Youth: The Skydiver

Fancy jumping out of a plane? Meet Maja Kuczyńsk, the young fearless skydiver who began her journey aged 10 and is soaring to new heights

By Glorious

Photography by Red Bull

At just 23-years-old Maja Kuczyńsk is an incredible skydiver. From a young age, Maja delved into the world of indoor skydiving, honing her skills in wind tunnels that replicate the exhilarating experience of freefall. Her journey began at the age of 10, and as she continued to excel in indoor skydiving, winning the Junior World Championship in her debut competition, she decided to venture into traditional outdoor skydiving. We chat to the Red Bull ambassador about her passion for freestyle skydiving, the sensation and emotions she experiences and why she would encourage other young girls and women to embrace skydiving.

Maja: "Being in the sky feels like being in a playground where I can freely explore and enjoy the experience. Image Jin Marcin (Red Bull)

Glorious: What initially sparked your interest in skydiving?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Well, I’m actually more involved in indoor skydiving rather than traditional skydiving. My original sport is indoor skydiving, which involves flying in a wind tunnel. Wind tunnels are essentially skydiving simulators that recreate the same environment as a real skydive. Since you can’t skydive independently at a young age, I began my journey in the wind tunnel when I was 10 years old. My dad, who is a skydiver, took me on a tandem jump along with my mum and brother, who are also into skydiving. I had a great time, and afterwards, we decided to try out a wind tunnel. Fortunately, when we moved to the Czech Republic around the age of 11, a wind tunnel had just been built there. I started training and have been flying in the wind tunnel for 13 years now. In 2012, I started competing and won the very first Junior World Championships. I began skydiving when I turned 17, and since wind tunnel flying is a simulator for skydiving, I already had a solid foundation right from the start and I’m now planning to compete in traditional skydiving.

Maja: "I was a gymnast in the past, which drew me to the artistic aspect of freestyle skydiving." Images (left) Scott Palmer, (right) Alfred Jürgen Westermeyer


Maja is planning to compete in skydiving. Image Scott Palmer (Red Bull)

Glorious: How would you describe the transition from indoor skydiving to outdoor skydiving? 

Maja Kuczyńsk: The transition was incredibly liberating. In the wind tunnel, there is no room for error, as any mistake could result in a hard impact with the glass walls. On the other hand, outdoor skydiving allows for more flexibility and forgiveness. You can make minor mistakes and recover without any serious consequences. Surprisingly, it feels safer in the sky, even though it may seem counterintuitive. However, it’s important to note that indoor skydiving is also an extreme sport, and accidents can happen. Either way, being in the sky feels like being in a playground where I can freely explore and enjoy the experience.

Maja originally honed her skills in wind tunnels. Image Alfred Jürgen Westermeyer (Red Bull)

Glorious: Can you describe the sensation and emotions you experience when jumping out of an aircraft and soaring through the sky?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Many people express fear of the falling sensation when considering skydiving, often relating it to the feeling of abruptly waking up from a dream. Interestingly, in skydiving, that sensation is not present unless you’re jumping from a stationary object. For example, when jumping from a balloon, the slow movement allows you to accelerate from a standstill to your terminal velocity. However, when you jump from a plane, which is the most common scenario, you’re already moving at a high speed and the only change is the direction. To give you an idea, imagine sticking your hand out of a moving car’s window. You can feel the wind as if it were a solid object and skydiving feels very much like that. The ability to perform tricks is made possible by the air’s density, which allows us to push against it as if it were solid. For instance, if I wanted to transition from a lying position to standing, I would use my arms to push down, causing my chest to rise and my legs to lower.

Glorious: How long does it take to learn skydiving, and how are you evaluated in competitions?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Unfortunately, skydiving is a sport that takes a considerable amount of time to master. Even in indoor skydiving, those at the top of the sport have typically been doing it for at least 10 years. It’s a sport that requires dedicated practice and commitment. Unlike some sports like ice skating, where the top athletes are usually very young, skydiving is not limited by age. It’s not an impact sport, and indoor skydiving doesn’t put strain on joints or involve landing on ice.

There are professional skydivers in their 60s who still perform remarkably well because the sport doesn’t have a significant physical toll on the body. In terms of competition judging, it varies based on the discipline. Personally, I participate in freestyle skydiving. I was a gymnast in the past, which drew me to the artistic aspect of this discipline. Although freestyle skydiving often gains attention on social media, it is not as popular within our sport, formation skydiving (FS) holds that title. In addition, there are other disciplines such as dynamic in the wind tunnel, which involves racing to complete a specific set of moves in a defined time frame. When it comes to freestyle, we are judged on factors like the difficulty of our moves and the quality of our presentation.

Maja: "Our brains are remarkably adaptable, quickly acclimating to new situations." Image Kin Marcin (Red Bull)


Glorious: Do you ever feel scared; how do you cope with fear?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Our brains are remarkably adaptable, quickly acclimating to new situations. What was once frightening can become completely ordinary. Of course, if something out of the ordinary occurs, like a parachute malfunction, it’s natural to experience fear. In such cases, adrenaline kicks in, urging us to fix the issue. I would liken it to the sensation of flying in a plane when the view from the window no longer evokes any emotional response. I sometimes attempt to provoke a reaction within myself. I grip onto the parachute, gaze beneath me, and consciously tell my brain that there’s nothing below. Yet, when nothing is amiss, we become so accustomed to it that our brains remain unresponsive.

