Lesson 6) Flashy Flying
Another wonderful day for a zip around the sky, don’t you think? Today’s flying lesson will be a bit of a treat for those of you who were chomping at the bit last week, as we will be moving on from the basics and covering then practicing some maneuvers that can jazz up your flying! No, sadly we are still not doing Wronski Feints, but we are at least talking about their existence and the pieces that make them up. Ah, but let’s not spoil everything. I’ll get right to it.
Showy or Sensible
Flying maneuvers are not just for showing off, despite what some may think. They actually have a number of practical uses as well, besides being useful in Quidditch or showing off for one’s friends. It’s best to be versatile on a broom, as you never know what will come your way… something that many of you learned while trying your hand at the practice courses last week. We’ll be starting off with some of the simplest (and most practical).
Almost a necessity if you’re planning to play any broom sport, being able to fly one-handed all or most of the time is a very marketable skill. Not only does it help Chasers carry the Quaffle, and Beaters carry a bat, but it also opens up a world of possibilities for the average broom user as well. Being able to fly one-handed means you’ll be able to pull out your wand to cast spells, if need be, pass, carry, or throw something (particularly useful if you’ve just flown to Diagon Alley for some shopping), and even just to scratch an itch on your nose. In short, it’s a skill that nearly everyone masters, no matter their ability with broom control.
Fortunately, there isn’t much to this skill. The main concern is maintaining balance and direction. To avoid problems with the first, we’ll be practicing taking one (or even two, if you feel daring) hands off your broom while hovering just a foot or so above the ground. This way, you can get a feel for balancing on your broom without supporting yourself with your hands, but also without fear of injuring yourselves. You can also try to fly slowly in a straight line with one hand at that same height to practice maintaining a direction. There are a few tips and common pitfalls I’d like to direct your attention to before we actually start, though.
One handy tip that can help with one-handed flying is to compensate for your loss of a hand by using your legs. To some degree, you can change direction by tightening your legs and moving the broom in the direction you want in concert with your one hand. Gripping the broom with your legs in addition to your hand can also aid stability (though just as we discussed yesterday, if you grip too firmly, you won’t be able to maneuver). Switching gears, a common thing to watch out for, particularly as beginner fliers, is not to accidentally take a nosedive or veer suddenly left when you take a hand off the broom. Many first time fliers find that if they take their right hand off the broom, they suddenly start drifting or turning right, as each of their hands was providing equal directional pressure on the broom rather than simply providing no pressure at all. That means that you were going straight simply because you were pushing on the broom with your left hand and right hand in an equal amount, rather than not pushing it in a direction at all. If this occurs, all you need to do is ease back on the pressure you’re exerting and keep the broom straight (and be mindful of this habit in the future). In rarer circumstances, you may find that one hand is providing downward pressure, while the other is stabilizing and providing counterpressure upward. In this case, be careful not to rocket up or fall down.
With all of this information in mind, let’s take to the skies… sort of. Just as in class yesterday, we want to practice as risk free as possible, so when you take off, stay low. As a reference, if you’re higher than my head, you’ve gone too high! Now, this will be a wonderful review of what we learned last week. Remember to summon your broom correctly, mount it, then kick off. Excellent, now just hover in the air for a few moments to get a feel for your particular broom today, and then feel free to start practicing one-handed. A bit shaky there, Mr. Spinks, try tightening your legs. That’s the ticket. Oh, Ms. Roper! Ease off with your right hand, remember we don’t want to be revolving on the spot! Much better. Well, that’s enough of that for now! Touch down and we’ll talk about our next maneuver.
Flying Side Saddle
The next flashy flying technique we’ll be discussing is another slight modification to the traditional broom-riding stance and involves sitting on the broom differently. Rather than sitting with one leg on each side of the broom, riding sidesaddle means that both of your legs are on one side of the broom. Often, people will sit on the side that allows their dominant hand to be in front (and therefore guiding the broom), which means right-handed people will hang their legs over the left side of the broom, with their right hand forward.
As you can see, this clearly builds on flying one-handed, as it is quite cumbersome to keep both hands on the broom handle when sitting this way. Additionally, it’s harder to stabilize yourself, as you can’t use your legs or knees to hold the broom. Why would people do it, then? A good question. Many people do this for reasons of modesty and fashion, for starters. As you know, many witches and wizards wear long robes as their main form of dress, and they typically do not wear a Hogwarts uniform under their robes. Their robes are their outer clothes. Therefore, doing so can cause their robes to ride up in uncomfortable and often embarrassing ways. Additionally, those with back, leg, or spine issues, or pregnant witches, may find this more comfortable than traditional broom riding.
Some tips and tricks -- along with common pitfalls -- are the last things to cover before we attempt this feat. Firstly, be aware that because you are not facing forward, your field of vision is limited. Therefore, you will not be able to see on both sides of the broom easily, and you will have to turn your head or use your peripheral vision to see what’s happening in front of the broom. Be wary that you don’t run into someone! As for tips, the best one is to practice this frequently at low heights. You’re unlikely to master it right away, but practice makes perfect, and just as before, be careful that one hand isn’t pulling the broom in one direction or another (unless you want it to). Keep it nice and steady and, if possible, try to use your mind and intent to influence the direction your broom goes, rather than yanking it around. Also, don’t be alarmed by the slightly different take off procedure, you can still sit on your broom, then kick off with your feet as normal. Your feet are just in a different place!
Now, we’ll take to the skies for another brief period to try this. I expect many of you will be wobbly, but just keep stability in the forefront of your mind and, for Godric’s sake, don’t go too high! I won’t be particularly chatty this time, as I’ve learned from experience I’ll need my wand at the ready for this practical section. One, two, three -- begin!
Climbing and Falling
Now that we’ve survived that ordeal and I don’t have to worry about you accidentally going too high, it’s time to talk about climbing and falling. No, not actual falling! We don’t typically do that on purpose. Instead, what I mean is changing one’s altitude, or how high or low one is in the sky. You’ll notice we covered how to decrease your height last week (as it’s necessary to land), but I didn’t teach you much about how to raise your level, other than during the initial take off portion. The reason for this is simple, it’s more important to be able to get down rather than to boost yourself up a dozen meters in the air! From your practice after class last week, it seems that many of you intuitively grasped the idea, that it’s the opposite of landing. To rise higher in the air, pull gently but firmly up on the handle of your broomstick. Just don’t lean forward at the same time or you’ll shoot up like a rocket! Try performing very subtle dips and rises, as changing your height at a moment’s notice is an invaluable skill. It increases your overall maneuverability significantly. The goal is to be able to change heights subtly and fluidly, rather than jumping from one extreme to the other in a jerky fashion. It will likely take some practice, so as always, practice close to the ground and in a supervised area so I can help! Before we try this out though, I’m going to quickly go over weaving, which is much the same, but instead of changing your position vertically, you change it horizontally.
Weaving is something you may have actually done already last week (though some of you not on purpose). Weaving is just a fancy term for moving your broom from one side to the other: curving lazily (or sometimes quite sharply) from one direction to another. This is quite simple to achieve, though fluidity and grace (and not nearly falling off your broomstick) comes with time and practice.
Now that we’ve covered dips and weaves, let’s take off and try both out. For these, you’ll need to fly up a bit higher than normal (as you’ll need room to dip down without running into the grass), but also make sure you spread out horizontally. Especially if we’re going to be changing direction suddenly, you’ll need at least two broom lengths between you and either of your neighbors. To start, let’s try setting out in a “straight” line from me to the Quidditch pitch way off in the distance. However, as you go along that line, try to slide back and forth and create a weaving pattern from left to right (while still going in that direction). Then, turn around as we did last week, and come back towards me, doing the same thing. Once you’ve finished that, we’ll do another circuit back and forth from me towards the pitch, but on this route, try to vary your height at different points. Remember, less is more! It’s difficult to know how your broom will respond right away, so start off with small changes, then increase, not the other way around!
Right, let’s get to it! On my whistle… three, two, one… Lovely, now set off, being careful not to run into each other. I’ve got my wand at the ready. Excellent lines, Ms. Moran. Very even. No, don’t crane your neck trying to see her, focus on your own flight! Try a more gentle angle, Mr. Hopkins. There, that’s more like it. Whenever you’re ready, feel free to touch down.
Flying in Formation
Finally we come to actual formations. This is the hardest thing we’re going to try today, as flying close to another person always increases the probability of a crash or something else going wrong, as you can’t always predict another person’s actions. Sometimes, even they can’t! We’re just going to practice a simple wedge formation used by Chasers in many Quidditch matches, albeit a very spread out wedge. In this case, the wedge involves you and two other students forming a three person-wide “wall” with no gaps large enough for another person to fly through. In Quidditch, players will often vary their height and distance right to left in tandem, changing quickly, but this requires more coordination than many of us have at the moment. So, we’ll just be aiming to stay “in sync” with each other in a straight line. Trust me, having to stay level, and stay close enough to your classmates while also flying perfectly straight will be enough of a challenge!
I’ll avoid commentating, as I think this will only distract you and, as always, my wand is ever at the ready. I’ll be grouping you in threes, with the odd group of four. If there are any confident fliers who’d like the extra challenge, please raise your hands. Excellent. You four go together, then. The rest of you, count off by threes. Good, good. Now, before I blow my whistle, take some time to strategize. Who’s going to be the middle person (which is arguably the hardest part)? What are your individual strengths and weaknesses? What speed will you all go? Talk through these points for the next five or six minutes and then, when I blow my whistle, you’ll all take to the air. When I whistle again, it’s time to come down. See how well you can coordinate/how long you can stay in formation in the meantime!
More Magnificent Maneuvers
Now that we’re back on solid ground, let’s talk a little bit more about aerobatic feats. What we’ve gone over today only scratches the surface of flamboyant high flying acrobatics. If you can think of it, it’s been done -- and in some cases, even if you can’t think of it! You can dive, dangle, do a loop-the-loop and that’s not all! Barrel rolls, broom surfing, and ballet moves are all still on the table as well. But, it’s important to note that all of these elaborate stunts are made up of smaller skills. A dive is executed, basically, by changing your altitude quickly and expertly, dangling from your broom is an extension of deviating more and more from the traditional riding posture (like flying sidesaddle and one-handed like we talked about today). If extreme feats are what you’re hoping to achieve, be sure to practice these foundational bits, and soon nothing will be beyond you!
For now, that’s all we have time for, as this block is ending. However, as before, if you have the time and the interest, feel free to stay behind and practice the various skills we covered today under (or I suppose, above) my watchful eye! You’ll also have a quiz on the various maneuvers covered today to keep your memory fresh, as well as an extra credit assignment to come up with a tricky tactic or new maneuver (used for Quidditch, daily flying, or some other situation) that was not covered today in class! Next week, I daresay I have a little surprise for you and, as always, come prepared to fly.