I’m linking up with Lakeshore Runner for Tri-ed It Tuesday. Wait till you get a load of what Shark Boy and I tried the weekend before last!
OK, this post is going to be off-topic, since it’s got nothing to do with triathlon, or fitness or any of the usual subjects. I suppose it is related to active family living, as one of the ways we manage to get the whole family involved in physical activities and travel is to treat our life as an ongoing adventure. Plus, the experience was simply too cool not to use this space to shout about it.
During the winter, we were taking the Lightning Kid to a hearing test at ErinOak Kids. I spotted a building called iFly and deduced it was dedicated to indoor skydiving; something I had read about when I was a kid, and seen on TV, but never experienced. The idea is that you’re put in a wind tunnel that simulates the air rushing by you when you’re in free fall. By assuming a spread-eagle position, you float on the air currents. All the fun of sky diving without jumping out of a perfectly good airplane – far less risk, somewhat less adrenaline.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife was taking mental notes, and gave me a pass to be used in the future as a Valentine’s Day present. I waited for my chance (i.e. a break in our weekend schedule) and took Shark Boy, as they take kids as young as 4.
We had booked a 6:00PM slot, so after a rushed dinner at Boston Pizza, where I think Shark Boy was too excited to eat even his favourite foods, we walked into the facility and reported to the front desk. I was sent to a screen to fill in waivers for the two of us. They asked the usual health questions you’d expect, as well as asking about a history of shoulder dislocation. Doing it digitally was nice since it auto-filled a lot of Shark Boy’s information with mine (e.g. address, email, and phone number).
After that, we were weighed for the record and sent upstairs to the viewing area where we could see flights in session. We were told we’d have about 2 and a half hours of time to spend there which would include some training time. I worried about Shark Boy’s attention span for any classroom orientation, but watching others tackle their flights was exciting enough to keep him engaged.
We were assigned a group number, and our instructor, Mike G, came to the viewing/waiting area to gather us into a classroom. He was very laid-back and casual, and told us the classroom training would be an hour and a half. That was apparently a joke, as it turned out to be about 15 minutes. He was great and engaging kids and adults alike, and walked us through the basic rundown of what our flights would be. We had two flights each, although you could book 4 beforehand and one lady in our group had. The suggested method for her was to make her flights twice as long, and still have two sessions which would give her more time to hone her skills.
Mike explained the basics of the correct body position; the hips should be the lowest point of the body, the hands should be level with the plane of vision and most importantly the chin should be up. There are hand signals used in the tunnel because between the ear plugs and helmet for protection and the noise of the turbine, you can’t communicate verbally. Some of the signals are for safety, some for guidance (straighten your legs=two straight fingers, bend your legs=two bent fingers), but my favourite was ‘relax’… it’s the old ‘hang loose’ sign from surfer culture (thumb and pinky extended from the fist).
He showed a video to get us oriented with the basics of entry and exiting the tunnel, and it ended with an expert rising to the top of the chamber and diving back down in an array of flips and turns. One concerned parent asked if it was possible for someone (especially a child) to rise up that high accidentally. The answer was no, it actually took a high degree of skill to get up that high – you need to build up momentum somehow. Of course, getting us excited about getting to that skill level is how they get people to come back!
I made sure Shark Boy was paying attention and repeated as much as I could to him to make sure it was sinking in, I also volunteered him to lie on a special chair to simulate the position. I probably came off as a little intense, but I just wanted to make sure we got the most out of the experience (it’s not cheap!)
We headed out of the classroom, and got suited up. The jumpsuits have little handles on the back to make sure the instructor (who is in the chamber with you) can control your motion if necessary. You can’t bring valuables (including cameras or phones) into the wind chamber with you, but they have lockers which are easy to use. I snapped a few pics before putting everything away.
There’s a control booth with a window into the chamber where an operator can control the wind speed (or shut it down completely) and also a camera recording video (so they can sell you a DVD of the experience, of course). While we were waiting for our group to get its turn, I checked out a few facts that were printed on a wall. Apparently the wind tunnel is built with the motors at the top, meaning the air is actually being sucked from the top as opposed to blown from the bottom – though it does feel like the wind is coming from below, and your cheeks and face show it. There was also a list of other such facilities all over the world – I only counted 26, so figure we’re lucky here in the Greater Toronto Area (this place was built in 2014).
I have to tell you, each individual flight is only a minute long, which seems dreadfully short when you’re spending 2 hours there, but I swear the time flies (my puns are always intended). The inner chamber’s floor is simply a net that air can flow through, but enough to cushion your landing should your flight skills not be up to scratch. You enter the inner chamber through a doorway, and just outside that is a bench where you wait for your turn. The kids went first, and when they get in, they all flop around like fish out of water. The instructor is very attentive to every possible movement and keeps the whole situation under control though – that’s for adults as well as children. I sat on the bench next to Shark Boy, because I wanted to make sure his exit was as smooth as possible. I needn’t have worried, since it went perfectly.
For my first flight, I was glad to be able to go independently, without Mike holding on to me, though I had a bit of a laugh at how I crashed into the sides. I even mugged for the camera.
We went through the entire line-up, and when it was the second round, the girl at the front of the line had lost an earplug. The effort of getting it put back in meant shutting down the turbine for a minute or two, and by the time we had everything going again, she had lost her nerve. She declined a second flight. Then the kid behind her (her brother, same age as Shark Boy, I believe) declined too. I was worried that it would be contagious and Shark Boy would follow suit, but no, he was game. On the second flight, you’re a little more comfortable and you do a little better. Shark Boy flew in what we called a ‘helicopter’ with both he and Mike in the air unanchored, spinning around the tunnel, and I got right up to the top of the viewing window, which apparently is as high as a beginner can get.
The session ended with our instructor Mike demonstrating flips and spins with big rises to the top of the chamber (a good 30 feet up from the floor) and dives to within inches of the floor.
Once the group’s session was over, we got out of our flight suits, and there was an option to save on future flights if we purchased them that day. It was enticing, but I wasn’t willing to commit. If we do go back, we’ll spend less time in orientation and the flights will cost less. As part of our package, we got the DVD and I managed to not only rip the video from it, but edit it to show only the exciting parts (i.e. Shark Boy’s flights and mine).
I talked at length with Shark Boy about how glad I was that he didn’t chicken out because this was a really rare experience that not everyone will ever get to enjoy. I really meant that.
What do you think? Would you give it a try? What about the real thing (i.e. jumping out of a perfectly good airplane)?