Polish pioneer pushes for freestyle indoor skydiving

Dressed in a white skintight full body suit and helmet, Maja Kuczynska spins furiously before diving into a fast-moving sequence of airborne gymnastic moves with the elegance of a ballet dancer.

Soaring into yet another spin, she then floats, twists and backflips in choreographed maneuvers akin to acrobatics or ice-skating suspended in midair. Her expressive and dizzying two-minute display is enthusiastically applauded by the crowd seated around the outside of the wind tunnel.

At the age of 17, the Polish high school student is one of about 20 top indoor skydiving competitors worldwide, who are pioneering the solo freestyle version of a sport they call “flying”. “It's more of an artistic approach to the subject,” said the slender and sleepy teen as she waited to practise at the busy vertical wind tunnel in the Polish capital, Warsaw.“It’s such a fast-paced discipline, right now there’s no one to teach me,” she adds. Vertical wind tunnels, where air moves up a column that stands up to 20m high, were first developed for aerodynamic tests.

Their recreational use has gained in popularity over the last decade among skydivers seeking a safer alternative to jumping out of a plane. Wind speeds in the tunnel can reach up to 300km per hour and, while the moves look effortless, staying in control requires enormous strength,and precision. “It’s really different from, let’s say, ice-skating, because it’s been around for such a long time that now it’s really hard to create new moves, while in the tunnel I can go in and play and create something nobody has ever seen before. 

“A couple of different people and I are creating this discipline,” Maja adds.

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