Maja pictured as a child: "Personally, I’ve never been afraid of skydiving because it has been a part of my life from a young age."
Maja with her father and brother, her first tandem skydive aged 10

Glorious: This sport must require a great deal of mental concentration.

Maja Kuczyńsk: Absolutely. It’s a highly collaborative sport and without someone documenting it, it’s as if it never occurred. Therefore, it involves both the flyer and the cameraperson working in sync. The primary focus lies not only in executing moves gracefully but also in maintaining precise alignment with your partner, ensuring you don’t drift apart.

Glorious: You’ve been skydiving since the age of 10, and now you’re only 23. Is that uncommon in this sport?

Maja Kuczyńsk: I would say it’s quite uncommon. There might be only a couple of individuals worldwide who have reached this level at such a young age, but it’s important to consider the criteria for evaluation. Skydiving is more than just free flying. It involves years of experience in areas like canopy flight, which actually takes up more time than the free flight portion. During a skydive, you spend around 45 to 50 seconds in freefall and approximately two minutes under the canopy. Canopy flying itself is like a separate sport, comparable to learning how to paraglide. In my case, with around 1,000 jumps, it’s not a significant number compared to most professional skydivers and other Red Bull skydiving athletes. They have accumulated over 10,000 jumps, and some even exceed 30,000 jumps. So, in reality, I’m still considered a novice skydiver, but I have honed my skills as a proficient free flyer.

Shortcut to Party, Helski, Poland, 2022. Image Kin Marcin (Red Bull)


Glorious: Are more women getting involved in the sport of skydiving?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Yes. Skydiving has always been quite inclusive for women, but it’s difficult for me to provide a comprehensive perspective since my own progression in skydiving is not typical. Starting from scratch in skydiving, if I wanted to train for an hour in a wind tunnel, I could accomplish that in a day. But if I wanted to train for an hour in the sky, it would require 60 skydives, which could take around four months. There are many female skydivers now, and there have been skilled female skydivers for quite some time. Skydiving is not a sport divided by gender, so both men and women compete together in the same competitions and stand on the same podium, which is remarkable and inspiring.

Glorious: Do you have any advice for young aspiring skydivers?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Absolutely! Skydiving can be an incredibly empowering experience. Many people might initially think, “I could never do that, it’s too terrifying,” and fear holds them back. The truth is that we can adapt to almost anything. Once you take that leap and try it, you’ll likely find that almost everyone is thrilled with their jump. Of course, everyone feels scared the first time, I certainly was terrified. But once you’re up there, you realise you’re in capable hands, and if you choose to continue, it becomes a source of immense empowerment. Personally, I’ve never been afraid of skydiving because it has been a part of my life from a young age. However, I did have a fear of drowning and being deep underwater. So, I decided to take a free diving course to confront that fear. Now, I can dive down to depths of around 20 metres on a single breath. It’s a similar concept of conquering your fears and feeling empowered. That’s why I would encourage young aspiring skydivers to go for it.

Maja: "It would be cool to be involved in films and perform stunts." Images (left) Scott Palmer, (right) Kin Marcin (Red Bull)

Glorious: Would you consider yourself a professional skydiver?

Maja Kuczyńsk: Well, the concept of being a professional skydiver isn’t quite the same as being a professional tennis player. For instance, in skydiving, there’s no direct way to earn money through competitions. Participating in competitions often requires a significant financial investment. For example, I paid around 4,000 euros to compete in the World Championships of indoor skydiving this year, and there are no monetary rewards for placing on the podium. I approach it more like a sponsored athlete. With my achievements and skills, I can position myself as someone who can actually deliver in certain aspects. I often collaborate with companies that are interested in creating unique commercials or videos. For instance, I recently did a commercial for a fashion company where they wanted a video of me flying in a dress. So, in that sense, I can be considered a professional skydiver.

Glorious: What are your future goals?

Maja Kuczyńsk: It would be cool to be involved in films and perform stunts, bring my skills to the big screen. I’m also aiming to compete in skydiving and win a world championship title, although it won’t be possible this year due to various factors. We didn’t have enough training jumps because of the challenging weather conditions in Poland, where we only have around 6 months of favourable weather for skydiving. We travelled to Dubai in January and expected to do around 100 jumps, but due to continuous rainfall, we could only manage 25 jumps. This is one of the frustrating aspects of skydiving in comparison to tunnel flying. Tunnel flying offers more flexibility, especially in Poland, where we have a fantastic facility called Flyspot. We can fly in the tunnel even in the middle of the night or whenever it suits us.

Maja Kuczynska and Luke Czepiela perform during Red Bull Game Of A.I.R. in Bovec, Slovenia, 2020 SAMO VIDIC)

Editorial Design by This is Root

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