Amy Watson, 12, lives and breathes indoor skydiving.
“Sometimes you dream about flying, and then your dream comes through,” she said. “I love the feeling, it’s like freedom in the tunnels.”
Indoor skydiving is practiced in a 25-metre-tall glass enclosure, where a column of air pushes skydivers upwards, enabling them to float.
Amy, who was defending the junior title at the Australian Indoor Skydiving Championships in Penrith, won the gold in the open freestyle category with her winning move, air splits.
“I’m on my stomach holding my left leg. I pull my right leg through and it makes me do splits with my left leg,” Amy said, describing her style. “It’s like gymnastics but in the air. We have to build a routine with flexibility.”
Amy has practiced indoor skydiving since the age of nine. Ranked fourth in the world, she holds the Guinness World Record for forty-four 360-degree spins in a minute. The previous record was twenty-nine spins.
She was awarded a sponsorship deal valued at $50,000 from a Hungarian club, which makes her the highest paid skydiver in Australia.
Now, Amy has her sights set on diving from a plane in her own country.
In Australia, divers must be at least 12 years old to participate in a tandem skydive. The minimum age for individual jumps is 16, though divers must also have parental consent.
Amy, who turned 12 a few weeks ago, is planning a tandem skydive in September with her coach, Inka Tiitto, a world champion indoor skydiver.
She has previously participated in a tandem dive in Spain, where the minimum age requirement is 14 years old, though an exception was made in her case.
“The view was amazing and I got to jump with my friends,” she said. “My dad had no idea, so it was a bit of a surprise. My mum was really nervous. She was down there so she had to distract herself.”
Amy’s father is glad her next dive will be according to regulations. “At least now it’s legal and above board here,” he said.
Millie Gilmore, 7, is also an indoor skydiver, who hopes to one day become an instructor. The youngest indoor skydiver at the Nationals, Millie placed 10th in the freestyle category.
“I love indoor skydiving because the first time I did it I was like, ‘Wow that was so fun’,” she said. “It makes me feel like a bird. When I’m in the air, I’m thinking about jumping out of a plane when I’m older. It just looks so fun when the grown-ups do it and going head down in the air.”
Millie’s mother, Christelle, is looking into organizing a tandem jump before she reaches the minimum age limit.
“Millie’s had a lot of experience now,” she said. “Most people who do [indoor skydiving] are using it to practice their maneuvers when they are skydiving. She’s learnt some pretty good skills.”
Australian Parachute Federation safety and training manager Richard McCooey said it would be “extremely rare” for the organization to allow a child under the age of 12 to participate in tandem skydiving, though exceptions have been made for the children of professional skydivers or through the Make A Wish Foundation.
“The concern with younger participants is that they fully understand the risk of skydiving and the associated consequences,” he said.