I just want to brag for a moment that in a couple weeks I will be flying in the wind tunnel, hopefully learning some sick new freefly skills. (Neener! Just kidding, but I am excited to say the least.) Tunnel is one of those topics that I’ve continued to put off writing about, mostly because it’s such a niche topic I find it hard to relate to the outside world – yes, skydivers, there is a world outside of this amazing sport of ours. Shocking, I know.
That said, I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, and the lessons you learn in the tunnel are actually quite easily translatable…let’s start at the beginning.
In January Rick and I took at trip to Raeford for our first tunnel camp with Mickey Nuttall (Body Pilots, look ‘em up, can’t recommend him more). Anyway, given that I’d never been in a tunnel before, I wanted to get my feet wet before diving into a freefly camp, so a few days prior we each did 15 minutes of coached time. It was very beneficial to say the least. It’s definitely a different experience than flying in the sky.
For one thing, you are limited on your range of motion. You’re working in this 16 foot (or 12 depending on the tunnel) tube rather than having the open skies to work with. It comes in handy though, as you work to perfect your skills in a static location – after all, that’s what you want to do in sky so you’re not chasing others, or they’re not chasing you, around the sky.
For another thing, when you’re jumping from airplanes, you really are falling through the air. I know this seems like an obvious statement, but sometimes you’re fighting the winds so much that it doesn’t always feel like it. But, for me anyway, I became acutely aware of this fact during tunnel time, because in the tunnel you really are working to stay up off the net – something that just doesn’t happen in free fall.
But, even though I’ve heard people say it hundreds of times, I was still surprised at how humbling your first time in the wind tunnel is. Essentially, it’s like starting over. Okay, so not really, but you have to take some steps back, break the bad habits you learned in the sky, before you can step forward. First, you gotta get good (or at least competent) on your belly. Surprisingly, belly was the easiest part for me. I spent maybe three rotations there before flipping over to my back. As someone who doesn’t do much RW work, I wasn’t expecting to have so much control. It gave me a boost of confidence in my skills.
Which was good, because as soon as I flipped to my back all hell broke loose.
So for those who are not freeflyers – those who are will probably appreciate this tidbit – but most of us who joined the dark side via the sky didn’t learn to backfly first, we went straight to sit. For me, I stuck my sit on my first try, so when people kept telling me that the tunnel would humble me, I didn’t fully understand the extent to which this was true until it was time to flip over on my back.
Needless to say, a good portion on my first hour was spent perfecting my backfly skills, figuring out steering, direction and being capable and comfortable on my back. Come to find out, this is the go-to rest position when you either cork out or are just thoroughly exhausted from hours in the tunnel.
Moving on to sitfly was incredibly rewarding, I was not only doing things I could do in the sky, but was surpassing them. I thought about where I wanted to go, and went. By the end of the first hour I was working on transitions that I see are going to come in handy with getting to and staying on my head. It makes me so excited to get back there in a couple weeks!
So aside from the humbling aspect, what lessons do you learn in the tunnel? Well, let me tell you, you learn to trust yourself for one. Especially with freeflying, one misplaced input and your ass is hitting that wall, and it’s not comfortable. But, if you don’t trust yourself to do it you’ll never progress and get comfortable with those transitions that will make your progress soar.
You also learn to overcome your fear. Why is the top of the tunnel so scary? It’s really not, it’s just you’re more comfortable closer to the net when you first start out. But, once you come crashing down you realize it’s not so bad.
So how on Earth does any of this translate to “real life?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
It comes down to personal growth. The wind tunnel is known to be one of those skydiver training tools that helps jumpers progress in their discipline faster than they would in the sky. It gives us the opportunity to communicate with the coach “in freefall” and to have more time to hone skills. A 60 minute block of time is the equivalent of 60 skydives, without all the packing, waiting to get on a load, and weather holds.
There are times in life where you are presented opportunities for accelerated personal growth. Often they come in the form of a challenge, so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to dive in and give it your all or not. Sometimes, you don’t even know when these challenges will offer that type of personal growth, you just have to trust your gut. Don’t be surprised when you are completely humbled by the situation, even when you go in balls to the wall, guns ablazin’ and all those other metaphors for giving it your all. Your confidence might wane, but unless you keep plugging along to reach your goals, you may never know how much you’re truly capable of accomplishing.
Have your experiences in the tunnel been similar to mine?
Love and blue skies!