Paragliding

I started learning Paragliding in Feb 2011 and am officially hooked. The silence, freedom and wonder of free flight needs to be experienced to believe.

Hot air ballooning in Melbourne with Andy from ‘Picture This’

You may notice in the attached photos that my wife has suddenly got a whole lot more hirsuite, this is because after booking our little adventure, Jette sadly fell ill and was forced to stay at home. It was too late to cancel or re-book, so I called my best mate Guy to ask if he wanted to wake at 4am on a Saturday morning, “No probs, that sounds great”, came his reply after I explained my plans for him.

The reason hot air balloons fly is the same reason midgets can survive mexican buffets; hot air rises. The cooler the surrounding air, the more reliable the lift. This is why hot air balloon rides leave so damn early. After meeting in town and signing a disclaimer that said we wouldn’t sue if we plonked down in a tree, we got to the launch field at around 5am. Our Pilot Andy efficiently organised us to help set up this big rip-stop nylon death machine. First cold air is blown into the balloon. This is done by holding the bottom end open and pointing a massive, petrol powered leaf blower thing inside. Soon the sheer size of the balloon became apparent, I’m guessing you could make at least 100 paragliding wings out of one balloon. The fan was making a raoucous and I noticed lights coming on at nearby houses. I could imagine the conversations, “Every bloody morning…I told you this park-side house was suspiciously cheap Beryl…”

Once Andy determined that enough cold air was inside it was time to heat things up. With the wicker basket on its side, Andy turned on the gas and gave the balloon a long hot blast from the burners. They sounded like some kind of possessed fighter jet, “Every bloody morning…” Soon the balloon was straining to lift the basket (which was very cleverly anchored to the van). Once the balloon was stable above the basket, Andy told everyone to clamber in.

Before I could say, “how safe are these things?” the anchor was untied and we silently floated up. The feeling was like being in a totally silent elevator, there was absolutely no breeze and we were all hushed as we skimmed over the trees. Launching a hot air balloon is far more relaxing than hurtling off cliff with a paraglider wing above your head. As we cleared the park we saw right into someone’s lounge room. A poor unsuspecting lady sat, relaxing in her lounge room, drinking her coffee and reading the paper in her nightgown. When she looked up with a startled expression Guy and myself waved and grinned manically until she scuttled red faced out of view.

Hot Air balloon pilots have two controls: blast the flame for up, release hot air for down. Pilots cannot steer the craft in the normal way but they manage to fly the whole rig going where they want. This piqued my curiosity. Once we were well above the city and in a pack of about six balloons, I started interrogating Andy. The magic force which pilots use to steer are called inversions. Usually as you increase in height, the air gets cooler. Sometimes there is a layer of air which is warmer than that  just below it called an inversion. Inversions create a change in wind direction so that if the wind is going North – South, it might be going East – West at the inversion layer. By bobbing between these subtle layers, hot air balloon pilots can effectively steer the craft and go [almost] anywhere they want. The level of skill required boggles the mind. I struggle to land my Paraglider on a big cliff with up/down/left/right steerage!

The views were expansive, the whole of Melbourne sprawled out before us as we watched the sun rising over distant mountains. As we were going with the wind there was not a single puff of breeze and an intermittent blast from the burners kept our shoulders warm. Soon Andy was busily radio-ing fellow pilots in the group. It was comforting to hear them asking him for advice. Peering over his glasses Andy was checking weather monitors and carefully adjusting our height. I was hugely impressed when he bought all his knowledge into play to swing us around in a big, graceful loop to land right in the middle of Fawkner park, St Kilda. We touched down with nary a bump and a rope was pulled to let all our hot air out. I felt rather deflated to be finished with the experience [I know, sorry].

We all helped to pack up the rig and were chauffered off to the Sofitel Hotel in the CBD where we were treated to the most impressive champagne breakfast buffet that I have ever gourged on.

I can highly recommend that you try hot air ballooning, even if you are scared of heights. There is a real feeling of security inside that tiny wicker basket full of propane tanks and flames, no really.

I know what you are probably thinking and yes, I asked Andy about launching my Paraglider from one of their balloons (see video at bottom). Andy gave me a contact who should be able to make this happen. This activity has received the green tick from the ‘safety committee’ (my wife) so I’ll keep you posted.

Blue skies and Happy Feet to you.

 

We flew with Picture This – Hot air ballooning The crew were highly professional and looked after everyone really well, especially the little nine year old girl who was hysterical before lift off. This experience and post was in no sponsored by Picture This.

Post note: On Tuesday morning, three days after our flight, Guy forwarded this article to me. Andy was forced to make an “unscheduled landing” that was “highly controlled”. Read: The wind died and Andy pulled off an incredibly prescise spot landing between Anna’s roses and back fence!! Read more here

 

Paragliding at Bright Video

Paragliding at Bright

grey Paragliding at Bright

 

A short video diary of my recent weekend paragliding at Bright with my mate Juan and some very cool freaks!

 

grey Paragliding at Bright

Fun times paragliding Torquay

As a beginner pilot I need the perfect conditions to go paragliding torquay. If the wind is too strong I may not get down easily and conversely if the wind is too low I may not get up! I also need a low tide so I can ‘bomb out’ down to the beach. Consequently I get to spend a lot of time para-waiting, that is sitting around watching more experienced pilots having fun whilst keeping my fingers crossed for the perfect conditions. Example; yesterday the wind was okay for me to fly in but there was a very high tide and, being something of a conservative pilot, I do not like flying without a second landing option.

Anyway, in lieu of me flying here a a nice little video I smashed together of some good friends having fun in the sky…enjoy

Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda with a red balloon.

grey Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda with a red balloon.

Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda

So I am back in Melbourne a little earlier than planned. I have returned to scout for rental properties near St Kilda, and maybe squeeze in some paragliding, naturally. While trawling realestate.com the other day I remembered that I had an unused skydiving ticket  compliments of my mate Lauren who works for online experience retailers  red balloon. I thought what better way to kickstart my day than by plummeting from 14 000 feet over Melbourne?

Suddenly a Go-Pro is being waved at me by Kez while we walk towards a little white plane (a proper little plane, like Stuart Little’s yellow and red number). Kez is the man who will be strapped to my back as we plummet earthward at around 200km/hr. In just a few minutes this super-friendly Kiwi will literally have my life in his hands.

Before I climb in Kez shouts over the engines at me, “So how are you feeling Ben?”

I look at the plane, then him and reply with a grin, “A little nervous mate, I will tell you in a few minutes if this Lauren character is my friend or not!”

Note in the video below how I am striding as though I’m in a music video:

 

 

If you read my previous post on claustrophobia you will know that I am totally honest about my fears. Right now I don’t feel at all nervous. Buzzed with adrenaline, yes, excited about the jump, sure…but I am not fearing for my life in any biblical sense.

We clamber into the snug plane and I have to all but sit in Kez’s lap. Take off in this small buzzing plane is a convincing argument that man is just not meant to fly.

 

 

As we circle up I enjoy the view, make silly videos with Kez and look at the other victims. Donna sits beside me, a very cheery and fun-loving character she seems not at all nervous. Donna is loving the whole situation, laughing and joking with a wide grin she is here to support her good friend Vanessa. Vanessa sits in front of Donna wearing a much more serious expression. Vanessa’s husband bought this jump for her XXth birthday (I promised not to tell). He knew that she hates flying when he bought the voucher.

“He should have bought me that F#@king ring” she repeats nervously while looking around the tiny cabin with a haunted look. I am super impressed with how Vanessa’s guy talks to her the whole way through. He makes a big effort to explain everything that is going on and to reassure her that she will survive this ordeal.

 

 

The green “Over drop zone” light comes on and the door is slid open. Vanessa goes first. Vanessa and her instructor shuffle into position awkwardly in the tiny space. Her exit of the plane reminds me of the Bucket-list scene when Cole convinces Carter to skydive. With her legs hanging out of the door the instuctor yells, “Right to go?”

“Oh God” Is her fading reply as they snap out of sight.

Next Donna and her instructor shuffle into position and Donna exits with a hearty, “Here we go…Yeeee-harrr.”

 

 

My turn.

Kez and I shuffle into position. With my legs hanging over the void I am buzzing with adrenaline as the wind whips my hair. My legs are hanging over a 14 000 foot drop. I think to myself, “Shit just got real.”

Blowing my nerves out through pursed lips I imagine butterflies flying out of my mouth (don’t laugh it works for me). Before I finish Kez yells, “ONE, TWO, GO” and we push off.

My exhale turns into a wide grin as a mind numbing acceleration whisks the plane away. The first few moments is the best bit by far. I focus my eyes on camera lens as we steady out but then the view catches my attention. Sprawled out below we can see Melbourne in its entirety. There is not a falling sensation so much as a feeling that the earth is rushing up to meet us. My perception of sound changes. In the plane my senses had time to consider every input they were receiving but in the mad, beautiful, thrilling bubble of free fall the raucous of the plane is replaced with a steady whoosh that fades to silence in my adrenalised state. I grin so profusely that my mouth completely dries out and I can taste the beautiful metallic taste of adrenaline overload.

Note how I turn into Jack Nicholson throughout our fall.

 

 

The chute must have been packed to open slowly as there was no big ‘thwump’, just a startling deceleration. This is the bit where I get properly scared. I am used to being under a paraglider’s wing. The design of my preferred craft gives much more ‘across’ for every unit of ‘down’ you travel. It is really unnerving for me to be under a canopy that is going practically straight down. Parachutal stalls register as a ‘code-brown’ for paraglider pilots, as in brown underpants… A code brown is just below a ‘code-black’ which involves dragons, Greek Gods and stray scud missiles. I get used to the sinking feeling and fight my inner control freak we as line up to land.

 

 

Kez has another scare in store for me. For a parachute to flare properly, that is produce lift to soften the landing, you need to spiral dive and gain speed just before touchdown. Another code-brown in paragliding. I grit my teeth as we swoop in and flare to a soft touchdown.

 

 

Later Donna, Vanessa and I sit in a nearby cafe waiting for our videos to be edited. We are laughing, back slapping and enjoying a well deserved champagne. Well they have champagne, I have coffee as there are houses waiting for inspection. I imagine that my level of adrenaline combined with a champagne would result in my signing any lease contract…“The house is not that bad babe. Convenient if we ever need to exchange needles or dump an old car body…”

Grinning to both Vanessa and Donna I say, “I reckon you guys should try a paragliding tandem next.”

Vanessa laughs and says, “Well, it is my husband’s birthday soon and he is not too fond of heights…payback is a bitch.”

 

 

Disclaimer:

The fact that this was a freebie has in no way affected what I have written. If the experience was shit I would tell you so…but it simply wasn’t. I found the team of skydiving instructors to be very professional, caring and most importantly a hell of a lot of fun. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is not as scary as it sounds.

I would also like to thank Redballoon for sponsoring this adventure. If you are sick of buying trinkets for gifts they sell all sorts of cool experience vouchers like hot air ballooning, race car driving and even cooking classes or massage.

Check them out here.

 

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