The dog days of summer are upon us and for many that means rest and relaxation, but there exists that subset of thrill seekers who see the summer months as an opportunity to take chances and push themselves to the limit. This is the first in an occasional series that will explore some of the area’s most exciting and little known opportunities for everyone’s inner adrenaline junkie — editor.
RAEFORD — During a hot summer day, a simple fan can make all the difference — so just imagine the difference four 16-foot-wide fans, operating at 2,164 horsepower, can make.
Those who have attended Raeford’s Paraclete XP Sky Venture indoor skydiving center, located at 190 Paraclete Drive in Raeford, don’t have to imagine the experience, they’ve lived it.
“It is, well, a hard thing to explain,” Emily Connor said. “From having the experience of free-fall as well, I can say that it is just like free-falling. You don’t have that sensation of your stomach dropping like you do during a free-fall but it is the closest thing to flying that you’ll ever get.”
Connor, who serves as a customer service representative for the business, has logged 14 hours in “the tunnel.”
The tunnel, which is at the center of the facility, is a three story circular room with glass walls, where the aforementioned fans pull participants off their feet from above, giving them much of the same sensation one gets while skydiving, with far less risk of injury or death.
“In my opinion, it is completely safe,” Connor said. “Unless you have some prior injury like a shoulder dislocation, there is typically no problem … There isn’t much of an age limit either. We allow ages 3 and up, so if you are 80, or you’re a kid, you’re fine. Just as long as you are potty trained, because that would not be fun for anyone.”
A reason for the the center’s popularity, Connor says, is its location near the Fort Bragg, and the fact that it is the only center of its kind in North Carolina. The center was first opened in 2007 by skydiving enthusiast Tim D’Annunzio and has become a major attraction for Hoke County residents.
“I would say hundreds walk through the door each week and the weekends we get a lot of first-time flyers,” Connor said. “A lot of Golden Knights train here too. On a normal day you see all sorts of people walk through the door.”
The first person to take flight using a vertical wind tunnel was Jack Tiffany, who in 1964 used a tunnel at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Greene, Ohio.
“For me personally, I just always wanted to fly,” said Keith Creedy, marketing manager. “I think a lot of people get into the sport because every person, at some point, wishes they could fly and now you can just do it. People stay in it because it is extremely challenging and it is very rewarding and actually a great way to stay in shape. To give an example, the instructors who coach here, they can pretty much eat whatever you want because you just burn so many calories flying around.”
Tunnels work by moving air upwards at approximately 120 mph, which is the terminal velocity of a falling human body. Because of the similarities between using a wind tunnel and actual skydiving, wind tunnels have become popular tools for skydivers who want to safely replicate the physics of free-falling.
“It is a sport. It is not a very known sport yet, but it is a sport that is growing with competitions held all over,” Connor said. “ … People come here from all over the world to compete, actually. Right now we have two people from Australia here and Argentina. We had a Brazilian skydiving team here a little while ago.”
Connor believes indoor skydiving is something that can be different for everyone, whether they are looking for thrills or just to experience weightlessness.
Frequent flyer Brooke Baker sees the sport as a way of relieving tension.
“It can be very relaxing,” Baker said. “It is sort of a stress reliever for me. I have been learning a lot lately which is something I love the most about it. Learning to do new things. It is really exciting when I do something new that I had no idea I was capable of.”
Baker believes that indoor skydiving is a great way for people to build confidence, noting that she has seen participants with physical disabilities come alive while floating in the tunnel, and even folks who claim to have a fear of heights.
“Most people who come in are really excited about it, but there are people who come who are nervous because they are afraid of heights,” Baker said. “But that goes away when they realize that we can control how high they go. They can fly 50 feet up, or just above the the floor.”
James Johnson can be reached at 910-272-6144, or on Twitter @JJohnsonRobeson.