Paragliding Torquay – what a day!

If you were to ask an Aussie “What do you do in Torquay, Geelong?”  most likely you will hear breathless talk of Bells surf beach where the Rip Curl Pro, the worlds longest running surf competition, is held. You will also hear many familiar surf brand names bandied about, names like Rip Curl, Piping Hot and Quiksilver all call this sea side town their home. Torquay is also rather infamous as a favourite ‘Schoolies’ week destination. Schoolies week is an annual debacle where the kids finishing year 12 all meet up to camp, relax, drink and in some cases void the warranty on their political aspirations. Big waves, bikini clad women flaunting their silicone and wetsuit-clad muscle men with bleach blond hair…y’know, basically the perfect Australia stereotype. However, there is another thing to do here, something which is way more fun than getting sand in your speedos…Paragliding

“3, 2, 1, we got a lift off…”

This text message on Saturday morning from my good mate Fabio sends me into a sandwich-making-gear-sorting frenzy of don’t forget the sunscreen and “I love you babe, yeah I’ll be safe…”

I shove my big paraglider bag into the back of Fabio’s car and jump in the front to my customary welcome, “Hi Kakadu face, right to go” Fabio is an exceptional pilot who has just moved here from Switzerland, he is revelling in everything Australia. Leaving Melbourne behind we drive through Torquay, past all the surf shops and soon are standing on a cliff beside a “BEWARE! crumbling edges” sign.

The wind is too strong for my experience and I am not one to push it too hard. I watch a fellow ‘restricted pilot’ launch with help from his friends, they encourage him to go despite his pale face and knocking knees. The pilot looks uncomfortable throughout the launch.

 

I am extremely glad that Fab is a zero pressure mate. He never, ever puts any kind of pressure on me to fly if I am not ‘feeling it’ as he puts it.

“Mate, this is above my pay grade, I’ll hang here and do some ground practice.” I say, not displeased for the chance to practice this critical skill.

“No dramas, you can never have too much of that. I think I’ll get out the small acro wing for a play” Fab says with a wide grin. After an hour working on smoothly rising and lowering my wing I pack up and sit on the edge of the cliff to watch Fabio play. Fabio’s flying resume reads like an old school encyclopaedia. He is a member of the ‘U-Turn Swiss Acrobatics team’, a professional flight instructor and a very well respected tandem pilot. No doubt his biggest achievement in the sport  was being one of the crazy bastards who played Tandem Paintball Paragliding with me in Chile a few years back. Watching him play in the strong wind is no chore whatsoever.

 

Two hours later almost all the other pilots have worn themselves out and gone home. Fabio is still going hard at it on the small wing, while I chat to a friendly pilot (whose name sadly went in one ear and out the other…thankfully in Australia everyone calls each other ‘mate’ so any awkwardness was avoided). The wind drops to around my comfort level so friendly  pilot offers to stand nearby, watch and give help if needed. My launch is really good but my harness definitely not. Currently I am using an old borrowed harness with adjustable straps that hold up the seat plate. This allows you to adjust the pitch of the seat for comfort, much like a lazy-boy recliner. I didn’t think to check the straps prior to launch and they are fully released. This leaves the seat flapping against my ass like a doggy door in a hurricane and me hanging uncomfortably from leg straps that are trying to pinch my scrotum out of existence (hence the language warning on this next video). I let go of the brakes numerous times to try and get seated but give up in the name of safety and fly down to the beach to land and be greeted by a friendly surfer.

 

Immediately I pack my wing and run back up the hill. After ensuring my testicles still have a home and adjusting that bloody seat I launch again, . It is simply amazing to be flying around with one friend in a silky smooth afternoon breeze. I am grinning like a madman and thinking that this day could not get any better.

 

Fab flys close by and yells at me “Want to go paragliding on the other side Ben?” I yell back, “YUP” . Turning away he says to follow his line closely along the ridge. Leaving familiar ground and, feeling like a duckling following mum, I trust my leader despite a rapidly closing gap between feet and treetops. If I was alone I would have turned back long ago. The trees are getting closer and closer but I hang in there following my silhouetted leader. Trusting Fab pays off as I knew it would and soon we are back over a line of small red cliffs which are producing spectacularly reliable lift.

On the way to the big cliffs Fabio flips himself upside down to check on me and wave. We soon make the 2km trip to the big cliffs and spend a long time paragliding higher and increasingly closer to a setting sun. The breeze has settled and we are playing in a silky, laminar 3D river of air. This is higher and further than I have ever flown before and I am beside myself with excitement. The views are breathtaking. Below my feet are waves which once seemed so big and powerful, now they are simply small folds in the ocean’s azure fabric. My cheeks start to ache and I realise that I have been grinning widely for over forty minutes.

 

Much, much later we decide to make the long commute home into the headwind. It is almost surreal to be paragliding gently forward high over the world suspended by nothing more that glorified clothes line. Back at the familiar cliff where we started we fly a few times over the launch area, mucking about and delaying the end of this incredible day. I decide to be bold and try my first ever top landing. I know that the approach is crucial, coming in too high is not such an issue as you just overshoot the landing and try again. However if you come in too low there is a risk of being blown into rotoring air or back into the trees. I line myself up  and apply smooth brake pressure. The wind is holding me exactly where I want to be and soon I am gently reunited with earth. Fabio comes over to celebrate, he knows how excited I will be with this flight. I love the fact that, despite his vast experience, Fab is as excited as I am about our jaunt.

I live for moments like this, perfect conditions, great company and the universe conspiring in my favour.

 

Happy feet and blue skies to you.

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