Team that trains at Tigard iFly tries for world title
They have all jumped out of airplanes, felt the powerful wind and performed tricks as they skydived toward earth. And oh, it's fun.
But the quartet of Jeff Dimock, Dave Retzlaff, Timmy Hunckler and Cole Fehr have sure taken to their newest endeavor, banding together as team Prana Vayu and risen to the top of the ranks in the trending sport of indoor skydiving, also known as bodyflight. They are national champions, actually, and going for the world title in Dynamic 4-Way competition at the World Indoor Skydiving Championship at Montreal from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23.
The Portland area's first indoor skydiving tunnel, iFly in Tigard, opened about two years ago. The Prana Vayu team members all work there now.
Team Praya Vanu — a term often found in yoga, and meaning "forward moving air" in Sanskrit — formed last year and, with Hunckler's addition in December, it became whole and started competing. It was quite an accomplishment, then, to win Dynamic 4-Way at their first nationals at the U.S. Indoor Nationals at iFly Virginia Beach.
"Between us we have about 20 years of tunnel experience," Hunckler said. "We didn't know what to expect. We formed as a team, wanted to do our best. And, we won by 24 seconds."
Competitions entail 90-second timed rounds in the tunnel. Speed and precision on tricks and acrobatics are emphasized; fliers are often only an inch or two apart. There's also a free routine.
So, what is indoor skydiving?
Fehr said that it takes a lot of muscle and flexibility and stamina. It's a full body routine and becomes a finesse sport, Hunckler added. It's like skiing, in that it takes awhile to become smooth and efficient with movement and thus cut down on exertion.
Praya Vanu is known for its use of wetsuits, which makes flying smoother.
"It's like a choreographed dance, and you show the public how you fly your style," said Retzlaff, who compared the routine to synchronized swimming, only with winds of up to 170 mph — comparable to the gale forces in the eyewall of a Category 5 hurricane — instead of water.
He added, "You spend most of the time upside down. You're usually flying in a circle vertical pattern; you go up and down, or go around each other. And we do both vertically and horizontally, shooting past each other fast. We basically dive into the tunnel in quadrants. There's a lot of staggered, complicated back-and-forth, over-and-under. ... It's way more three-dimensional together."
Obviously, there are differences between real skydiving and indoor skydiving.
"We all skydive," Hunckler said. "It's the same in general, the scheme, physics and mechanics. But the psychological aspect of the skydive is totally different. There's nothing like hanging out of a plane and flying with buddies."
Hunckler, 28, and Retzlaff, 34, live in Portland; Dimock, 37, a yoga instructor (hence the team name) and "team dad," lives in Tigard; Fehr, 25, lives in Beaverton.
It's not unusual for four guys to be practicing for five months and be national champions already, Retzlaff said.
The team has practiced together for about 100 hours; because a skydive routine is a minute or so, that adds up to a lot of skydives.
The team has been invited to other events in the next year; the International Bodyflight Association is the governing body. They'll participate in the Sakura Cup Invitational in Japan in summer 2018; the Sakura Cup also will be held in 2020 during the Summer Olympics.
Could we see indoor skydiving in the Olympics someday?
"We sure hope so. That's where we feel this is going," Retzlaff said. "We're astonished it's not in the X Games yet — the visuals are so cool."
Fehr said the sport is "really getting big, starting to blow up."
He added, "With more wind tunnels getting built, the sport is growing."
To follow Praya Vanu at the world championships, see wisc2017.com. Some competition will be shown on The Olympic Channel. The team also has an active Instagram account.
The iFly Portland Indoor Skydiving center in Tigard provides opportunities for members of the public to try out the activity. For info: iflyworld.com/portland.