For many reasons, sometimes you will open after your skydive at a not-so-ideal location. Perhaps there were a lot of groups ahead of you in the plane that took a while, or the winds have shifted, or you did a tracking dive and you ended up off of the wind line.
The first thing you should always do before you leave the ground is know what the spot should be and where the uppers are. In this modern age, this is easily found via apps on your smart phone, or on websites like aviationweather.gov. You can always ask too if you are not sure - I (Wendy) will always be able to tell you what the spot is for the day. In Central Texas, around the Austin area, typically winds are high in the winter and spring and light at other times of the year. In the winter it is not uncommon to have 30-40 knot upper winds, and sometimes upper winds will come from opposing directions than the ground winds. This can make both spotting tricky, and also getting back to the drop zone can be more challenging.
You should always look out of the plane and spot before you jump. Even if you are not the first group out, you can be looking out the windows so you have a good idea what direction you are heading and where over the ground you are. If the spot is bad, it is ok to ask the pilot for a go-around or a 180 to make a better spot.
There is a concept called the stationary point - if you are pointing a certain direction under canopy, ground you will be able to fly over will look like it is moving towards you in your field of vision, ground that you won’t get to will appear to be moving away, and there is a point that is stationary in your vision. That point is where you will touch down if you do nothing else.
Finding that destination point is key. Because once you do that, you can experiment and figure out what technique makes that stationary point the furthest enabling you to get back. Even jumping the same canopy, I have had wind conditions where deep brakes work better than rear risers. Other days rear risers work better. It is important to remember that the best technique of rear risers is half an inch to an inch of rear risers. More than that and you are stalling the canopy and you are actually making your situation worse.
In CRW we call that the ferris wheel. When a user is coming up to dock on a formation, they often are flying in a bit of rear risers. But often they will then add a bit too much rear risers which will actually cause them to drop. And they fly in a ferris wheel behind the formation. So if you use your rear risers, it is important not to do too much.
If you are always watching that stationary point, you can experiment with quarter brakes/half brakes/deep brakes/risers and figure out what is working best.
A mistake that is often made is spiraling down in high winds - you need to be aware that 50% of the time you are spiraling you are pointing downwind. The best way to hold your position is just pointing straight into the wind..
It is important to always keep somewhere safe to land when you are flying back. You never want to put yourself in a position where you have to make it all the way back or you will be landing in obstacles. You don’t want to get so focused on making it back that you have to land downwind or forget to flare because you are so focused on clearing a fence. There have been fatalities where people were barely making it back and then doing a low turn to get back into the wind. Always have somewhere safe to land - at Skydive Temple if you are long to the south you can work your way back but always keeping an open field that you can land in if you don’t get all the way back. Sometimes it is better to land off than to take a chance and crossing obstacles.
If landing off, always fly a landing pattern and look for poles/fences and other obstacles. If possible, take a cell phone with you when you jump so you can contact the drop zone if landing off.
Skydive Temple is located near Austin, TX, and we have thousands of open fields around us to land in. If you move to other parts of the country, you may not be that lucky. Learn to be safe here, and it will help you wherever you travel to.