Indoor skydivers set course for future Olympic sport

Sponsored feature: presented by iFLY Toronto

If the thought of free-falling gives you a thrill, but jumping out of an airplane fills you with dread, you are not alone. The advent of wind tunnels, such as the two operated by iFLY Toronto in Oakville and Whitby, means that anyone who wants the adrenaline rush of flying without going higher than a storey or two can experience it on a regular basis – no experience required. 

Newbies get training to acquire basic skills that will allow them to fly within the 14-foot diameter of the tunnel without an instructor. Depending on how quickly a novice progresses, it isn’t long before they can start flying with their friends and participating in competitions.

For indoor skydivers like Mike Di Lisi, it’s the sociability of “bodyflight,” as the sport is known, that makes it so appealing. He’s a member of Teem Toronto – a four-person team that participates in competitions where they display various skydiving formations, all executed in a synchronous showcase of athleticism. 

Di Lisi started outdoor skydiving about 10 years ago, but grew frustrated by how much time it took to improve, to say nothing of the cost. Life changed when iFLY Toronto opened its first wind tunnel in Oakville and his recurring trips to SkyVenture Montreal (which had the only tunnel in Eastern Canada for a time) were no longer necessary. 

A closer wind tunnel meant that Di Lisi could spend a lot more time perfecting his techniques: “You can have the equivalent of 100 outdoor skydives in a single day in a wind tunnel, at a fraction of the cost,” he says. 

The cost is based on the time the tunnel is running, not how much time you spend flying. Once you are proficient, you can bring a few friends into the tunnel and split the cost. Di Lisi saw the opening of the Oakville tunnel as an opportunity to bring together a group of friends who liked the challenging synchronicity of the team sport, stoking the camaraderie that’s developed around it. 

Indoor skydiving is one of the fastest growing sports with local, national and international championships, and there are efforts underway to make bodyflight part of the Olympic Games. Already the variety of disciplines within the sport has grown to include individual and team events, as well as a freestyle event that incorporates artistic and technical elements executed to a soundtrack – similar to figure skating. 

Though flying in a wind tunnel might seem to be vastly different from the daredevil world of outdoor skydiving, there aren’t many differences between the two. 

“Before I tried indoor, I thought there would be a huge gap between the experiences, but about 95 per cent is translatable,” says Di Lisi, who still outdoor-skydives every summer. “The main differences are when exiting the plane, when there are some variables with wind direction, and deploying the parachute at the end. But in terms of actual flying, you are doing the exact same things.”

Another aspect Di Lisi thinks might not be apparent to observers is the physical workout flyers get while skydiving. “Indoors or out, I get the same rush – the heart rate’s up and you really feel it the next day.” He says he can burn up to 1,000 calories in a session, which comes from the strenuous balancing act that you have to maintain the whole time.

Watching experienced indoor skydivers can be mesmerizing (see video below). Flyers go from upside-down spins to suddenly dropping downwards and then rocketing back up the tunnel again.

Now that flying is more accessible and affordable to a broader spectrum of people, including kids as young as four years old and people with disabilities, many more are finally able to experience the thrill of getting their wings.  

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