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.

Adventure Dad

When you hear the word ‘dad’ you tend to think of the guy who spent your youth nagging you not to jump off this and to get your fingers out of that. As you get older your relationship with your dad evolves. You may even realise that you have an awesome -but sadly often overlooked – mate just waiting for you to ask him along on adventures…Enter adventure DAD.

Below is a quick video of my dad’s first paragliding flight at Stanwell Park with my good mate Mark Mitsos from Sydney Paragliding. Between dad and me, I don’t know who was more nervous as they took off. Mitsi even let dad have a steer, love ya dad and happy Father’s Day:

 

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.

My paragliding buy and a visitor

grey My paragliding buy and a visitor

Busy times over here in Woolongong people. Since my last update I have collected Dad from the airport (he is going to beta test my Surprise Bucket list idea. Not that he knows yet) and I finally received my very first paragliding buy, my brand new rig. Because I do not have a proper Paragliding cool-word vocabulary yet I will go with ‘rig’.

Things up here in the ‘Gong have been very quiet and a bit lonely of late so it is very refreshing to see a familiar face waiting for me at arrivals. I have not seen the old boy for a few months, however thanks to Skype and email we run out of news before diving into the melee of Friday afternoon Sydney traffic. It comes as no surprise that Dad has not changed one bit since we last spent time. He is still tall, brimming with Dad jokes, possessing a crushing handshake and I still need to run to keep up with his stride. Despite two recent prosthetic hips and an even more recent prosthetic shoulder the man is unstoppable. It is great to see his recovery and rehabilitation from almost 2 years of surgical insult going well. Dad, or ‘The Dave-A-tron’ is finally pain free.

My paragliding teacher Mitsi had sent me a text earlier in the day to announce that my long awaited wing is here so I take Dad straight from the airport to Mitsi’s house. Mitsi’s place is something of an airport itself being filled with wings, harnesses, posters, flying magazines, motors and all kinds of wonderful paragliding paraphernalia. Mitsi rips open the box and we fill one very content afternoon adjusting straps, hanging the harness from the beams and discovering secret pockets. At one point I find myself distractedly rubbing the squeaky, fresh-smelling wing material a little too sensuously…but moving right on.

Friday night. Dad patiently pretends to be interested as I shove endless videos with technical details under his nose before running off to grab the harness and display a previously undiscovered loop or feature.

In true Westy form Dad and I pass Saturday morning by spending up big at a camping store sale before Mitsi calls with some welcome news;

“Ben, get up here mate, it is on”

*Queue roadrunner speed montage*

Thirty minutes later Dad and I are on the hill counting wings in the air. Fifteen people are making the most of these perfect winds. I grab my harness pack from the car then with a magician’s flourish reverse it into a flying harness. That’s right boys and girls, this harness reverses into a very comfy backpack for climb/fly missions (and you know I will). The whole ‘rig’ weighs a mere 11 kilograms complete with wing, helmet and reserve parachute.

Mitsi wants to test the wing before letting me loose so he straps in, takes two steps and is flying. I am amazed at how lifty the whole thing is. He seems to go straight up. He flies for about ten minutes before top landing nearby. I go over to where he has landed;

“How’d you go mate?”

“Bloody hell, that is one stable wing Ben”

“Yeah I saw you did some steep turns, felt okay?”

“Brilliant, I also flew behind a tandem to trial it in wake turbulence and it hardly moved, you are going to love it”

“Okay then, my turn”

“Yup, will just duck home to get the radios, you get ready, won’t be long”

“No drama”

Now this is where my poor luck with the weather continues, guess what happens next… Yup, A big squall sneaks over the water bringing with it rain and wind too strong for me to fly. “That is flying ladies and gentlemen” We pack up the gear and adjourn for a coffee and a gossip.

The rain is predicted to last until Friday…A whole week of waiting is sadly in store for this keen student. At least this will give me time to hang out with Dad and to choose a good name for my new toy. I am leaning towards ‘Sky snail’, ‘Red Rocket‘ or ‘The Benphis Belle’

While Googling name ideas I found this which gave me a chuckle:

Paragliders vs. Women :

paragliders can kill you quickly; a woman takes her time
paragliders don’t object to a preflight inspection
paragliders come with manuals to explain their operation
paragliders have defined weight limitations
paragliders don’t care about how many other paragliders you have flown
paragliders don’t mind if you buy magazines about them
paragliders don’t comment on your piloting skills, and
paragliders don’t make annoying whining noises unless you are spiraling towards the earth at an alarming rate.

Oh, surprise Bucketlist; I want to get Dad to either do a tandem Paraglide or a skydive with me…this last sentence will also unveil if my Mum reads my blogs properly or not!

Video of paragliding at Stanwell park recently

 

I could not help sharing my latest flight at Stanwell park…enjoy

 

 

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…

Buy this book!

The Red Rucksack - Available now

This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

This week's popular posts

My favourite video

Sometime getting home is the best bit!