PREFACE - Many years ago I wrote the following post on a BASE forum called BLinc Magazine and today my opinions on this topic remain the same:
"Because it takes time and training to gain the proper skill to be using toggles as Plan A, I am not recommending toggles over risers or visa versa. Even though I am a toggle guy, I still think using risers is a suitable method of dealing with an off-heading opening. I don't really go for the whole Toggles VS Risers debate. Thats why I called my article Risers or Toggles. It is what it is. I am pro-toggles and pro-risers.....get the job done!!! Having said that, I do have a personal preference, which I have expressed clearly with reasons and cautions."
Risers or Toggles
by Johnny Utah
The subject of how best to correct an off-heading opening comes down to a personal choice. Regardless of whether you use the risers or toggles, you can have an object strike resulting in serious injury or death. That is the reality of BASE jumping. I make no recommendation with this article. Its intention is only to inform you about my thoughts on this subject. Most of my thoughts contained in this article were derived from a personal desire to develop and use the most effective techniques to help me survive BASE jumping. Any and all techniques, methods, styles, knowledge, etc. you use during a BASE jump, you do so at your own risk. This applies whether you made up that technique yourself or learned it from someone else.
I am a toggle guy. Being so has probably been the critical factor in me being able to prevent my death or serious injury at least 5 times that I can think of while writing this. Even so, I am in no way trying to persuade anyone to start making toggles their plan A instead of risers. I have always taught that it is completely a personal choice and if a jumper chooses to only use the risers in these situations for their entire BASE career, that is fine; I would never criticize that. I tell people the full picture. That way they at least know the real pros and cons of the options they have in front of them.
Everyone will agree that the most important thing to avoid an object strike is that corrective action must happen immediately upon opening (to me that means within 1 second).
In order to be using the toggles safely as your plan A, two conditions MUST be met.
Once a jumper has met the two conditions I mentioned above, then they can consider making toggles their plan A. It is a completely personal choice. You must be dialed-in and skillful. My plan A on every jump is my toggles, my plan B is my risers, and my plan C is any line(s) (preferably a rear outside line; the steering line would be ideal).
Here are some main points that I believe in on the subject of using risers or toggles as your Plan A for a heading correction.
I teach students to start out making their plan A using the risers. This is for two reasons:
I also teach my students that at some point in their BASE jumping career, they may want to consider developing a skill that I call a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab. I realize this is a term most BASE jumpers are not familiar with. It is just something I made up many years ago while teaching BASE to act as a descriptive label for one of the requirements necessary to use toggles upon opening.
A For-Sure-Toggle-Grab requires skill and proper technique, which takes practice to develop. The term means that through practice and time, a jumper has developed the skill to instantly have their hands in the toggles for sure every time using muscle memory (without having to look). If a jumper has developed this skill well, they can have the toggles released just as fast or faster than it would take to grab the risers.
Once a jumper has developed this skill they may want to consider making their plan A going for the toggles, whereby their plan B will then become going for the risers. It is completely and totally a personal choice.
The reason I tell people about developing a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab is because the advantages of using the toggles are HUGE. Anything you can do with the risers, you can do WAY better with the toggles. But you must have the skill to be in your toggles every time without fail. Many BASE jumpers will always make their plan A going for the risers and I do not criticize that at all. I totally understand. What is most important is that something has to happen immediately. You cannot be fumbling around trying to get your toggles.
On jumps using the LRM (line release mod), a basic canopy flight skill that is important and needed, is knowing how to turn and flare the canopy effectively with the toggles while using the LRM. This basic skill will also apply while using the toggles for a deployment heading correction on a (slider down) jump while using the LRM.
Once in awhile the risers might be moving all over the place like with a violent off-heading and you might miss a toggle (keep in mind you can easily miss a riser like this too). Then immediately resort to plan B; look and grab the risers, they are easier to grope.
I think it is smart to stick with the same plan A on every jump. It keeps you on your game. If you are practicing new techniques then choose an object without the danger of an object strike. Because new BASE jumpers have not yet developed a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab, using the toggles on a jump where an object strike is possible is not an appropriate option, but of course it is always the jumpers call.
I have studied the video of Slims wall strike and I talked to him personally about it. First, his arm motion and technique were different than what I find to be most effective. I like to do fluid continuous motion where my arms go out just a little bit while reaching up and then I insert my hands into the toggles going from the outside moving inward with my 4 fingers together, thumbs up, and palms facing me. As my hands enter the toggles they will catch on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger and I simultaneously take a grip. I then continue the motion inward and down. Second, the main problem that occurred for Slim is that he did not have his toggles properly prepared. You can see it clearly in the video; his toggles were laying flat against the risers.
The toggles must be open to perform a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab again and again without fail. There are two ways to set up the toggles. (I prefer #1-the reverse fold method.)
One more important element of proper toggle set-up is to have the toggle settings dialed-in. This includes at least these 2 things:
One of the most common misconceptions about the subject of deployment heading correction is the belief that using the toggles will cause the canopy to surge forward. That is not true. The only way the canopy will have any additional surge upon and after the brake settings being released, is if the pilot allows the toggles back up or keeps the toggles up after releasing the brake settings. The canopy pilot is in control of that. If you wish to stop the canopy, keep pulling the toggles down quickly during and after the brake settings are released. The canopy will hover, then stall, and then fly backwards. If the pilot does allow the canopy to surge forward unintentionally, then that jumper is going for a ride instead of flying the canopy; and that is the problem, not because he/she used the toggles.
I have an immense amount of flying backwards time under my belt and in my opinion a 7-cell canopy flies backwards very nicely with the toggles. I used that technique on my very first BASE jump...saved my life. That was on a 1,000 foot antenna and now days I do not use that technique ever really because I have learned how to turn the canopy on a dime with the toggles; so that is what I always do in a tight spot.
Keep in mind, when you are flying backwards, you are in a complete and accelerated stall. That is why I think flying backwards to get out of a tight spot on a low object is a risky endeavor. If it came down to having to ride the ball to the ground, I would MUCH rather do that with toggles than with risers.
Here are four relevant experiences:
A few final thoughts:
Video References (at johnnyutah.com)
Toggle Heading Correction During Opening
Air-to-Air Video - Toggle Heading Correction
Dwain Weston's POV video of the jump talked about in relevant experiences #3 above
*** Zakynthos Backflip ***
Cliff Backflip (slider-down). Upon opening facing the wall, only toggles were used to back away and turn away from the wall with little altittude loss.
Because there are so many aspects to this subject, any duplication is only permitted in whole.