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The signals Alan was giving were clear as a bell. They were straightforward, concise, and easy to comprehend. It was clear that his student not only saw but understood exactly what he was being told and yet was clearly having an issue taking this new information and turning it into the desired action. Now let it be said that learning how to properly sit fly in a modern tunnel is not the easiest thing in the world. Let it also be said that strength and stamina needed to achieve any real level of success in this arena is something that comes over time, and cannot be rushed. With this in mind, it was pretty easy to understand why Alan’s student was having difficulty. Pretty easy to understand for everyone but the student in question. Truth is, this student didn’t have the level of experience you might expect.
In 1996 I got a job working as the newest tunnel instructor at Flyaway Indoor Sydiving in Las Vegas. Between 1996 and late 1998 I was one of the more experienced tunnel instructors on the planet. I managed to rack up more than 200 hours of flight time in an environment that made a skydive look like child’s play, and got pretty damn good at it. Good at what is, by today’s standards, considered very old school. I was never going to be one of the stars of the tunnel world, because at 5’9” and 190 pounds, the Vegas tunnel just didn’t have the oomph to let me do anything terribly dramatic, yet I never would have believed that in 2013 I would be made to feel like an AFF student again! Like most skydivers I have a bit of an ego, but with my tunnel time and 9,000 jumps, I never thought it was misplaced. Then I flew with the gang from Dubai. Very humbling to be sure, and very fucking fun!
In the Vegas tunnel, you ended up becoming more of a cloth pilot than a true body flyer, which at the time worked out just fine for me. The suits you had to wear were enormous, floppy, heavy things with mesh vents cut in to allow the air to fill them up. Flyers in the tunnel looked like Stay Puft marshmallows bouncing around in a padded room. The tunnel suits then translated into camera flying perfectly, for back in those days, you never saw a camera flyer without a set of wings.
But these tunnels … Fuck. I always used to joke that the tunnel was the great equalizer. That I could take an accomplished skydiver into my tunnel and have him looking like a rookie right out of the gate, and it was true. Now though, I find that the joke is most certainly on me!
When Ray Kubiak came into Flyaway for the first time, I was his instructor. I was a damn good instructor in my opinion, and I would like to think in the opinion of many others. I was firm in my belief that I could teach anyone how to fly, yet after my first session with Ray, I was forced to reassess that belief. Ray was, for lack of a better word, horrible. He was tall as hell, thin as a board, and almost as stiff, and seemed to have no body awareness whatsoever. He was probably the biggest challenge I’d ever had in that tunnel, but when the light bulb finally lit up over his head, I was absolutely fucking thrilled that he’d learned to fly! But … Pretty much from that moment on he’s been pulling away from me like I was standing still!
All the tricks I had been working on for some time were not only learned quickly by Ray, but steadily improved upon until they were barely recognizable as the stunts I had been pulling not so long before. He was the only one at the time who had managed to pull off a successful head-down without going as far as using an acrobatic ring roped from one side of the tunnel to the other, and when Kevin Love and I dragged him out to Jean, Nevada, to make his first skydive, he was pulling style Ts all the way down. And now, well if you don’t already know, Ray Kubiak is the number-one tunnel flyer on Earth, pulling tricks cleaner and faster than anyone before. Even though I only taught him one-millionth of what he knows, I still get to brag and say that I, the Fuckin’ Pilot, taught Ray how to fly. So tell me then, why do I suck so fucking bad in the tunnels of today?
The players of today are, in my personal and long earned opinion, the next evolution in human flight. Unlike the amazing feats of the wingsuit flyers out there, or amazing canopy pilots, these modern-day tunnel rats aren’t using the best new canopy or the most advanced wingsuit. These true body pilots are relying on nothing other than their own limbs and the clean fast air flowing past them, translating it all into a level of flight that in 1998 I would have never dreamed possible.
The mind boggling (impossible from my vantage point) routines, body positions, speeds, and orientations are achieved with almost indistinguishable changes in body, hand, and foot positions that from my position will only ever be achieved in the wildest of my flying dreams, yet I will continue to try! I will without any doubt also continue to find myself in constant pain, either from slamming into the walls, holding a body position improperly, or simply trying to muscle the air, which clearly couldn’t care less how much I can bench.
Luckily for me, I find myself in a place filled with people who simply love to fly, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass how good or how bad I may be. Then again, I’ve only been sit flying in there up till now. When I finally grow the balls to attempt getting on my head, that could be a whole different story!
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