By IVY VELAZQUEZ
My heart was racing as the roar of the wind surrounded me, catching at the few strands of hair that were loose from my helmet. I resisted the urge to look down, focusing on keeping my chin up like I was taught, my arms and legs spread out. I felt a guiding hand on my arm, turning me so that I was now facing the group of people watching me.
I tried to wave at them; a few waved back before I was turned around again. However, it was not too long after that I felt my instructor’s arm wrapped around my waist and guided me to the entrance of the tunnel. Gripping the sides of the doorway, I swung my legs forward and touched ground, feeling wind-blown but exhilarated. I had just experienced my first indoor skydiving flight.
“iFLY is the experiential entertainment company that created modern indoor skydiving,” said Kylie Rhoads, a customer service representative for iFly Tampa. “We make the dream of flight a reality by giving our customers ‘wings’ in a safe and reliable environment.”
iFly started as Skyventure, LLC in 1998. They worked to develop a safe tunnel where customers could safely skydive indoors and once they did, they opened their first facility in 1999. Since, they have rebranded as iFly and now have 37 locations total in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. And they don’t plan on stopping there.
The Tampa iFly location started construction back in the summer of 2016. While the building doesn’t look like much from the outside, the inside contains a tall tunnel where flyers of all levels experience their flights. In fact, as I and my partner-in-crime walked in, we watched as one of the instructors put on a little show, unexpectedly shooting up and disappearing for a moment to the top of the tunnel.
Indoor skydiving offers the unique experience of being able to feel what it’s like to actually skydive without having to jump out of a plane at 14,000 feet. It involves a vertical wind tunnel that blows air upward for the flyer to lean into as they enter. It also enables inexperienced flyers to learn how to properly fall in a safe environment before they do take the leap. Even experienced jumpers use it to practice.
“While flying in the tunnel, skydivers are able to focus solely on their flying, free of distracting thoughts about altitude awareness, emergency procedures, etc,” Rhoads said.
iFly offers weekly classes for both adults and children, ages 5 to 16. In these classes, they can add onto their experience, learn advanced maneuvering procedures, and how to fly with a group of other flyers. They also offer private lessons and have been used as a way to help train some military; the simulated freefall offers a chance for them to develop their skills and get more coaching on flying technique.
You can also be trained to be an instructor through iFly. In order to do so, you have to complete the IBA Level One Flight Instructor Training Program, a program that consists of three weeks of training and long hours. However, you won’t be certified to jump solo for outdoor skydiving; there are a lot more classes that are required before you can get your license.
As someone who has been wanting to experience actual skydiving for years, this was a great way to get my feet wet. It’s definitely a good stepping stone for someone who may be thinking about it but may be a little nervous about it, if anything because it allows them to feel the thrill of it without the danger. For me, it just affirmed my own desire to jump.
Ivy Velazquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.