Chicago, IL

Indoor Skydiving in Chicago is Like the Real Thing in Some Ways and Not at All

Rene Cizio

In my continued attempt to overcome my fear of falling I took an indoor skydiving class. You probably didn’t know there was such a thing as indoor skydiving. I sure didn’t.

The thing that appealed to me most about indoor skydiving is that nobody — especially not this body — is jumping or falling out of a plane at 13,000 feet. Sign me up!

They say there’s no other feeling in the world like skydiving. To that, I say thank God.

Considering Skydiving?

If you’re thinking about skydiving for the first time, want to practice your technique, or just want something fun to do, I highly recommend trying indoor skydiving.

You don’t need to be an athlete or in the best shape of your life and I’m proof of that. If I did it, you can too. I tried indoor skydiving (pre COVID) at iFly in Chicago, 800 W Scott St, Chicago, IL.

What you need

You don’t need anything but a lack of humility for indoor skydiving. Oh, you also need to be at least 40″ tall and less than 260 pounds.

Instructors help you with a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles, and earplugs. They even teach you how to step into the verticle wind tunnel, so it’s pretty foolproof.

Flight Team Preparation

Once you arrive you’re assigned a group to fly with unless you come with your own group of about 10 people. Then, everyone puts on a jumpsuit. If you’re a short, plump woman there is no worse outfit. Mine was the only aqua blue in a sea of red and grey so I received extra attention.

We went as a group into a training room to watch a video on safety and procedure and for our instructor, Victor, to teach us hand signals.

We needed to learn signals because it turns out that being in a massive verticle tube filled with enough wind to propel 250 pounds is really loud.

There were several signals we’d need to remember. I didn’t realize I’d signed up for a sign language class and I worried I wouldn’t remember them and get sucked into a vortex due to my own ineptness. Victor said not to worry about that.

I’m only good at like two hand signals, you know the ones

Still, I decided the better approach for me was to ensure I was perfect in my movements so I didn’t need sign language instruction.

Luckily, Victor decided to use me as the classroom dummy to practice on and demonstrate positioning. I like to think it’s my charming and happy-go-lucky nature that often makes me the person picked out of a crowd for public humiliation.

I stood at the front of the room with him while I demonstrated how to hold the correct pose while interpreting his hand signals, which I did wrong. These are the moments I live for.

Lesson complete, we headed for the tunnel.

Entering the Waiting Area

Suited, educated, helmeted, goggled and ears plugged we took seats around the exterior of the clear plastic tunnel and waited while Victor demonstrated again inside the tunnel as we watched.

Created by skydivers, the recirculating windtunnel is also used for practice and, I suspect, to get that jumpers high I was yet to learn about.

Victor could do flips, spirals, walk up the wall, lay on the ground, soar into the sky and vault across the tunnel like a gazelle. The expectations for myself were slightly lower.

I was third in line so I got to watch two men go before me. Initially, I was first in line but kept inching my way behind others until they figured out what I was doing.

Inside the tunnel

As you approach the open door to the wind tunnel, you spread your legs, put your hands above your head like “hands up” and let yourself fall forward. It’s the most uncomfortable part, the idea of allowing yourself to fall forward. It’s like one of those trust exercises where you fall backward and someone catches you, except in this version you fall forward and trust the unseen wind.

While you’re in the tunnel the instructor keeps his hands near you so you don’t go flying into the ceiling. One lady in an earlier group somehow managed to get flipped around and tossed on her back, but her instructor scooped her up right quick and she seemed fine. Encouraging!

You do have to be strong enough to hold your body in position. This isn’t exactly easy, but I wouldn’t say it’s hard either. I mean kids were in the group before us doing it. Not that they’re a great measure. Kids have no gauge for difficulty.

It’s time for me to fly

Victor was there to hold the straps on the suit and ensure that I didn’t go smashing into anything, so I felt safe and fell right into him. Not going to lie, Victor was pretty cute, so this was no hardship.

Have you ever dreamt of flying?

Immediately, the wind was intense and blew my face off my skull. My lips were stuck in a full-on smile the entire time because my gums dried out after two seconds of smiling. But I couldn’t stop smiling. I was flying.

It was sort of like the dreams I’d had of flying, except in my dreams I have to peddle my arms and legs to stay afloat. In the windtunnel I just had to try to keep my face from getting ripped off in the intense hurricane-level winds.

To keep it realistic, we each “flew” for a minute at a time, because that’s the average time of a real jump.

If you were to jump at 13,000 feet out of a plane (about 2 miles up), you only have about 60 seconds in free fall (at about 125 mph) before you hit the ground. Marinate on that fun fact for a minute.

This is How freedom feels

When Victor and I flew up to the top of the chamber and back down again something in my mind unlocked. This was a feeling I’ve never had before. Spectacular. Falling wasn’t scary, it was exhilarating. It was freeing.

Upon exiting the chamber I was euphoric. My heart was pumping and my adrenaline was rushing. It felt good to defy gravity, even if only for a minute at a time.

There are all different types of indoor skydiving such as freestyle, formation, and dynamic for which there are national competitions. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Here in Chicago, there’s a league on Thursday nights where adults group up and practice different flight techniques together. I won’t say I’m not considering it.

Are all my fears needless?

I wanted to try indoor skydiving to help remove my fear of falling. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I’m definitely closer. I’m actually looking forward to this fall again, while the idea of bungee jumping or actual sky diving is still anxiety-inducing.

I know the more I do something the less it scares me. I used to be afraid to speak in front of groups. My heart would pound out of my chest, but because I had to do it for work I dealt with it, and eventually, I became able to do it with relative ease.

Couldn’t my fear of falling be conquered the same way – by practice and familiarity? I’m trying to see if it can.

Changing the story in my head

We all know people who spend their lives afraid of all types of things and allow those things to prevent them from experiencing aspects of their own lives. But what if fear is just an illusion? What if we change the story in our heads? What if falling is fun?

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

I really enjoying indoor skydiving and I think it’s a good starter for actual skydiving, which is something I’ve always said I would never do. I’m not ready to make a declaration, but the idea of skydiving somehow has slightly more appeal.

Now that I’ve tried indoor skydiving I’m becoming more pliable to the idea of the real thing and that’s something I thought I’d never say.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL

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