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Step Rowe

Smokin' Crack, or The Natural High: Indoor Skydiving
by Step Rowe

April 2001

At an audition the other day, a lovely, hip, and cool casting director made the mistake of asking me what I like to do for fun. Like a good little actress, I didn't give her a detailed paragraph of an answer, but merely told her in a sentence. She proceeded to ask me several questions, which allowed me to explain further my passion for my latest hobby. Here is the story of my first encounter with the adrenalin rush of indoor skydiving.

We were planning a week's vacation to Las Vegas, but recognized that we didn't have enough money to gamble every single day. Who does? We decided to be sensible, and looked on the Internet for free or cheap things to do in the area other than frequenting casinos. We found a place that offered indoor skydiving for a pretty reasonable rate. We had won the jackpot!

I have always wanted to try skydiving, however I must admit that I'm a little chicken about the whole possibility-of-death thing. This was the ultimate answer! Professional skydivers use these indoor arenas to practice their skills and train beginning jumpers. There are only a few of these facilities in the country, and most of them are on army bases. Lucky for us, there is one just off of the strip in Vegas!

If you've ever been to an amusement park you've probably seen the Gravitron ride. It's that ride in a cylindrical shape with really high walls and everyone stands with their backs against the wall as it begins spinning. After it reaches a certain speed the floor drops out, and everyone sticks to the wall. If you are familiar with that ride, you may be able to picture the indoor skydiving arena. It too is cylindrical, with walls about 30-40 feet high. There is padding along the first 10 feet or so and around the edge of the floor. The floor itself is a metal mesh, like a chicken wire trampoline, and you can see through this floor to the "wind maker" engine. In the center under the grate is the back of a jet engine that is about 4 feet in diameter. When the engine is turned on wind shoots up through the metal grate, propels the flyers up, and then holds them in place, hovering in a sense.

We watched several groups of flyers through small windows high above the floor and on the video camera before attempting this ourselves. We decided to go for it and went to safety class. They told us about the dangers, how you could die, the liability and some other nonsense. Then we went to put on our wind suits, (they didn't have one in extra small, so you can imagine how silly I looked), gloves, and goggles. Point break here I come! We learned form in the classroom on a bench, and got checked out. They gave us the earplugs we would need to protect our hearing from the intense sound of the engine and taught us hand signals for communication with our instructors. Lastly, we put on our helmets and entered the chamber.

Only five people allowed per instructor are allowed in the chamber at one time. We stood against the walls on the mats, looking down in anticipation of the great engine starting. The instructor pointed to the first flyer. She stood in the middle of the room over the grate, they started the engine, and she floated upwards. The instructor held her there to let her get her balance. (If you travel outside of the wind area you fall fast and hit hard!) I watched a few others, and then I was up. I walked out onto the bouncing grate and steadied myself in a ready-to-pounce position. The engine went on and boom I was flying! Since I'm small, the instructor decided that it would be fun to turn me over onto my back, start me spinning, flip me back, etc. Okay, it was fun, but I didn't see him doing that with the guy who was 6'4" and 240! Then I had to go back to the wall and wait for my next fix.

Once you get the feel for it, the instructor demonstrates how to start outside the wind area. You stay against the wall, they start the engine, and you "dive" out into the wind. You mustn't jump too far or you'll go right through the wind area and fall on the other side. If you gauge it right, you can jump out, and it is just like jumping out of a plane and being caught by the wind (or how I imagine it would be)! This is where the real rush started. Standing there waiting for my turn, having watched others fall numerous times into the wall of mats, I was thinking, "I'm going to do this right!" My last time, I jumped out into it, and tried to figure out how to climb (raise and lower). I wasn't all that successful, but one of the instructors showed us that it is possible to jump out, then manipulate your body so that the wind picks you up about 30 feet and lets you back down easy.

The whole experience only lasts a few minutes, but it is so great. I was actually sore the next day in my back and shoulders. I can't believe how much battling the wind works you out. I left that chamber as if I had just finished bungee jumping or riding a roller coaster. It was a fantastic experience, and I have the T-shirt to prove it.

Now too I have something interesting to add to my list of hobbies and life experiences. I highly recommend it to any other thrill seekers. And remember, before you reach for that mind-altering substance, indoor skydiving can be quite a natural rush.

- Step

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