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‘I'm able to appreciate beauty that not very many people get to see.’

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Photo>>>Samo Vidic

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Feature by Paige Reynolds

There aren’t many 22 year olds who’ve already lived in six different cities, and fewer still who jump out of planes for a living. But Warsaw-born Maja Kuczyńska isn’t most 22 year olds.

After completing her first tandem jump aged 10, Maja started training in the wind tunnels of Czechia as a teenager. By age 16, she was a Red Bull-sponsored professional indoor skydiver. Amassing legions of followers on Instagram, it’s difficult not to be mesmerized by her acrobatic freefall routines and the fresh creative approach she brings to the sport. While speaking to Exceptional ALIEN, her bird’s-eye perspective on the world, both figuratively and literally, shines through. Keen to bust the myth that skydiving is a rich person’s sport, Maja chats with us about the hippy nature of the skydiving community and where to seek out fun in the Polish capital, in her Warsaw Travel Playbook.

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On growing up across six different cities

My dad worked at a bank and helped by opening different branches across Europe. So we would go to a place, he’d work there for three years, make sure everything was running smoothly, and then move to another place. I was born in Warsaw; I lived there for one year. Then we moved to Munich, and I lived in Munich for five years. Then to Paris, where we lived for two years, and then to Kyiv in Ukraine for three years, and then to the Czech Republic for three years. And finally to Wrocław, which is one of Poland’s bigger towns. Once I moved out of my parents’ house, I moved by myself to Warsaw. People often ask if moving around a lot had a negative impact on me, but I don’t think so. I got to learn a lot of different languages. I got to hang out with a bunch of people from different cultures. I grew up in the international school community understanding all these topics like prejudice and sustainability. It was a super progressive environment and I really enjoyed it.

On where you started your skydiving journey

I started my journey as an indoor skydiver. If you're very good at the tunnel, you're going to be very good at freefall. In skydiving, there are two parts: there's the freefall part where you're just falling; and then there's the canopy part which you can’t really learn in the tunnel. I started in the tunnel because my dad — who is a big skydiving fan — took my whole family to do my first tandem jump when I was 10 years old. We went a year after they built a wind tunnel in the Czech Republic, and then when I was 11, I started training, just for fun. I've been training for competitions for 10 years, and flying in the tunnel for 12 years now.

On what the skydiving community is like

It’s a bunch of hippies that really like what they're doing. If you're a skydiver, you're most likely earning off of being a skydiver — and what are the jobs? You can either be a cameraman for a tandem jump, you can be the tandem instructor, or you can teach people how to skydive. So in order to live off of skydiving, you have to love it. I think that kind of makes the sport special. The majority of people who are skydivers are just people who want to have fun for the rest of their lives.

Whether it’s moving countries or jumping out of planes, Maja Kuczyńska doesn’t spend much time sitting still. Her spellbinding twists and turns through the skies have delighted audiences across the world, and her commitment to the sport led her to become a Red Bull-sponsored professional skydiver at only 16 years old. First row of Maja in Game of A.I.R in Slovenia, photographed by Samo Vidic for Red Bull; second and third rows shot in Jastarnia by Marcin Kin for Red Bull.

On why skydiving is so creative

I almost feel like it's more of a creative thing than it is a sport. It’s definitely still a workout, but people like to compare it to dance. I don’t think it’s much like dance because there's no sense of rhythm and flow — when you're skydiving it's a lot more like tricking or gymnastics. You do a trick and then you stop. If you add music to it, it looks like there's kind of rhythm and stuff, but when I do it, it feels a lot more like tricking. It's also a mixed sport: we have both men and women in the same category, so you can fly like a dude, or you can fly like a girl. It’s not a discriminatory.

‘I’m scared of heights in many situations, but when you're skydiving, there's no reference. You're just floating and looking down at Google Maps.’

On whether you plan the routines in the sky

It's totally freestyle. It’s a two-person sport between myself and my partner who films it all. I’ve actually never competed in one but in freestyle skydiving competitions, the total score is the performance of the cameraman and the free flier, because it's a three-dimensional space. The tricks I’m doing will be totally different depending on where he films and at what angles. So if I do a split he can film from underneath me, but we could get more points if I’m doing a split and turning, and he goes below me and also does a turn, as it will look like I’m spinning faster. People don't think about the fact that when I move, I change both speed and direction. We decide the general speed before, but my partner has to watch what I'm doing super closely and immediately react to how fast I'm falling — and also point the camera at me the entire time.

On the coolest place to skydive

Dubai is pretty crazy to skydive over. But honestly, I would say the coolest place to skydive over is in Hel Peninsula in Poland. Basically, every single one of my videos that has gone really viral on Instagram are the ones where I'm jumping over the Hel Peninsula. It looks like a tropical island and is really underappreciated.

Though Maja admits she has a somewhat unexpected fear of heights, it’s clear the young athlete is not one to shy away from a challenge. Her lightness in the air matches her lightness of spirit. Maja is disciplined — but knows when to have fun with the sport too. “Sky Diver VS Aerobatic Pilot | Game Of A.I.R” sourced via YouTube courtesy of Red Bull.

On how skydiving changes your perspective on the world

I feel like I'm able to appreciate beauty that not very many people get to see. I get a lot of comments under my social media posts where people are like ‘Wow this place, Hel Peninsula, is so beautiful from above.’ It looks more beautiful from above than from the ground. It’s also really nice when you're by the sea or if the city looks really interesting. It basically feels like you're just looking at a satellite image or Google Maps. When you stand on a building and look down, it feels terrifying because you can see the building getting smaller below your feet. I’m scared of heights in many situations, but when you're skydiving, there's no reference. You're just floating and looking down at Google Maps. It’s really beautiful, and you feel a little bit disconnected from fear.

