It’s that time again where two members of our team take half a day out of the office to do something different, something they would never normally do.
This month it was the turn of ClientsFirst resource and project manager Gemma Bowman and Digital marketing executive Matt Wood, as they defied gravity and went indoor sky diving.
This is what happened:
I’ve always wanted to go skydiving before but due to the half day creative budget constraints, it was pretty unlikely that it would ever get signed off.
So when Gemma said she had found an indoor skydiving place 30 minutes away, well, I just had to go. As someone who is terrible at extreme sports, I thought this would be the perfect challenge.
I had a few ideas for the half day creative, but indoor skydiving was my favourite… However, I wasn’t sure if I had the courage to go alone. Thankfully, Matt also fancied the challenge, so I was delighted to have some company.
As the big day came around I was a little apprehensive but really, just intrigued and curious about how this experience would pan out… Would it be difficult? Would it be dangerous? Would I take to it instantly and want to become an indoor skydiving instructor?
I just didn’t know what to expect…
The building itself looked like a piece of industrial modern art, hidden behind the imposing figure of Chillfactore, you would miss it if you weren’t looking (which I actually did because I took a wrong turn and ended up being 10 minutes late).
As I walked up to the automatic glass doors, I looked up at the oddly shaped building and thought “This is it”.
On the morning of the big day, I was concerned that I’d be stuck in traffic in rush hour near the Trafford Centre, so I set out especially early so that being late was one less thing to worry about. As it happens I got there in plenty of time, giving me added time to psych myself up. I felt rather foolish when I arrived sitting in an empty car park; I’d even arrived before the staff. As there was nobody about, I thought I’d take a quick selfie of me in front of the isky mammoth building as a reminder of the day. I had so many thoughts whirling around in my mind, the main one being; what if the ‘giant hair dryer’ stops working and I fall flat on my face? At this stage, I was feeling quite nervous as I wasn’t sure what I’d let myself in for.
Gemma was waiting patiently in reception and had already filled out her disclaimer form. I then proceeded to fill my own disclaimer, which involved some pretty weird questions…
The place had a kind of leisure centre vibe about it, which I wasn’t expecting. There were a few technical hitches with the computer system, but eventually we both signed our life away on an Ipad at the reception desk and were told to go upstairs.
Upstairs, everything became clear… It’s hard to describe but there was a giant glass cylinder in the middle of the room with sofas and armchairs all facing it. This was obviously where the skydiving would be taking place. On closer inspection, the wind tunnel was huge.
What surprised me was how many people were also booked into the 10:30am slot on a cold Tuesday in February – the class was full and lots of people were watching.
Strangely, there was also an Italian cafe called Salvi’s, which unfortunately wasn’t open.
I got impatient waiting for Matt in the car park, so decided to head into the isky centre to see if I could get a glimpse of the action while I was waiting. As it happens, I couldn’t go to the viewing area until I’d completed a quick safety disclaimer.
As soon as Matt arrived, we went upstairs for our training. The training was all about the correct body position to hold, and what the various hand signals mean that the instructor may use whilst in the air tunnel. The training all seemed to make sense at the time and I was getting more excited rather than nervous now, and was just eager to give it a go.
Our instructor ‘Matt’ (not confusing at all) appeared and ushered us into a side room where we sat and watched a 3 minute training video. The video made indoor skydiving look easy, ordinary people like myself and Gemma doing flips and flying smoothly with apparent ease. At this point I felt relaxed, I felt confident, I was excited to get in there and fly!
We made our way through the next door, and found ourselves on the other side of the glass. Matt fitted us out with our own jumpsuits, helmets and goggles. It was the sort of outfit you would normally feel ridiculous wearing but given the situation and that everyone else was wearing it, it felt right.
Matt proceeded to explain that we would get two minute-long flights each. He also explained that we weren’t allowed to bring anything other than ourselves into the tunnel area with us (my idea of creating a video of the whole day shattered in one sentence).
Next we got kitted up, ready for action. The boiler suit, helmet and goggles are not a flattering look at all, but I thought that taking photos was not allowed, so thought I’d get away with nobody seeing me in the outfit in question.
In our group of ten, everyone in our group seemed really keen and up for the challenge. I just wanted to get on with it now.
Single file we marched into the fan area where the glass door sealed us in. Everyone took a seat on the bench in the waiting area and somehow I ended up right at the front of the queue… The fan fired up and it was loud, like an aeroplane taking off literally right in front of us! The nerves started to creep in – this was most definitely it.
Instructor Matt gestured for me to approach the fan entrance. I looked around at the others in the class – fear, excitement, happiness, a whole range of emotions looking back at me.
I took a step in, leaned into the air flow and I was away.
