The flying grasshopper – paragliding Stanwell Park

grey The flying grasshopper   paragliding Stanwell ParkWell kids, as you may have guessed from my crapping on about suitable languages for arguments and stupidly fast boats I have not had much of a chance to go paragliding Stanwell Park recently. Wind conditions combined with work conditions have kept my feet rather grounded. I have a shiny new wing currently in lockup at the Woolongong customs shack because the officer decided he needs to know the price of a stuff bag for import taxation reasons…it is worth about $5 Aus, you tosser!

Anyway enough of the boo hoo. Yesterday I got my second favourite type of call, Mark Mitsos, my trusted teacher from Sydney paragliding (http://sydneyparagliding.com) was on the other end of the line and after formalities (a discussion of recent weather events with me trying to sound like I know something about convergence and isobars) he said;

“Anyway wanna fly Ben?”

“Damn straight I wanna fly mate!”

“Cool, be at the hill at half one”

“See you there”

Next thing I know I am sorting out flouro green and yellow rising straps while facing a Liberace purple wing, behind me are spiky cliffs above sucking waves. It is a brutal drop if one were to run off these cliffs without the benefit of the aerofoil. I have that benefit, along with a helmet, a radio, and knocking knees.

I do not know why I am so bloody nervous, I have done this before at least three times, sure it was a month ago but harden up Ben.

“When you are ready in three, two, one…”

*Breathe out, imagine butterflies flying out of your mouth* (Don’t laugh it works)

“Okay Mitsi, three, aaand”

I lean back into the harness and the wing lifts beautifully. I turn and don’t look up like I should. I run like a mad man, watching the grass when I should be watching the horizon and monitoring my course. Soon grass turns to shrubs hanging on to steeper ground which turns to rock.

I am flying.

I lean back to sit into my seat (How cool is a sport you can do sitting down!) but cannot get in. I have left my leg straps too loose which means that I am hanging too low to get into my seat easily. I push and wriggle, swinging back on forth and finally get to my perch to take control of the glider.

They say that the launch is the hardest thing, this is true. Once in my seat and committed my brain slows, no, not slows, it focusses. I forget about being nervous, after all I am committed now, and I focus on flying the thing. One gets this real sensation of being in touch with an area when the flicker of leaves or ripples on a lagoon can signal danger. The lagoon is ripply which means that the wind has not turned convergent (cold wind dropping down a valley, like a Jihad joke during Ramadan). I monitor my height, resist the temptation to yahoo the young people smooching on the bonnet of a Falcon ute below and land safely on the beach. Woop!

Bugger, forgot to start my bloody helmet cam. Mitsi is on the radio saying; “Good one Ben, see you shortly lad” I am grinning too much to reply.

A repeat performance and the conditions become un-flyable, I go home, miss my girlfriend some more (Hey, I have only seen her 3 weeks in the last 6 months), sleep, eat breakfast, shower and get a call;

“…Anyway wanna fly ben?”

“See you there Mitsi!”

I face a rudely purple wing; today I have done two flights already with roaring success and much manic chuckling. The sun is sinking and the air is getting cold, dense and sinky. I blow out my flotilla of butterflies and lean back into the harness. The wing comes up beautifully, I check the lines (it’s kind of important to ensure that brakes lines don’t wrap around forward lines) turn and run.

It feels as though three midgets have jumped onto my back. I am pushing and running as fast as I can but don’t seem to get any forward momentum. The edge greets me with her gappy grin as Mitsi comes on the radio:

“Stop, stop, stop…oh, that was good”

“Hahaha…hahaha”

I have just run down the steep edge, hopping over bushes and grass and have barely managed to get the one last strong push off needed to send me soaring. I felt the wing trying to lift me and knew that one good push would get me airborne. Now airborne I pull on the right brake which puts my hand near the radio switch;

“Sorry Mitsi, I was committed”

“It’s all good, I’ll forgive you!”

My heart is racing, after all I have finally made my first paragliding decision, my teacher said to stop but I knew I was committed. Calmed by Mitsi’s forgiveness I turn to the right and fly further around the hill than I have even done before. I turn left and fly past the launch area. I am at the same height! I have just, technically, done a soaring flight! Ripper, no loss of altitude, dynamic lift, Aerofoils, the Wright brothers and all that cool flying stuff.

I fly closer to the beach and prepare for landing. A man has a girl sitting in his lap as they smooch away on a rug, they are unaware of the soon intruder. I descend close to this sunset interlude feeling like Batman but looking like Mr Bean on ecstasy. I apologise for the intrusion and coil up the lines.

Looking back up to the hill I finally manage the mile long stare that Mitsi keeps telling me to give those camera toting tourists at the launch zone who wait for a launch fail and make me nervous.

I have made a correct launch decision all by myself. I have ruined a sneaky beach root for some poor punters (kind of satisfying for a bloke who has not seen his girl in 52 days!) and I have doubled my solo flight time.

Not a bad day’s work then.

Tomorrow Dad is coming to visit, he is the unsuspecting subject of my surprise bucket list project.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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