When I was a little kid, I thought skydiving sounded like a great idea. You get to soar rather than fall, it lacks the freaky bounce back effect of bungee jumping, and–best of all–you can do it attached to a qualified professional. However, with age comes paranoia, and with every passing year, my enthusiasm about jumping out of an airplane waned significantly.
Online coupon sites are notorious for selling you stuff you never knew you wanted, from glow-in-the-dark mini golf getaways to floats in sensory deprivation tanks. I’m usually pretty good at condemning my daily deal alerts to my inbox’s recycle bin, but one fine London morning I awoke to a deal from Bodyflight UK, an indoor adventure sport center in Bedford, a short train-ride away from London. Bodyflight offers all kinds of random activities, ranging from indoor surfing to race car driving simulation, but the offer in question was for an indoor skydiving session, at a ridiculously low rate. I had no idea what indoor skydiving was, but nevertheless decided to call up a friend of mine who I knew would be up for an adventure. We set up our appointment for the following week.
I did a little Googling and found out that indoor skydiving generally takes place in a vertical wind tunnel–an indoor silo in which wind is pushed vertically with such speed and force that one can literally float on air. These tunnels are popular among professional skydivers, who use them primarily to practice free-fall tricks and formations before doing them in the sky.
We arrived a little early, as requested, and were given tight-fitting blue spacesuits to slip over our clothes, along with helmets (to protect us in case we flew in the wrong direction, I assume) and earplugs (to help us deal with the loud sounds and pressure generated by the tunnel. We were then instructed on the proper way to position our bodies during indoor skydiving and how to alter the position of our arms and backs in order to go higher and lower within the tunnel. After the brief lesson, we were escorted into the waiting area next to the tunnel, where we watched a group of professional skydivers from the Middle East perform a choreographed series of flips and swivels in the tunnel, all with seeming ease.
You know someone is good at something when they make it look effortless. And the skydivers I was watching must have been really good at what they do, because skydiving, even indoors, is not easy. At all.
With the help of my instructor, I entered the tunnel and positioned myself belly down, arms semi-outstretched, just as I had been instructed. And I sank to the ground. Now I’m on the small side and probably weighed less than most people using the tunnel, but for some reason my body felt like a dead weight. When I finally adjusted the arch of my back enough to start floating just a bit, my turn was over. The second time in the tunnel was much easier for me, and I began to surrender my trust to the instructor a bit and adjust to the incredibly odd, yet understandably exhilarating, feel of defying gravity. By the time my third and final round in the tunnel came along, I had enough confidence in myself and trust in my instructor, to allow him to guide me up to the very top of the tunnel and spin me around a bit. All the fears I had about being off the ground were replaced with a strong sense of acceptance, and I was finally able to let go and simply enjoy flying. Then my short turn was over and it was time to go home.
On the train ride back to London, my friend and accomplice in flying and I decided we would go skydiving for real one of these days. It has yet to happen, but it will when the time is right. Or when I get a Groupon for it.