I have never been what I would consider a “thrill seeker.” In fact, I often sign myself up for things in a fit of bravado only to freak out at the last moment about all the feasible ways I could die. When I went bungee jumping in New Zealand at 21, I had to be coaxed to jump off the ledge after a minor panic attack. So, I talk a good game but my follow-through leaves something to be desired.
118 Harding Blvd., Roseville
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday.
Prices vary depending on package, and start at $69.95
Info:(916) 836-4359, www.iflyworld.com/sacramento
That’s why, when I heard about indoor skydiving, I was intrigued. What could go wrong in a wind tunnel with an instructor at my side? It’s far better than jumping off a 300-foot-high bridge in a foreign country with just a few ropes tied around my feet, and I managed to live through and (eventually) enjoy that, right?
iFly in Roseville is one of five venues in California; with 24 total locations across the U.S. and more than 50 worldwide, according to General Manager Cameron Cole. He started working at iFly Union City in the Bay Area nearly eight years ago — getting “a foot in the door,” he says, as a caterer for parties held at the business. Cole worked his way up through the ranks to management and now he’s in charge one of the newest locations, which opened in Roseville this past May. The company is currently building another two stateside, which will open in the next two months.
iFly bills itself as the original creator of indoor skydiving — they own and operate (or at least built) nearly every indoor skydiving venue in the U.S. and quite a few internationally, too. By utilizing an indoor wind tunnel that circles wind through the walls and back up a centralized funnel, a “flier” has a constant stream of wind once stepping inside the flight chamber, as opposed to some custom-built tunnels that rely on a propellor or other means of wind creation. At iFly, everyone from children to professional skydivers uses the same tunnel, Cole says. “From ages 3 to 103” is a repeated refrain throughout the day.
He explains that I first have to master the most basic flying skills at Level 1: Also known as “belly flying,” this includes learning to move left and right, up and down, turning in place, and entering and exiting the wind tunnel. If I want to come back and compete, iFly Roseville hosts “tunnel leagues” where I could show off my new moves against professionals and fellow rookies.
“Some people really grasp it and excel at it,” Cole says. “Some need a little more coaching, but we can always get you to that level.” His advice for my first flight? “Relax. It’s so easy to tense up in there. That’s probably why kids are our best fliers.”
I meet up with Charles Reid, a professional flier who also trains other instructors. He found the job eight years ago through a Craigslist ad and says he never looked back. I ask him to assuage some of my building nerves — the people currently flying in the chamber are doing spins and turns on their head and flipping around; far beyond any skill I’m prepared to consider on this day. His advice is much the same as Cole’s: “Relax.”
After a corny but short introduction video, and a quick run-through of the different hand signals Reid will be using with us in the tunnel (it’s too loud in all that rushing wind for voice commands) and the perfect flying stance, we are ready to suit up. I am pleased to see there are special goggles that go over my glasses, which means I won’t be (literally) flying blind.
Our group trots into the outer circle of the wind tunnel, which acts as a holding area, and we each patiently wait for our two, one-minute-each turns (a cost of $69.95). When it’s finally my turn, I grasp the side of the doors and lean into the wind. Reid catches me by the handles on my extremely oversized jumpsuit and we’re off!
I’m proud to say that I do well enough on my first flight that Reid is able to let go a few times so I can fly on my own. The minute in the tunnel goes by fast, and I am fighting against every muscle in my body to keep my perfect flying form against the wind. Entering and exiting is easier than I expected too, which is impressive, considering I was sure I’d fall on my face from the sudden lack of resistance.
On my second flight, I opt for the “high fly”: Reid grabs me by the hand and leg and the two of us launch off the netting and fly in a spiral as far as 20-plus feet high, to the top of the tunnel. I know no one could hear me in the tunnel, but a laugh and an “Oh my god!” escape, reflexively. It is just too cool. I have the option of taking more turns at $20 a pop while we’re still in the chamber, but I pass. After only two minutes total in the chamber, I need a nap — flying is exhausting. Even our instructor was sweating bullets after his “show-off” minute at the end, and he’s logged thousands of hours in the tunnel.
iFly bills itself as teaching bodyflight, “a new genre of sport,” which I believe — the day after, my entire upper body feels like I’d gone through an intense workout with weights. But I don’t feel as exhilarated after this experience as I did after bungee jumping. That was a rush of adrenaline and a flying experience I’ll never forget. The bodyflight was like a quick hit: satisfying in the moment, but leaves me chasing after a bigger and better dragon. Maybe it’s true what they say: There’s no hit like your first.
So will I go back? If I have young cousins or nieces and nephews in town, or maybe with my friends’ kids — though the cost may be prohibitive for Aunt Robin to pay for more than one session. I would also recommend it to my more financially-stable friends for their kids’ birthday parties; I know I would have enjoyed a party there as a kid. (Reid says they also have had bachelor and bachelorette parties rent out the place.) But will I become a professional, competitive flier? Doubtful. Though next time I’m feeling overly brave and searching for an adrenaline hit, I’ll definitely be less hesitant to sign up for adventure …