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.

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.

Paragliding stanwell park – Maiden flight

Some time ago Sky sailor magazine asked for contributors to submit stories about their paragliding experiences for possible publication. I was thrilled to be published in this Australia wide magazine recently with my Paragliding stanwell park – Maiden flight story.

 

grey Paragliding stanwell park   Maiden flightgrey Paragliding stanwell park   Maiden flight

Paragliding Stanwell park – What goes up

grey Paragliding Stanwell park   What goes upWhat goes up, must come down, a fundamental cornerstone of all aviation…this is also true when Paragliding Stanwell park – What goes up…

To bring you up to speed I am currently based in Woolongong (Near Sydney), selling drugs 2 days a week (just enough to pay the rent and buy kebabs) and working towards my paragliding licence. Sadly in the almost 2 months I have been here the weather has not been playing ball and I have managed very little feet off ground time. Yesterday, however, looked good.

I drove up to Bald hill full of butterflies as Mitsi said that today is the day for the big boys hill. I should introduce Mitsi properly. Mitsi is the owner of Sydney Paragliding, he is completely bald apart from a little growth on his chin, very personable and constantly looks up at the clouds. Most people when they look up at clouds just think;

“Oh, there is a bunny rabbit raping a toad” or some such thing.

Not Mitsi, he is thinking;

 

 

“That cumulo-nimbus system out of the sea is creating squall pockets which will shift the conversion and increase precipitation, therefore….”

The man is a walking weather station, the amount I have learnt from him about the weather just through observation and discussion is astounding. Mitsi is trying to retire but his formidable reputation in the world of paragliding (he has a launch technique named after him, as do I but mine is called the “Benny-bum-slide”) means there is a steady stream of enthusiastic pilots to be, knocking on his door at all hours demanding lessons, I am one of them. It is very reassuring to be learning from the guy who taught most of the pilots now teaching paragliding at bald hill. Anyway, where am I? Okay…so driving up to bald hill full of nerves, I get there and count no less than 14 craft soaring about in the air, many with learner streamers slapping from the back (like with a car, “L” plate pilots have to make their inexperience known), Must be a good day for learners.

I find Mitsi looking at the clouds contemplatively with a mate and wait…and wait…. before finally Mitsi finishes his analysis of the conditions and we decide to do a tandem flight. I need to practice the landing approach, some people think that launching is the most important thing but truly landing is, power lines are not your friend! We lay out the tandem wing and ready to go, then Mitsi looks around one last time;

“See that cloud line coming along the escarpment Ben?”

“Yeah, miles away, what about it?”

“Well I think it will push that system over the water our way and kill the conditions, we should wait”

15 minutes later the wind not only dies to nothing but becomes sinking air. I will spare you the technical details (mainly because I don’t understand them myself) but in less than five minutes the whole area is ‘flushed’. Gliders and Hang gliders are landing one after the other down on the beach, I spot a Paraglider flying very low over trees,

“See that Mitsi, they’re not going to make it”

“They’ll be fine…oh  bugger”

We see feet brush tree-top then the wing settles gracefully on to the upper canopy. A lady has not made it over the forest, she will go on to spend about five hours unhurt dangling 40 feet up in a tree while rescue services try to find a big enough ladder. I have it on good authority that getting a paraglider out of a tree takes hours with all their lines and floppiness.

We listen on the radio and hear that another crash (or altered-landing-zone-decision) has occurred, a Chinese man has had to put his hang glider down on the lower sea-shelf and is currently running about recruiting helpers to retrieve it before the tide comes in.

grey Paragliding Stanwell park   What goes up We unanimously decide that today will not be a flying day, pack up our gear and head for the cafe. Drinking coffee we spot a lone Paraglider making his way towards us (the cafe lies near the beach, under the cliffs where you launch) He disappears from view and Mitsi remarks “Must have gone to land on the beach…”

When everyone leaves I decide to take a stroll along the beach. While walking I recognise two pilots from the heads rush past, then another two I follow curiously.

It turns out the man who Mitsi said would make it didn’t, the seventy-something year old pilot ended up in the water. Waves wrapped the lines around his legs making it impossible to swim and he went under. Thankfully two surfers saw the incident, pulling him and his wet rig out of the ocean. We helped the soggy pilot along the beach, carrying his wet glider complete with ensnared shoes to the van. At the van the fellow seemed to be in a bit of shock, he was shaking terribly and looking very rattled. When the ambulance arrived to check on him I left and drove back home glad that Mitsi is such a cautious teacher. I can’t wait to join in the fun!

Paintball Paragliding

grey Paintball Paragliding

 

 

 

 

grey Paintball Paragliding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paintball Paragliding full article

It started as a bit of a joke, a throw away comment made on a beach somewhere in Chile.

When I scrawled, “Paintball Match, Monday, who is interested?” on the communal chalkboard I had no idea the can of worms those six words would open.

I had three takers, Robert, Fabio and Sam, all Swiss. A few days later Fabio and my Swiss/Aussie combo declared war on the wholly Swiss team. I do not know what we were fighting for exactly but we were determined to rain hellfire on the opposing force. We spent an exhilarating afternoon chasing each other around blow up obstacles in the sand. Everyone was made to wear heavy protective clothing in the oppressive heat of Iquique. The sharp sting of being hit and subsequent bruising more than enough incentive to keep moving in the heat.

Fabio showed that he was most definitely a team player before the last volley. He had run out of pellets. I had three. Fabio offered to run straight towards ‘team stupid-head’ as we had dubbed them wielding his empty gun, acting as decoy. The plan was for me to sneak around unseen and hit Rob and Sam from behind. The plan failed. A stray paintball somehow found its way under my mask and burst on my front tooth. My speech was impeded for three days, the bright orange paint tastes truly foul. This small setback failed to ruin the fun..

