Bodyflying Since 2006 Winter Olympics Games
The Closing Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics took place on 26 February 2006 at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, Italy.
Interview with Ivars Beitāns, stuntman, entrepreneur, and chairman of Aerodium Technology
At the 2006 Winter Olympics closing ceremony you had a stunt performance as a snowboarder flying in the wind tunnel. Can you tell, how you became involved?
In August 2005 I received an inquiry from an Italian show organizer Marco Balich, who was looking for the first time in the history of Olympic games to include a flying performance, fusing the dream of achievements with the dream of flying. And the whole world dreams of flying! I happened to open an outdoor wind tunnel in Latvia earlier that year, one of a handful at that time in Europe. We shot a video to answer the initial inquiry, showing our skills and performances. Unlike other models available on the market at that time, ours was mobile and could be custom fit under the stage.
The performance, seen on Youtube, looks stunning even nowadays. Who came up with the show program?
Luckily there were no major restrictions what concerned the creativity, so we took the initiative from our side. After receiving the invitation, we were all extremely motivated and tried out flying with all kinds of winter sports equipment – skis, sled, and also snowboard. As I liked doing snowboard at that time, I started flying with it. To be honest, especially at first it is very dangerous as you can easily lose control and fall on the mattresses at an awkward angle. But the motivation of our team, we were 7 people altogether, helped us overcome initial mishaps. We were flying and training even during nights to get the proficiency. So I trained to become the best snowboarder in air.
In a way this was a turning point after which a whole new industry and sports developed. Back in 2006, when preparing for the Olympics, did you expect this would become “the next big thing”?
Yes, we had a clue. We also launched a special website on the night of the performance, however, promoting business over the internet was somewhat in an early stage back then. In any case, soon after we started getting invitations from around the world and the investment in the wind tunnel paid back within a year.
Everywhere we went, we encountered a great deal of emotions and passion of the people, which affirmed that we are on the right path and made us want to spread it to the masses.
When was the first time you flew in a vertical wind tunnel, what were your emotions, thoughts…?
First time I tried flying at SkyVenture, Orlando, early 2000s. I had big expectations, but having done a lot of different stunts in the past, it took some time to realize what flying really meant. The real excitement came when I ordered a wind tunnel from Canada to install in Sigulda, Latvia. I knew that having such a machine in my backyard, was predestined to give lots of thrills and fun, and for the first 6-12 months it was really an obsession. The only other time I got similarly enthusiastic in my life was when I got to fly in our freshly constructed open air tunnel called Peryton [red. as of 2019, the largest vertical wind tunnel in the world] last year.
Recently a movement FLYIN2024 started to fight for the inclusion of bodyflying in the Summer Olympic games. Do you think the sport has enough Olympic potential?
Answering this question directly would be very subjective, but let’s put it this way – over the last decade bodyflying has become a real sport, there are several equipment manufacturers, competitions taking place, it has a global scale and a significant number of both male and female athletes. At the same time, in my opinion a crucial point, which needs to be addressed, is the somewhat low view ability. Most indoor wind tunnels, in which competitions take place, gather 50 to 100 spectators due to lack of space. Even enlarging the spectator area may not help much. The Olympic games are a show, at the stadium or through the television, people want to see action, breathtaking performances, athleticism. An outdoor tunnel with a large diameter, such as the Peryton, would be much better suited for such an event, lifting space limitations presented by indoor tunnels. Bringing the bodyflying sports to the open air, under the blue sky would surely help in the pursuit for Olympic recognition.
“We’re investing in technology (Aerodium Technology), not for its own sake but because it can make the customer experience more attractive and exciting”
said Ivars Beitans, company owner.
Open-air wind tunnels
Looking back, the early wind tunnels were all open-air and at the Olympic ceremony you are flying at a height of 15 meters with no walls around you. Do you think that current enclosed indoor wind tunnels with increased safety are an appropriate trade off for the freedom and thrills provided by the open-air wind tunnels?
Nowadays there is a number of different indoor skydiving tunnels, but it is true that flying in an enclosed model, inside a building you lose some perception of reality. In slang, the bodyflyers sometimes refer to themselves as “tunnel rats”. Flying outside at the height of treetops, surrounded by people, feeling the fresh air and sunshine, seeing clouds and airplanes, it’s a totally different experience. First-time flyers are usually very positive about this, and it’s more likely to be the PROs who sometimes have difficulty adjusting if they are used to one certain type of bodyflying.
We have also come a long way. Aerodium’s biggest challenge and contribution to the bodyflying industry has been creating open-air tunnels that meet highest safety standards and thus are suitable not only for shows, but also for commercial application. People often have hard time imagining how comparingly inefficient, loud, and unsafe the first generation of wind tunnels used to be up until 2014 or so. In the current models you can fall, you can jump around and they basically are as safe as a trampoline park. Having said that, there are certain safety rules for any wind tunnel, be it indoors or outdoors, however flying in a modern wind tunnel does not require more caution that any other active sport.