No limits: Pushing the envelope with 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".
Vertical wind tunnels, where air moves up a column that stands up to 20 meters 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 300 kilometers per hour, and while the moves look effortless, staying in control requires enormous strength, flexibility and precision.
But there are no limits on creative freedom.
"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.” Maja said.
"A couple of different people and I are creating this discipline," Maja adds.
She won the bronze medal in solo freestyle at a major international indoor skydiving competition, the Wind Games 2017, last month in Empuriabrava, northeastern Spain.
She was only outdone by Singapore's 14-year-old indoor skydiving sensation Kyra Poh, who won gold in the freestyle category, and Czech competitor Jakub Harrer, who took silver, according to the Wind Games 2017 official website.
Although there are still just a handful of people worldwide competing at the top level in the solo freestyle category, there is already talk of the sport making it to the Olympics.
Indoor skydiving has grown in popularity in China, with Indoor Skydiving Source’s website listing seven vertical wind tunnels across the country. A 2014 Global Times report quoting the General Administration of Sport estimated that some 5,000 people in the country had experienced indoor skydiving.