Jonny Townsager – IBA Trainer Level 2 - gives out some good advice for first time flyers...
You pull off the M4 onto Mulgoa. Your heart’s beating. You pass the Red Rooster and you know you’re almost there, keep going! You are surprised how excited you are. It’s like the first time you drove to the droppy. It’s better than a first date. What are you so freaked out about? It’s just a 16-foot wind tunnel, the largest in the world.
It’s your first time to the windy room and your expectations are all over the place. You’ve heard all sorts of things on the packing mat and seen crazy viral tunnel videos. Some people have said it’s amazing and others have said it’s a waste of time. You wonder, “Am I going to suck, or be amazing?” You imagine the worst, then you imagine the best and a smile comes to your face. Images of triple backflip twists and double in-face breakers dance before your eyes. Then you imagine the worst again. A mess of flailing arms and legs clouds your vision and the anxiety returns.
Not to worry! There’s no need for the crazy ups and downs of your troubled mind! There’re other ways to approach the situation, but one thing’s for sure, it’s important to manage your expectations.
Be open minded
If at all possible, it’s best to come in with a blank slate, an open mind. If you can, empty your memory of all the things others have said about it (easier said than done, I know). Suppose Joe Angle has said to you, “Oh you’ll only be able to get A, B and C done in such ‘n’ such amount of time,” or suppose Jon McFreefly coach has said, “How many hours? You’ll be teaching ME after that!” Try to un-hear these things! They will probably mislead you. If you walk through the doors of the facility with just a bit of humility and a willingness to listen, you will get more out of the experience than you would otherwise, I promise.
For a first time flyer (an average non-skydiver), the tunnel experience is marketed as a fast paced sport and a thrill seeker’s paradise. For the most part, this is true for them. Especially people who have never been skydiving, or, heaven forbid, never stuck their heads out of a moving car on the motorway. However, as a skydiver coming in for the first time, it’s important to remember one major difference between skydiving and tunnel flying. Time. Finally, the luxury that the sky does not afford, lies before you in the vertical wind tunnel. It’s a common pitfall really, as seen from a tunnel instructor’s view. Skydivers, rushing, in a hurry, in their minds. To go where? Who knows. SLOW DOWN. Slow down your thought. You finally have a chance to feel — to not have to worry about deployment altitude and saving your life by landing a parachute. You can freely concentrate on your body. There’s no need to rush. After all, that’s what the tunnel is good for. Inhale….exhale.
This brings me to relaxing. You’ve probably seen the shaka before, that thumb and pinky being wiggled annoyingly in your face by a smiling instructor, telling you to relax. Well, get ready to see it again, but know that this time, you actually can relax and not worry about the ground rush.
Your previous skydiving experience can also affect your first trip to the windy tube. If you’ve got only a handful of jumps, you may be better off than if you have a couple hundred under your laterals (I said ‘may’). Why is this? A combination of bad habits and muscle memory. You may have heard of this phenomenon before. Sometimes, when learning to skydive, some shortcuts are taken to achieve stability in freefall. Again, this is mostly due to the time factor. This means bad habits can be formed and just about cemented into the sense memory of the body. As long as you can deploy a parachute safely from a belly-to-earth orientation, voila!, let’s move on to the next thing!. Unfortunately, some new tunnel flyers learn that they will have to un-learn some bad habits in order to properly learn how to bodyfly. Again, it isn’t everyone, just a fairly common theme. This is why it’s most important to try to clear your slate and have heaps of humility.
Let’s be clear, I am talking about bodyflight specifically. You may very well be a perfectly safe, and adequately competent skydiver, but the tunnel will teach you specifics about flying your body that skydiving never can. Tunnel flying is not skydiving. No, it is bodyflight, but all the skills you learn in the tunnel can be transferred to the sky and your skydiving status will quickly jump from novice to shredder.
Another common pitfall lies only in your personal mindset. Comparisons. It’s an easy one to fall into, and in some respect, we all do it. If you can be really conscious about it, try not to compare yourself with others. We are all individuals — individuals at different places in our lives — and we all learn at different rates. It’s a dangerous notion to set yourself up against someone else; it might lead to extreme disappointment. I won’t say always, though. It is possible to have a healthy competition with a friend in the sport. If that’s a way for you to stay motivated and you don’t go down the spiral, then great! Just stay positive.
Other people aren’t the only things we put ourselves up against. We sometimes compare what we want to accomplish with the amount of time we have — or, even worse, with the amount of money we have to spend. Again, these can be healthy options if they positively motivate you. However, I feel it’s best to enter the tunnel with an eagerness for learning and a penchant for having a great time. If you can laugh at yourself and have fun, you’ll make speedy progress for sure.
For me, at the end, it’s about learning. I’m having the most fun in the tunnel when I’m pushing to learn new stuff, not when I’m flying lines I already know how to do. So whether you’re a newbie or an experienced skydiver, stay focused on learning and come fly!
IBA Trainer T2
APF C certificate