Mind that first step

I’d promised the children a bit of a treat after we had needed to reschedule a visit to a local adventure park recently. But what to do?

It seems there are plenty of options for ‘family’ entertainment nowadays, but I was conscious of their need for some adrenaline fuelled adventure, having cancelled jumps down water chutes, vertical descent slides and log flumes, so what better than to take them all to one of the many indoor skydiving centres which has sprung up around the UK.

The idea here is that a wind tunnel is built to provide a vertical column of air into which the individual ‘falls’, the premise being that the speed of the air rushing up at terminal velocity provides enough pressure to allow the body to remain in equilibrium against the inexorable force of gravity. Sounds simple, hey?

I had booked the slot at the Airkix site in Basingstoke some weeks previously, but had decided to leave the details of the actual surprise until closer to the time. So since we were due to ‘fly’ on the Friday afternoon, the great unveiling happened on Thursday evening.

The boys and Savannah were over the moon. Liz was not.

Liz Highfly
Liz Highfly

Some years ago when we were ‘courting’, back in those dim and distant days when we had no children, I had been doing some static line jumps from 3000ft – this used to be the common way of doing things, but nowadays AFF courses are more prevalent and the preferred way of getting to a Freefall stage of skydiving a lot sooner. Anyway, I digress. In some of our early conversations, Liz had admitted that in order to ‘woo’ me, she would have been willing to go parachuting. Nothing ever came of this, and judging by the way the blood drained from her face when I broke the details of the exciting surprise to her, it is unlikely that anything ever would have.

Still, when the boys and I explained the process to her, she calmed a touch, although did not commit to joining us inside what she perceived was going to be a vortex of death.

Her view had not changed by the time we had arrived the next afternoon, but donned a brave face at the same time as she donned her natty skydiving overalls, a pair of which we were all given for our flights, along with goggles and a helmet.

The instruction video was rudimentary, but more than sufficient for first timers and after watching the previous group complete their experience, and praying at least that we did not end up looking more foolish than them, it was soon time for us to enter the chamber of horror.

Our instructor for our flying, whose name was Stuart, was confident and put Liz very much at ease. Nobody wanted to go first into the whirling tornado so I obliged.

Joshua controlled
Joshua controlled

It was a strange sensation falling over into the airflow but Stuart stabilised we and gave me directions to look up and straighten my legs a touch. I only had one oops where I turned over completely, when I mistakenly followed my instinctive desire to move my balance to one side, which happened to be the wrong side! My time was over quickly.

Morgan was next and had a great time. His nerves did not show and he also got the hang of it quite quickly.

Luke threw himself into it and was soon bouncing up and down around the small chamber.

Joshua was probably the most stable of all of us and seemed naturally at ease in the torrent of air and most stable of all of our team.

Savannah, we were expecting to fly around all over the chamber, being the smallest, but the crew obviously take account of size of the little ones and she managed as well as any of us.

Liz had been nervous from the start but also managed just as well as the rest of us and was soon controlling her motion around the air with Stuart only providing minimal corrections, as he had with all of us.

If you only watch 1 minute of the youtube video playlist below, watch Savannah-2 (#11 on list) where she does her high flying – it’s very cute.

httpvp://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLACQ265ViibnpH2BkNdyHpJCkr9feZ4A_

After the other members of our group, which included a young girl on her own and a elderly couple that we thought were incredibly brave to even contemplate doing this, we then had another turn. Our minutes went incredibly fast, but our return into the wind column was better for all; after only a brief period of time, we were learning the skill of controlling our balance and remaining stable in the fast moving air – what could be less instinctive, but yet broken down into its simple component parts, we were visibly improving already.

Stuart had also asked if we had wanted to do what they referred to as a ‘high-flight’ – this consisted of him guiding us up to the top (10-15m) and down to the bottom of the air column, 2-3 times in about 20 seconds. It was a bit of a rush, but really all too fast to concentrate on and I just enjoyed the ride, although the g-force from spinning and ascending and descending so quickly caused such a distortion to the huge grin on my face, I spend most of my high-flight time trying to stop saliva dribbling out of my mouth and all over my face – an experience I subsequently learned was shared by Morgan and Liz, who also went for the ‘experience’.

Savannah also did the high flight, but because of her small size and presumably light weight, was whipped up and down by Stuart, holding tightly onto her with his arm around her waist, at a real rate and managed four ascents in her half minute. It was very cute to watch.

Luke and Joshua were not so keen and so practised at the normal level and did a fantastic job, looking very stable and controlled by the end of their turns.

All in all it was a great experience and everyone came away buzzing with excitement and wanting to go again.

Clearly this is not a natural thing to do and people are rightly anxious before trying it out, but as with most things in life, there is a huge amount of effort that goes into ensuring the safety of the experience and we are lucky to be living in an age where we can do these things and enjoy life to the full 🙂

 

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