All Pain, No Plane: My Grim Experience With Indoor Skydiving
The popular team-building activity that literally broke me
I was never particularly curious to experience the sensation of falling out of an airplane. But in the summer of 2015, out of a sense of obligation, I stood in front a vertical wind tunnel in Tukwila, Washington.
At the time, I was working at Amazon as a marketing specialist, and our team had signed up for a corporate group activity at iFLY, an indoor skydiving facility. For roughly 60 seconds, iFLY simulates the sensation of free fall via a system of fans circulating air through a plexiglass tube, known as a vertical wind tunnel. For this, the company charges $45.
iFLY is the largest company operating in the indoor skydiving industry. It owns, franchises, or licenses 67 wind tunnels in 13 countries, with locations in Australia, Britain, France, and the United Arab Emirates. iFLY even has facilities on select Royal Caribbean cruise ships. And while professionals skydivers do use them for practice, 80 percent of the company’s business comes from new participants: field trips, birthday parties, and team-building events like my own.
But I was about to feel another sensation, this one much less pleasant.
I was the first of my group to go. An operator sitting at a control board pressed some buttons until the tunnel powered up to a loud but bearable roar. The instructor did a quick demo, spinning and flipping in midair. Then it was my turn. I leaped out, arms extended, and was instantly splayed horizontally with the instructor standing over me, using the handles on my flight suit to make position adjustments as appropriate. It was an odd, invigorating rush, like exiting our gravity-bound planet. But I was about to feel another sensation, this one much less pleasant.
After my time was up, I grabbed onto the door frame to pull myself out, as instructed. But the instructor failed to push me out, and as I grasped the door frame, the wind tunnel pulled my body away from my arm, exerting an intense pressure on my left shoulder. I felt an acute pain in the joint, as if it was being torn apart. Though it felt like something was breaking—and, I’d later find out, it…