Indoor skydiving gaining popularity as sport, recreational activity
Humans weren’t built to fly, but they have turned it into a competitive sport nonetheless.
Local competitive indoor skydiver and flight instructor John Wiggins and his teammate competed in the second annual FAI Indoor Skydiving World Championships in October 2017 and placed 15th out of 22 teams in the two-person dynamic flying category.
“World Championships was amazing. Our first competition was the U. S. nationals in Virginia Beach, so that was our very first time competing together and my very first competition,” Wiggins said. “So it was really nerve wracking and we were able to secure a slot for the World level, which we were totally blown away. We didn’t think we were going to make it but we did so that was pretty awesome.”
There are five disciplines in competitive indoor skydiving: Formation Skydiving (FS), which takes a belly to earth orientation inside the flight chamber; Vertical Formation Skydiving (VFS), where competitors fly in vertical orientations; Dynamic Flying (D4W / D2W), which involves fluid flying and can include artistic routines; and Freestyle/Artistic, where competitors train and design an artistic routine. Categories are then further broken down into beginner, experienced and advanced so that participants are competing on an equal field.
“The sport’s really been exploding lately, especially thanks to one of the disciplines called freestyle. If you’re on Facebook or Instagram and you see a tunnel flight video, chances are you’re seeing one of the freestyle chicks doing all the crazy dance stuff in the winds. That’s made it really popular,” Wiggins said. “Freestyle is really helping expose the sport, which is awesome. People are starting to be more aware of the competition aspect.”
Wiggins has been an indoor skydiver for the last two and a half years and currently both practices and teaches at iFLY Houston in The Woodlands. Wiggins took two tandem skydiving ventures before becoming an instructor and said the experience was something he had always wanted to try.
“I wanted to go out there and try it, knock it off the bucket list, and I really liked it,” Wiggins said, adding that getting better at indoor skydiving takes practice and dedication, just like any other sport.
“It’s the same principles of getting good at any other hobby-dedication, persistence, lots of hard work. All the studying of your videos, trying to get faster, get smoother. So basically three times a week we train for about 45 minutes to an hour,” he explained. “Just training constantly, watching our footage to see why we’re flying slow in some spots and trying to alleviate any surplus in time.”
As with all sports, indoor skydiving has its own unique risks involved, Wiggins warned.
“The sport is not that physical, but it can be if you mess up while you’re in (the tunnel) flying with someone else,” Wiggins explained. “We could come into contact or we can hit the wall, things like that. Typically everyone is a pretty experienced flyer so it’s pretty safe.”
Indoor skydiving allows for strict, rigid formations and original creativity alike. Competitors discover a flying style unique to them and either collaborate with others or go solo and test their limitations.
“My favorite part is when you get to the higher level, everyone’s personality kind of just starts to shine through so you get to see a large variety of different flight styles. People subscribe to different rules of thought that all pertain to body flight so there’s a lot of really cool different flight styles out there,” Wiggins said. “Everyone’s body is shaped a little bit differently, and you fly with your body so it’s your surface area that’s propelling you around. So everyone uses their wing in a different way which is pretty awesome.”
Wiggins said that jumping out of an airplane and flying inside the wind tunnel are essentially the same. There are a few precious seconds where a skydiver is free falling before releasing the parachute. The tunnel simulates and extends that free fall feeling by supporting flyers on a cushion of air generated from four clean running electric motors that drive propellers.
“The way you move through the wind is pretty identical (to skydiving). The tunnel simulates the free fall portion of a sky dive. Learning to do the turns, forward, backwards, slow your fall rate, increase your fall rate - these are all principles that are applicable towards skydiving so in the tunnels you have to be really precise because you’re encased in glass,” Wiggins explained. “You can build a lot of precision in the tunnel and then take it out to the sky and be a more articulate flyer.”
Human flight is a phenomenon that iFLY indoor skydiving has made possible for everyone. With two tunnels in the Greater Houston area, iFLY has paved the way for the industry as a popular recreational activity and as a world-class sport.
At iFLY in The Wooldands, flyers of all ages are welcome beginning from the age of 3 years old with no upper age limit. People can go for a one-time experience or return often to develop their skills.
“Some people are like, ‘I’m preparing to go outdoor skydiving so I want to do this first before I go outdoor skydiving.’ Some people do this and say they’re never going skydiving outside. It just depends. You get a large variance of people,” Wiggins said.
For more information, visit www.iflyworld.com/houston-woodlands/.