require some time but the investment is well worth it. The dive pool isn’t just shapes, it’s a common language for us to use; it’s much easier to dirt dive when you’re doing M-6-14 than it is to try dirt diving and having to explain that an M is a spider and that to build a spider you need to go here and you need to go here and so on.
Have everyone in your team put in the time to learn which letters correspond with which shapes, and what those shapes are. That’ll save you time and frustration, and mean you can put all of your focus on practicing the dive sequences and ‘engineering’ the best moves to get you from one to the next.
You can also find lots of 8 way FS skydives on YouTube – watch those to get more of an understanding of how the formations build.
8 way slots
To learn the dive pool, you’ll need to have planned your slots – which, for an inexperienced team, basically means choosing where you want to go in the door.
As we’ll explain below, there are 3 slots inside the aircraft and 5 on the outside, so you’ll likely start your decision making with a conversation around who wants to go inside and who wants to go outside. Then think about which slots make most sense based on your comfort levels and previous experience; the outside rear-most flyers will need to be comfortable with leaving early on the key and dropping down, while the outside front-most will need to slightly delay and push out hard. Rear-most divers will be hopping out more, while front-most divers will be diving more toward the tail. Generally speaking.
Think also about who will be responsible for the ‘key’ both on the exit and in the sky. On the exit, Outside Centre will typically give the signal for the exit (this being the third person from the front on the outside). They need to be confident in seeing everyone on the float rail (including the camera flyer) and confirming with the inside that everyone is ready before giving a clear and consistent key using their arm/leg/both.
In freefall, the key comes from two people, as you’ll learn more about below. It makes sense to have the two centres as the most experienced jumpers because they’re typically best equipped to review each formation as it builds and control the next move and overall speed of the jump – but this is something you can discuss as a team to find the best slots for you.
The 8 way exit
The 8 way exit is, for the most part, just one exit formation which is launched for everything, regardless of the first formation of that dive (some more experienced teams may add different exits, but even Microclim8, the current British champions, only do two).
The exit formation used by most 8 way teams is the ‘chunk’. It benefits from having a lot of cross-formation structure thanks to the fact that most people are holding on to people through its centre, and is also a relatively ‘compressed’ formation which means it takes us less space in the door and can be launched in full from aircraft like the Dorniers used at Hib for Nationals (at Langar, from the Caravans, we launch a 6 way chunk with 2 divers following).
To build the chunk, you’ll need 5 people on the outside float rail, and 3 inside ready to dive from the door. The connection points are between the inside and outside via ‘diamond’ grips, meaning that most people will be holding an arm and held onto by their leg.
So if we start with the front-most outside person, they hold onto the plane with both hands while the front-most diver takes hold of the outside person’s right arm using their right hand. The inside person is then holding the next outside person’s left arm with their left hand. Meanwhile, the next inside person is holding the first inside person’s left leg using their right hand, and the right arm of the next outside person with their left hand. This continues along until you get to the rear-most outside person, who is only holding on to the arm (or the leg) of the person just in front of them. We’ve tried our best to visualise this for you here!
And here’s what that looks like in real life:
Managing 8 way formations
The biggest challenge in 8 way formations (once you’ve got your head around what the shape is meant to be!) is in having the patience to allow it to fully build before you ‘key’ it (give the signal to the team to move to the next formation).
Usually, the centres are in control of the keys (inside centre and outside centre being the people closest to the middle of most formations). They share this responsibility because the idea is that both check to their right (or left) and then when they look back to one another, they know that both ends of the formation are in place and it’s time to key.
For 4 way flyers in particular, this can be a real test of patience, because in 4 way, we can usually see most things and plan our ‘last grips’ such that the whole team effectively keys together. Whereas in 8 way, it’s possible to be in place and then have to wait for other areas of the formation to build.
For less experienced teams, it’s also a real test of the ability to wait your turn before building. For example, in the majority of formations, you’ll want the middle to build first and then people on the outer edges to build onto that – the same as we do in any big way FS jump. It’s therefore possible for you to be in place and having to ‘hover’ and wait for the middle to build, as opposed to just jumping on your grips and potentially therefore stopping other parts of the formation from being able to build effectively.
Be sure to identify the two centres and to ensure there is clarity in your dirt dives over what each person is looking for and the grip plan (who will build what and when).
Your centres should also have a clear key – something visual that the whole formation can see, whether it’s a big nod of the head or a raised arm to communicate the move to the next point.
Engineering an 8 way dive
When we talk about ‘engineering’, we’re referring to the process of working out the best ways to build each shape to give us the most efficient moves from one to the next. Basically speaking, you want to minimise each individual’s move as much as possible, and also think about the momentum coming from each move so you’re making the most of any motion you might have from a previous move, rather than hindering yourself.
What makes this a little trickier is that 8 way isn’t 4 way but with more people; the angles become more important and you can no longer get away with building things on the wrong heading.
A slight change at the front of a few degrees could create a massive move at the back. You might need to slow / calm things down a bit to look after the shapes and see the pictures.
One thing that does really benefit a ‘scratch’ team is that you won’t have trained any of the formations (or at least not much) meaning that you can ‘slot’ them differently depending on what works best for the dive. So even if the dive pool pictures show you at the back of an A (a ‘catapillar’) but you might decide it makes more sense to have you at the front.
In 8 way, there’s a lot more flexibility; people can be swapped or the whole formation ‘mirrored’ so long as it is still the same shape. This is especially useful in 8 way where there can be many different options for the same formation. Trained teams will have a preferred version of each formation but for a scratch team, you can engineer the dives however you find the most efficient!
8 way break offs
8 way break offs work the same as other break offs in that you need to turn 180 degrees from the centre of the formation and track away. Because there are more people, the portion of sky each individual gets is smaller so the importance of a good, strong, straight track is even greater than something like a 4 way.
Be sure to agree a break off height that suits the experience level of your group – most teams will choose 5,000 feet as an altitude which allows for a good track and also gives you plenty of time to complete the necessary freefall time for the competition.
Managing 8 way teams
The biggest challenge of 8 way is actually not the jumps at all, but getting everyone together on the ground!
This might sound a bit silly but when we spoke to various members of 8 way teams, they all said the same – getting 9 people in one place is hard!
In order to make your experience as fun and stress free as possible, the key is to agree meet up times and stick to them. That means agreeing the time you’ll meet up for everything including the draw (when they decide the dives for the competition), the start of the day and regular points throughout the day where you meet to walk each dive again and keep it fresh in your mind.
And if you say you’re meeting at 11am, be there at 11am! It’s very frustrating for the rest of the team if one person out of the 9 fails to turn up at the specified time. Even worse if most people are there but one, then someone else uses the opportunity to ‘quickly go and get…’ and before you know it, everyone has disappeared!
You might also decide to elect one person as ‘captain’ and have them set the meeting times. This mitigates the issue of indecision and ensures you work effectively and efficiently, keeping everyone happy!
Other useful resources
Martin Soulsby kindly shared all these other resources for 8 way FS: