I’m no chicken. I once did a bungee jump for a dare, but the sensation of falling into nothingness and bouncing helplessly by the ankles only made me wish I’d made my last confession beforehand. I decided then that the act of jumping out of an aircraft mid-flight, aka skydiving, was something I could never do. That is until I discovered iFly, which gives you the chance to skydive without actually being in the sky.
At first glance (and at second glance), iFly makes you gawp. Two enormous transparent vertical tubes, powered by industrial wind turbines, give spectators a bird’s eye view of the people inside as they bounce around like gravity-defying lunatics. It’s reminiscent of the scene from 1970s kids’ movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when Charlie and Grandpa Joe help themselves to the fizzy lifting drink. Oh fun, fun, fun!
After filling out the disclaimer (which states that iFly takes no responsibility for any injuries incurred leaping about inside the wind tunnels), I’m ready to go. I’m so excited about the prospect that I deliberately ignore my distinctly dodgy lower back (iFly does discourage people with such ailments), although I’m later to learn that the rules are there for a reason and are best heeded.
Next up is the pre-flight briefing, a 15-minute lecture on the dos and don’ts and a short film delivered by the typically burly adrenaline junkie instructor, explaining tips on how to enter the tubes safely. We also learn the four essential skydiving hand signals, which communicate: ‘relax’, ‘bend legs’, ‘straighten legs’ and ‘chin up, Charlie’.
Reassuringly, the staff at iFly look and sound as though they’ve just stepped off the set of Point Break. A brief chat reveals that, ‘yeah, dude’, they’re all professional skydivers who are ‘chilled’ to be doing a ‘gig’ that enables them to practise their ‘loops and rolls’ indoors while saving up for the real thing.
So it’s off to the changing rooms to slip into our flying suits and special shoes, removing all jewellery before we don safety helmets, goggles and ear plugs. I’m now a tiny bit nervous. Up close, the roar of the wind turbines is deafening and suddenly I began to wonder if this is such a good idea. But before I know it, I’m being told to enter the tube and launch myself belly first onto the raging gust, which is blowing at a pretty impressive 200mph.
After I manage to stabilise myself – and learn that laughing with my mouth wide open covers my face in gravity-defying saliva – the instructor grabs hold of my suit at the hip and shoulder and takes me 30 feet up into the air. We hover there, bobbing about, cheeks flapping wildly from the G-force and giggling hysterically. We soon descend, only to rise again a few seconds later after he makes sure the in-house camera has captured several decent photos of my experience.
Before I know it, it’s over. Though two minutes doesn’t sound like much, it actually feels a lot longer when you’re in the tube. My legs are shaky and it takes me a few moments to catch my breath. Afterwards my back is worryingly sore, too (luckily the stiffness clears within a day or two).
iFly is, without doubt, a fantastic experience, especially for visitors who think Dubai’s malls have nothing more to offer than shops and giant food courts, although at Dhs195 for adults during peak hours, and Dhs165 off-peak, it doesn’t come cheap. In the small print it also states that tots as young as three can have a go. But remember that while junior may be a daredevil when it comes to launching himself off the sofa, not many three-year-olds follow hand signal instructions or are happy wearing ear plugs, goggles and hard hats. Though it’s very safe (not to mention hilariously addictive), iFly is definitely an activity best suited to big kids.