The 3 minutes of training were forgotten instantly… Instructor Matt was gesturing at me to do different things, but I had no idea what most of them meant. All you could hear was the roar of the fan. I moved around the cylinder and couldn’t, for the life of me, keep myself stable against the flow, pushing off the walls and fighting to keep balanced. Eventually, I bailed and fell onto the mesh wire. Instructor Matt had to pick me up and usher me out of the fan area… the longest minute of my life.
We all walked into a seated area just outside the giant fan area. Matt was second in line and I was third. It felt like a lifetime waiting, although it was actually only a few minutes. The speed that the giant fan was set to seemed to be determined by your size and weight. Once I noticed this, I was starting to wish I hadn’t overindulged (as usual) the previous day on cake Monday!
It was disorientating… adrenaline was high and I slumped back down at the end of the queue. Gemma was next up and she seemed to take to flying much better than I did, keeping her balance and posing for the in flight picture with grace.
I watched one by one as my class succeeded and failed against the merciless fan until once again, my time had come.
Instructor Matt gestured to me for my second go, asking whether I wanted to go higher this time. I decided not to because of my abysmal performance in round one.
I just wanted to have a stable flight.
Luckily, the second round was much better and I managed it. I posed for a photo and before I knew it, I was out and it was all over.
Gemma decided to go for the extra height and it looked incredible; probably my biggest regret of the day was not going for it.
Instructor Matt finished the class by showing off his immense indoor skydiving skills. He made it look effortless!
Matt stepped up for his go. It instantly became apparent that it wasn’t as easy as it appeared. Holding a simple star shape wasn’t going to be straightforward once the air jets were blasting. Matt did really well on his first go at staying airborne for the majority of his flight.
I was suddenly struck with fear that I couldn’t remember any of the hand signals and that staying airborne wasn’t going to be simple.
Next it was my turn… eeeek! I went to the tunnel door and instructor Matt guided me in. I tried to maintain the correct pose to stay airborne, but the very slightest hand or foot movement can suddenly knock your flight. Your instant reaction is to jump out of the star shape and curl up in a ball, so I was battling against my instincts, frantically trying to maintain my posture, just for fear of slamming on my face.
My few minutes was up in the blink of an eye, just as I felt I was kind of starting to get a feel for how it all worked. As I came out of the tunnel and went to the back of the queue to wait for my next turn, I felt a real rush, but also fear that I may have been lucky on my first go and next time it’d be so easy to crash.
Before I knew it, Matt was up for his second flight. This time it felt like Matt was effortlessly airborne for his whole flight and made it look so easy. No sooner had I sat down, I was back up for my next flight.
As I stood in the entrance to the air tunnel, instructor Matt signaled, asking if I wanted to do a high flyer? Erm, I wasn’t sure at all as I didn’t feel like I’d mastered the basics. But I thought I may not get an opportunity to do this again, so why not give the high flyer a go!
Back in the air tunnel, I tried as hard as possible to maintain the correct airborne posture with the guidance of instructor Matt. My main downfall was that I was tempted to keep looking down, to see how far the drop was beneath the netting that instructor Matt was stood on. After what seemed like just a few moments staying airborne at about 2 meters high, instructor Matt started to spin me around by one arm and leg (sounds more tortuous than it actually was). We started to get higher and higher, zooming in a spiral motion high into the wind tunnel, before spiralling back down. At this point I was really dizzy and totally disorientated. But I was then guided by instructor Matt for a second whirlwind experience of being spun several metres up to the top of the air tunnel again. This time I kept my eyes closed as the height was daunting me, and I feared if I opened my eyes I wouldn’t maintain my airbourne posture and come crashing down. The minutes in the air tunnel felt like hours – I felt like it was never going to end.
We made our way out of the staging area and it was all over.
Instructor Matt walked around and gave everyone individual tips on how to improve which was cool. We hung up our suits and made our way down to reception where the next challenge awaited us.
Deciding which pictures and video we wanted to keep probably took longer than our actual skydive. We eventually settled on a couple of pictures and a video of myself failing… we stopped short of getting a keyring or mug.
The lady at reception presented us with our certificates and the experience was over.
What did I learn? It was an interesting experience, one that I thought I would never do. It was more challenging than I ever thought, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Most of all, I learned that gravity can be defied…
Through sheer luck rather than skill, I managed to exit the air tunnel in one piece. It was such a rush though. We made our way back to the central area to remove our equipment. I could hardly stand up, as I felt so so dizzy. I couldn’t quite believe that I’d opted for the high flyer experience.
Instructor Matt gave a short personalised debrief to each of us, providing tips and advice about our techniques, and how to improve for next time. I’m not sure there will be a next time for me, but I certainly enjoyed the day, and I’m glad I’ve got the certificate as a keepsake. A totally brilliant experience.