Dripping with sweat and all feeder tubes empty we handed in our guns and clothes. I cannot remember who mooted the idea of an aerial match later that day on the beach. It was intended as a throwaway comment. A joke. Even before that remark had floated away on the wind our brains were in overdrive. We walked towards the bus looking up at the paragliders in the sky, pondering, calculating. Why not? Everyone agreed that flying would be much easier than running around in the heat so we launched ourselves into the task of organizing a match.

I am in safe hands. Rob is a professional tandem pilot based in Switzerland, both Sam and Fabio work for the film industry between instructing and working as tandem pilots. Me? Well, my flying experience includes one tandem flight in Bolivia and five small hops off the little dune at Palo Buque. We unanimously agree that I would be relieved of flying duties. I teamed up with Rob. Fabio and Sam formed the other team.

Early the next morning I caught a bus back to the paintball centre to secure our arms. Explaining our plan to the owner in my broken Spanish proves a challenge. I resort to using the medium of mime. Arms out, running around the car park and making shooting noises I finally got the message across. He agrees to bring equipment to our accommodation on Sunday afternoon, on the proviso that we show him some good footage. Renting all the equipment cost us a grand total of forty US dollars.

Guns organized, we now need two wings and four harnesses. I was not privy to the exact conversation but the boys manage to secure two old tandem wings and four harnesses from the school. The purple harness was for sale so we had to be careful not to stain it. I think the boys just told the equipment manager that we needed two wings for a tandem flight. Not entirely a lie, they just neglected to mention one tiny detail.

Sunday arrives along with the guns. We smuggle all the paintball gear into a van along with our wings. I am getting increasingly nervous about this exploit. A lot could go wrong. A lot could go right. We arrive at Palo Buque to find no wind. Fabio who only weighs around seventy kilograms is unable to soar the ridge alone under a tandem wing. I am somewhat relieved to be let off the hook, at least for today. Sam and Fabio grab a gun each and run off down the dunes. As they start to shoot each other, whooping like school boys I wander off to practice ground handling.

I return to find three sombre faces waiting for me. “Check this out Ben”, Sam lifts his old wing to reveal three neat round holes near the left hand trailing edge. The boys wanted to know what would happen should one of us accidentally hit a wing. They raised the old glider and fired off a few rounds. Straight through. The Ripstop nylon is no match for these air propelled bruisers. We sit in the sand we discuss rules of engagement. Number one would be a clear do not hit the wing. Do not take a shot if the wing is anywhere in your line of fire. Agreed. We also agree on the lowest altitude at which to start and stop shooting. Apart from these two rules it was free for all. We decide to go to the more reliable Alto Hospicio launch site the following morning.

That night we drown our disappointment with a few beers and go early to bed. I dream about plummeting to earth, screaming and covered in orange paint. First light sees me sitting alone at the dining table eating what could be my last ever bowl of cornflakes. I savor every corny spoonful. On the bus to Alto Hospicio my stomach is trying to reject breakfast. The theme from Star Wars is incessantly repeating in my head. To distract myself I make seemingly casual conversation with the others about flying. In truth I am covertly trying to find out just how experienced they all are. I am comforted with Sam’s comment that he cannot recall hearing of anyone ever dying during a tandem paragliding paintball match. In fact no one knows of anyone who has done this before. Could this be a world first?

Ready to break brave new ground we arrive at the launch site and wait for the flock of jittery tourists to fly away with their guides. I sneak off five times in this half hour for a nervous wee. A Youtube video of me loosing bladder control four hundred meters above a sand dune could go viral, but I wish to maintain some dignity. Soon all that is left at the launch zone are four masked bandits, a pile of guns, wings and a slightly darker patch of sand nearby.

Pre flight check: Harness done up, wing ok, conditions good. Face mask and body armor on. Gun securely tied on and all cameras working. Sam and I have Go-pros on our helmets, I have a camera stuck to my gun barrel, Sam has a handheld camcorder. We are determined to properly record this event. The safety mask severely limits my vision. I am about to ask Rob if he could see to fly just as he raises the wing and tells me to start walking towards the edge.

As My feet leave the ground I think to myself; “You are committed now Ben, no turning back”, I also realize that no one has thought to research the legality of our little plan. Rob and I fly over the highway. My white knuckles in stark contrast with the black gun barrel. Shortly after launching my personality splits, I find myself swinging between intense nerves, feeling tough holding a gun and giggling like a naughty child. As we ride a nice little thermal up the others launch and give chase. Robs calm voice in my ear reassuring as he demonstrates the Big Ears move. We are now level with Sam and Fabio and ready to play.

I yell out a muffled “Game on boys, fire at will!” in a terrible British accent as I raise my gun.

Click, click, click, the gun’s noise is muffled by the expanse surrounding us. Aiming is difficult in this three dimensional environment. Rob and Sam are working hard to keep the two teams in firing range.

No return fire. Fabio’s gun has jammed. I can see him bashing the feeder frantically as I carefully take aim and fire. No mercy. It was with no small pleasure that I see Fabio’s legs flail as I pepper his thigh with rounds. He is still battling the blocked feeder tube. They cut away to the left, we give chase.

Looking down I can see motorbike riders playing on the dunes and wonder if any riders got hit by a falling paintball. Over a big abandoned building we make contact again. When we launched over the highway I was a bundle of nerves. Now I am so enjoying shooting my friends that all nerves are left behind in that first thermal. I lean right out of my seat, supported only by my leg straps, determined to make those skinny legs kick again.

We are circling each other, jostling for position high above the dunes. