I’ve been eyeing indoor skydiving for a while and finally had an afternoon free — so I signed up for an impromptu session at Paraclete XP in Raeford. I went skydiving at age 16 (for real), and ended up landing in someone’s backyard, so more than 10 years later I thought I’d try a safer form of the sport that’s always intrigued me.
I pull up in the parking lot, and can immediately hear the sound of the wind tower powering up. I start getting excited. After walking in and signing my life away, I ride an elevator to the third floor of the building’s center tower.
The wind tunnel, a giant cylinder, is in the center of the room, surrounded by bleachers, so everyone gets a front-row seat to watch you repeatedly faceplant into the glass.
It’s a pretty basic design. At the floor level, there’s a metal mesh that supports your weight and lets the air flow through. The air is supplied by giant fans at the bottom, operated at the push of a button by a man who’s hopefully WAY more reponsible than your average carnival worker. Because the top of the cylinder is very solid. I’ve seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; I know what happens when you overdose on fizzy lifting drinks.
The first impression I get is that everyone at this place is super friendly. Sure, they’re flipping around like it’s nothing and about to watch me make a fool of myself, but they’re made of smiles and high fives. Radical, dude.
My co-flyer arrives, an older guy, Ken, who’s decided to try this because he had a stroke two years ago and is getting serious towards his bucket list goal of jumping out of an actual airplane. He brought his whole family, which is sweet and makes me, the loner, look even more weird.
We are paired with an instructor, David, who gives us the rundown on the body positions that will allow us to stay afloat, and the hand signals he’ll be using when he’s in the tunnel with us. We pull on windsuits, ear plugs, goggles and helmets. I can’t hear shit but I’m excited.
Naturally, I go first. And naturally, I suck. Once the wind hits me, I forget most of what the instructor has said. But, I manage to get stable — until I start flying higher, freak out, flip end over end, and make a weird gasping noise in my throat as I hit the wall. Thankfully, David grabs me and puts me back into position. I exit with shame but a smile.
So then Ken goes, and he’s awesome. A complete natural. Of course.
My next turn is much better — at least I manage to stay horizontal. And at the end of my run, David grabs my side and whirls me up to the top of the wind tunnel. Fast. It’s terrifying, exhilarating and just damn fun. I come down with a huge smile, a little drool and a little windburn, and am welcomed with high fives all around.
Abbi Overfelt is the editor of The Sway. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org