As the sport of indoor skydiving increases in popularity overseas, Bob Pizzini is already making strides to establish Virginia Beach as the U.S. home of indoor skydiving.
And for the CEO and managing partner of iFLY Virginia Beach, that includes a pending position as executive director of the national governing body for indoor skydiving designated by the National Aeronautic Association, as well as establishing the title of the U.S. National Training Center for Indoor Skydiving.
The company’s wind tunnel, which is 14 feet in diameter and 52 feet tall, hosted the nation’s first indoor skydiving competition last April. That event was also the U.S. qualifier for teams wishing to compete in the World Air Sports Federation’s championships of indoor skydiving in Montreal, Canada, last October.
The international competition rotates between a championship and cup every year. National teams are invited to compete in a championship, but anyone is able to compete in a cup.
This year’s U.S. qualifier will be in May and Pizzini said he expects around 150 competitors from six to 10 countries.
International athletes are invited to compete, but only 25 U.S. athletes will be on the nation’s team.
Pizzini said athletes from last year’s competition participated in an extensive survey that provided feedback identifying iFly Virginia Beach as the best facility, wind tunnel, staff, organized competition and live broadcast.
That feedback, along with some investigation into how the competitive aspect of the sport could be profitable, led Pizzini to take an interest in hosting competitions and creating a U.S. team.
Last year, the U.S. team was made up of people from across the country. But there was no team manager, coach, head of delegation or physician.
Pizzini wants to take the lead in organizing the country’s team and representation, including acquiring sponsorships and partnerships.
He has already acquired a hotel sponsorship, VSA Resorts, which is currently hosting several athletes who are training at the center.
“These guys works at a different tunnel but they’ve come here to train,” he said. “That speaks to the value that we bring to their overall organization.”
He developed the concept of indoor skydiving, which aims to shepherd the U.S. team through world competitions, establish Virginia Beach as the national training center, and plan and host competition and professional events.
This year, Pizzini said he plans to install a permanent timing system, several more cameras for the wind tunnel, and establish a judging academy for the sport.
He said there are about 30 other wind tunnels for skydiving in the nation with another six or so under construction. There’s about 90 already built worldwide, he said.
Pizzini wants to put Virginia Beach next in line.
“The 2021 (world championship site) is not yet selected but if things go according to plan, it’s going to be here. By that time, we will have hosted three U.S. nationals (and) we will have demonstrated our ability to host a first-class event,” he said.
Pizzini said competition was the last thing on his mind when he was developing a business plan for iFLY, which opened in January 2015.
“This was the furthest thing from my mind. My intent was to open this facility for the purpose of first-time flyers … and military training. That was kind of my motivation to open the place …” he said. “The competition at that time, I thought, was a distraction. I wasn’t interested in it at all.”
“I feel great about helping advance the sport of indoor skydiving. What I feel a little bit surprised about is that I’m doing it,” Pizzini said. “Like I said, it wasn’t my original intent at all. It’s kind of a pivot. This thing just kind of presented itself.”