Damon Boiser became internet famous in 2012 as, unofficially, the first wheelchair user to land in his wheelchair after tandem jumping from a plane. Boiser, a 41-year-old C6 quad, recently took a love of skydiving to a new venue: indoors. On one of his mainland trips, the Hawaii native gave indoor skydiving a try at iFLY Seattle. The experience did not disappoint. “It gives you the chance to float, like in a skydiving free fall, but for much longer,” this skydive connoisseur says. At iFLY Seattle, he was able to do awesome stunts. “We did a high fly for their first time ever. That’s where you fly to the top of the tunnel and down.”
The first indoor skydiving wind tunnel — the Levitationarium — was built in 1978 in Montreal, Canada. Since then several other indoor skydive facilities have been built, including The Vegas Indoor Skydiving tunnel in 1982, and Skyventure Orlando in 1999. Skyventure changed its name to iFLY in 2005 and has expanded to 27 locations in the United States.
Josh Basile, a C4-5 quad and founder of Determined2Heal, a nonprofit that offers adaptive adventures to people with spinal cord injuries, heard about it through a friend who also has an SCI and went indoor skydiving for the first time in May 2016. “Indoor skydiving sounded crazy adventurous but at the same time very doable and safe,” he says.
Basile, who has always been a thrill-seeker, did have a brief moment of fear before his first flight. “When you first are turned on to your stomach while in the air and you are looking down, you feel like you’re going to fall face first, but you don’t.” Thankfully, he says, the iFLY team are pros. “Certain skilled instructors use a particular technique to hold onto the skydiving suit material of the participant’s arm to help minimize the wind force.” Boiser also loved the staff at iFLY Seattle, but he admits there was one drawback. “The free-fall moves you can do in the tunnel have to be exact, so you don’t hit the wall. In skydiving, you have the whole wide sky to turn in.”
In 2016, iFLY hosted its first All Abilities Night at iFLY Portland after an employee who had a child with a disability suggested the idea. The event sold out in 24 hours, and later that year Determined2Heal hosted its very own East Coast All Abilities Night. CBS covered the event, spreading the word to over one million homes. The success of the segment, titled “Leaving wheelchairs behind to take flight,” led iFLY to expand the event to iFLY tunnels across the country.
All Abilities Night offers discounted flights to people with disabilities. Flights are reduced from $69 to $39. This price includes two flights, plus the cost for all of the gear — suit, helmet and goggles. If you need assistance getting dressed, make sure to bring someone. iFLY does have staff on-hand to assist holding participants during flights and getting people in and out of the chamber safely.
“It is such an incredible perspective change,” says Basile. “I’m always facing forward while I’m driving around in my power wheelchair. With indoor skydiving, I’m facing down and seeing the world from a new vantage point.”
If you live near Washington, D.C., or plan on being in the area, you can sign up to fly by emailing Determined2Heal@gmail.com. If you live anywhere else in the country, go to www.iflyworld.com/find-a-tunnel.
Despite indoor skydiving’s surge in popularity, traditional skydiving remains a favorite among wheelchair users.
Joe Dailey, a 52-year-old C5-6 quad from Minnesota, made his first jump in 2014 in California with Skydive Perris. “Anytime I can do something without my chair, it gives me a sense of freedom and a sense of normalcy. I was no different than any other diver who jumped that day.”
Dale Elliott, a 41-year-old T10 paraplegic, is the first person with paralysis to become licensed to skydive solo in Australia. He has jumped hundreds of times. “I even made a pair of pants with D30 foam in the butt area, which allows me to prevent injury when I land.”
Amber Ryan Marcy, a 36-year-old C6-7 quad from Michigan, has jumped 10 times. “I loved skydiving so much that when I was Ms. Wheelchair Michigan in 2009, I had an event that helped offset the costs for people with disabilities to skydive.”