Windobona offers indoor skydiving as a first step into the great blue yonder
I’ve never been an adrenaline junkie, preferring to leave extreme sports to manic, over-caffeinated types. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane simply for the rush never held much appeal to me. So when I was invited to Windobona, an indoor sky diving simulator at Vienna’s Prater, I was both apprehensive and intrigued by their basic premise: a vertical wind tunnel offering a realistic free falling experience in a wholly secure environment. Nestled between garish sideshows and precipitous helter-skelters, Windobona’s understated modern premises can be easily overlooked, but unless you enter this technological marvel, the mind-blowing experience will forever pass you by.
Suitable for both novices and pros like the Red Bull Skydive Team, their wind tunnel is immense: a gigantic, hollow, glass doughnut laid on its side in which four gigantic fans circulating winds of up to 280km/s. Their Prater branch is their flagship, with several more of the same name spawning across Europe over the last years. Indeed, the name is a local portmanteau: Vindobona was the Roman predecessor to Vienna, I’ll let you figure out the rest.
After the practical demonstration and safety briefing – and a mandatory legal disclaimer – I made my way towards the wind tunnel, my heart jumping out of my chest and an acrid taste developing at the back of my throat. Despite the preparation and spectacular equipment – shiny overalls, helmet, goggles and ear protectors – much still unnerved me about my imminent gravity-defying experience. Embarrassingly, my wits began to desert me in the face of tackling this beast but, sticking my courage to the sticking place, I took a manly dive into the 120 km/h vertical jet of air.
Leap of Faith
Unless you’ve experienced a free fall simulator, it’s hard to appreciate how strange it is. It feels like a combination of two strange states: One is a hypnic jerk – that weightless, sinking feeling when one briefly dozes off and awakens with a sudden jolt, and the other is that lurching sensation when sitting in a stationary train – and the adjacent train moves.
As the airflow increased, I soared to about eight feet before losing my balance. Primal fear gripped me for a moment as I headed in a downward spiral, but I was quickly corrected by my friendly instructor, maintaining a steady height of about three or four feet above ground. Then it finally kicked in: The queasy discomfort quickly melted away, leaving euphoria and a massive adrenalin rush. As someone hesitant to leave his comfort zone, I’d say it was therapeutic.
Sadly, it was over too soon: just as I began to master the art of free falling, a hand grabbed me by the overalls and pulled me back to reality. Within two minutes I went from neurotic wreck to elation to feeling like a child with its toy taken away. If I had unlimited funds, I would have gladly parted with €630 for a full half hour session (for up to ten participants).
Despite my reservations, Windobona eased me in very gently and I like to think that the most apprehensive parts of me are now gone with the wind. Perhaps one day I’ll manage an actual skydive, but in the meantime, I’ll always have Prater.