Parachutes linked in a stack formation as part of a competitive skydive which can teach us about epic content marketing.

Competitive Skydiving and Content Marketing

I watched my teammate kick his feet out of my parachute lines and disappear from view over the top of my canopy as I had seen him do hundreds of times before. I focused on the horizon and then got yanked back into the parachute below me and engulfed with slippery nylon fabric as my canopy collapsed. It was then that I realized that things had gotten ugly…but I was sure it would all turn out fine.

Skydiving canopy formation with the second parachute beginning to collapse. Things don't always go right in skydiving or in content marketing.
While this is not an image from the specific skydive referred to in this article, this is very similar to how it looked at the beginning…this is not what a winning jump looks like.

What are canopy formation rotations in skydiving?

This particular skydive was part of a canopy formation competition jump at the 2000 US Nationals Skydiving event in Perris, CA. For anyone who hasn’t competed in canopy formation (CF) rotations, the general idea is that each member of your team of four skydivers (and a camera person) exits the airplane and opens their parachutes right away.

You have thirty seconds to fly into each other, stacking up below the previous jumper, grabbing ahold of the lines on each other’s parachutes, and then you have 90 seconds for the person on the top to fly down to the bottom as many times as possible. Your score is the number of four stack formations you complete (don’t try this at home kids).

This is what canopy formation (CF) rotation skydives should NOT look like. These are various practice jumps gone wrong.

As my teammate’s parachute wrapped around my head and body, I happened to be looking down and could still see him below me, looking up at me, and I wasn’t surprised that he looked as calm as I felt. Common sense says that we should not have been calm, we should have been panicking. This was the exact situation our initial skydiving instructors and fellow skydivers had always warned us about when we started. No wonder they had always told us to avoid other parachutes at all costs.

But it was fine. Because we had been doing this for years, we had been in similar situations. Not exactly like this, but close enough that we knew we could deal with whatever the circumstances threw at us.

The importance of trust, communication, and consistency

We trusted our gear, our emergency procedures that we had practiced thousands of times, and each other. We knew we would communicate, help each other, and make the right decision for this situation.

We also knew to not react immediately. To determine the level of threat or risk before committing to another decision. We knew we were still above 3,000’ and had plenty of time and altitude to fix whatever issue was going on.

Our consistency, our belief in the process, our faith in our gear and our training, and the fact that we had done this same thing hundreds of times before provided the confidence we needed to know that everything would work out. We had options. We weren’t failing, we were learning at an accelerated pace.

Skydivers exiting the plane and opening their parachutes right away.
The team exiting the plane on a practice jump.

Content marketing is like skydiving

And it’s the same with content marketing. Having that trust in your existing process, in your ability to communicate to your audience, and building a consistent habit of content creation can give you the confidence you need to explore new ideas and tactics.

If you’re thinking about launching a new newsletter or podcast, start doing it. Establish a regular schedule and stay consistent. Once you’re current and have been doing this new thing for a few months, start pushing yourself to try doing different things, switch up formats, or explore new topic ideas. Be prepared to fail. It’s okay. You can always go back to what you were doing if the new thing doesn’t work.

Don’t go in thinking that you have to only put out the best newsletter ever or have the greatest podcast episode every time. Take that next step…start practicing so that you can start exploring and trying new things with the ultimate goal of creating the best content.

And, the more you practice, the more you create, the more you can explore. Along with learning the craft of your content, every piece that you create gives you comfort and confidence in your process, your skills, and your opportunities.

We would do dozens of practice jumps trying to do everything one specific way as best we could and then studying the results. Then we would try changing one thing and do a dozen jumps that way to see if we started seeing any improvement.

Content marketing is all about experimenting and trying out new things. You can’t get better if you’re not exploring and pushing your limits. Imagine it as your own thrilling adventure. To get better, you have to explore new frontiers, pushing the boundaries of your creativity and ideas. Don’t overthink it—dive right in. Establish a regular schedule and stay consistent.

This is closer to what a canopy formation (CF) rotation skydive should look like. This was from the 2003 Skydiving Nationals in Chicago.

After several seconds of weightlessness, I felt my parachute re-inflate over my head and I knew that my teammate above me had cleared himself from what had been a tangled mess of fabric and lines. I couldn’t look up and see that for myself because I was completely entangled in nylon at that point. Not a comfortable position to be in, especially with my 200-pound teammate dangling off me, but I could still breathe and I could hear him below me asking in a calm, steady voice, “How are you doing up there?”

“I’m good, but I don’t think this is going to clear.”

“All right, I’m chopping,” and then I felt the canopy around me relax as he pulled the handle to release his main parachute and fell away to pull his reserve parachute (always essential to have a backup). Once the tension came off the parachute, it was pretty easy for me to clear it off my body, wad it up, and hold it between my legs as I flew down to the landing area.

I saw all my other teammates all landing and, as soon as we got to the ground and collected all our gear, we headed back over to the packing area where we immediately started repacking the reserve and main parachutes so that we could go back up, and do it all again. All the while, talking about what happened, why it happened, how to prevent it, and what we learned from that failure.

We were able to deal with this situation in a calm and effective manner, without giving in to fear and panic, because we had a strong understanding of the process, the options, and trust in our teammates.

We didn’t score any points for that particular jump, but we did learn the importance of consistency, communication, and trust. That jump was more than 20 years ago and that lesson still sticks with me to this day.

Demolition CReW skydiving team photo from the 2003 Skydiving Nationals event.
The Demolition CReW skydiving team, 2003.

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