Paragliding Stanwell Park – First solo

grey Paragliding Stanwell Park   First solo I am standing on the edge of a cliff with a semi-circle of around fifteen onlookers curiously watching me sorting green from red lines. My hands are shaking and my back is wet with nerves. Some people squint through camera lenses, most just peer with a slightly open mouth like one does at a caged monkey. I am about to have my first go Paragliding Stanwell park, solo

I’m buckled into an overgrown baby capsule which is in turn attached to a glorified parachute by two clutches of brightly coloured line. My life will soon be hanging from these lines, lines not unlike what you peg your undies to on a sunny Saturday morning. With my back to the very cliff I will be soon running off I face the wing and watch the leading edge move slowly in the slight breeze.

I am slightly terrified, need some serious self-talk.

“Dear nerves, piss off, this is why you are here. Don’t think, just act, get the launch right then worry about the rest in the air…”

Blocking out my nerves (and the audience) I focus on the launch.

It is time.

I feel a steady gust of wind and raise the wing. The yellow and purple wing comes up perfectly centred and controlled. Now fully inflated it steadies above my head and tugs on my harness eagerly. The wing wants to fly. I am, however, in two minds…

“Don’t think, just act”

I turn to face the cliff and gently control the wing above my head. Leaning forward I feel the rising lines push back on my shoulders, an assurance that this wing can fly. Leaning well forward while looking up at the horizon I push and walk, then run off the edge.

Grass falls away to become cliffs. The cliffs quickly disappear to reveal, much further down, waves crashing onto rocks. I wriggle myself into the seat, adjust my grip on the brake handle and look around.

“Shit you are fucking mad! Why not lawn bowls?…”

This is my first time flying off Bald Hill without a radio. Before taking this leap my teacher Mitsi assured me that I have the skills and ability to fly down, negotiate my altitude without hitting power lines or trees, plan my landing, land and survive, and all without his reassuring voice on the radio;

“It’s all good Ben, stay in that course” or “Do a 180, bleed some altitude, then come in to land”

This time it is all up to me and to be honest I feel damn lonely swingin high above the black rocks. All that I have for company is a rhythmic tugging of the brakes as the wing dances above my head and the steady whistle of rising lines cutting the air.

I make a few turns and look back at the hill, the onlookers now peer over the cliff towards me. I spot Mitsi intently following my progress.

“Ok, what did Mitsi say? Looking down on the low car park at about a 60 degree angle when passing means you are at about the right height, depending on the wind, thermic conditions and any catabatic winds coming down the valley”

When humans get scared the tendency is to clutch at things. I find myself unconsciously pulling on the brake progressively as I tense. The wing starts to fall behind me on its way to a stall. Realising my mistake I raise my arms to let the brake almost totally off, the wing responds by surging in front before settling down to a steady cruise.

Flying over the lower car park I see about five people standing around a car looking up. I get self-conscious as I pass over and force myself to stop grinning. Failing to act cool I swing out of the harness into the leg straps and focus on my landing.

I sight the spot where I want to land but fly right over the top. Too high.

“Wow, that happened quickly, okay, plan ‘B’”

Hard turn left, then right and down the beach.

My feet hit the sand only ten metres from where I want to land, not bad for a first try.

The three people on a picnic rug look on as the bearded weirdo from the sky starts a manic dance/crazy laugh combo even before the wing is fully deflated.

I have done it! My first paragliding flight without radio guidance.

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