‘Warsaw was actually voted the second most vegan-friendly city in Europe. Tel Aviv is a really nice vegan one, and also Peaches Gastro Girls.’

On your relationship with Warsaw

I moved to Warsaw as soon as I finished high school. That's mostly because the wind tunnel that I fly at, Flyspot Poland, is in Warsaw. I think Poland in general is one of the most underappreciated countries in Europe for comfortable living. The majority of Poland is unfortunately not very progressive, but Warsaw is like this oasis. Warsaw was actually voted the second most vegan-friendly city in Europe. If I just lived in Warsaw and didn't travel so much, I would easily be a vegan because they put so much effort into making good food here.

On showing a friend around Warsaw for the day

A lot of tunnel fliers and skydivers come through Warsaw to train, so I do show people around really often. We usually spend the day on these Lime scooters — the electric ones — and we go to the Old Town center. Then we go through Krakowskie Przedmieście, this nice street of pretty buildings by the river, before going down to the river to the really nice boardwalk with steps, where a lot of young people go to drink and have fun. Then we usually take our friends to one of our favorite bars and restaurants. There's one called [Cafe Bar] Havana and one called Pacyfik, and Tel Aviv is a really nice vegan one, and also Peaches Gastro Girls. Also because Warsaw has a lot of dark, heavy history, there’s also a lot of really good historical museums we could visit.

Just like Maja, Warsaw is also full of surprises. From its storied past to its new reputation as a vegan paradise, the Polish capital has more to it than meets the eye. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, a quick free dive in the 45-meter-deep pool at Deepspot might be worth adding to your itinerary. First row the Warsaw Rising Museum courtesy of Warsaw Rising Museum; second row of Deepspot, left and right courtesy of Deepspot, middle courtesy of Maja Kuczyńska; third row of Tel Aviv restaurant, courtesy of Tel Aviv.

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On the different neighborhoods

As with most European cities there's an Old Town, but Warsaw was completely bombed in World War II so they rebuilt it around 40 years ago — very accurately. Then from that Old Town is a street that goes along the same axis as this river, which has palaces and the kinds of buildings that are made out of white marble, so it looks a little like Paris. It's called Krakowskie Przedmieście. Then there's a really good place with bars which is called Nowy Świat — it's like a big square with different bars. I would say Newonce.bar, Zagrywki and probably Pacyfik are the best spots. Zagrywki is really cool and has a bunch of games: there's a really cool mini golf where all the parts move; there's like pinball, beer pong and Skee-Ball — it’s got everything!

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‘I recently saw a TikTok and this guy was going wild over the fact that in Poland, there's a rollercoaster park that has a similar amount of reviews as Times Square. Can you imagine?!’

On learning the history of Warsaw and Poland more broadly

In Warsaw we have the Warsaw Rising Museum, which is pretty cool. The Warsaw Uprising was a really big event for Polish people, so I’d recommend that for sure. We also have the Jewish history museum [POLIN Museum], which is a really impressive structure, and of course you can go and visit the concentration camps like Auschwitz. I've not been there yet but I really want to go for the experience. It’s a pretty traumatic place to be. I've seen photos and videos and I will go one day, but I know it will have an emotional toll.

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On places for adrenaline junkies in Poland

A little bit below Warsaw, they have one of the deepest pools in the world, called Deepspot. It’s 45 meters deep. I also free dive so I enjoy holding my breath for a really long time. Deepspot is really cool, there's like this sunken ship and all these holes that you can swim in if you're a scuba diver. Then there's also one of the biggest water parks in Europe right next door called Suntago, it's epic. It's got this whole room filled to the brim with slides, to the point where you'll look up and every available space is filled with water slides. Inside there's also a surfing wave, wave pool, spa and sauna area, and healing pools where you can go have a sulfur bath. Also, don’t forget about our rollercoaster parks. I recently saw a TikTok and this guy was going wild over the fact that in Poland, there's a rollercoaster park that has a similar amount of reviews as Times Square. Can you imagine how many people go through Times Square every day, and it has the same amount of reviews as this random rollercoaster park in rural Poland? It’s called Energylandia and if you go during the middle of the day on a weekday, there's basically no queues.

Warsaw is a young city and has the nightlife to cater to those demands. Whether you prefer a quiet drink or a rowdy one, the capital has plenty of lively spots to soak up the buzz and try and out-putt some of the locals. Rows one and two courtesy of Zagrywki; row three courtesy of Newonce.Bar.

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On a window or an aisle seat

Window. I don't really mind bothering people to go to the bathroom because that's just how planes work, you know? So I prefer to have the view.

On a song that best represents Warsaw for you

Honestly? ‘Big City Life,’ which sounds weird because it's not a huge city, but it’s relatively easier to live in the center of Warsaw than it is to live somewhere like the center of New York. So it does feel like I'm living inside a really big city because I don't have to travel anywhere to be in the center. I wake up in the morning and I see skyscrapers.

On Warsaw in one word

Multifaceted. 


It seems like a failed answer because it kind of means everything. But Warsaw is such a hub for young people studying or wanting to party, and it's also the center of a country with a lot of history. So I think multifaceted is a good one.

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Maja

KUCZYŃSKA

‘I'm able to appreciate beauty that not very many people get to see.’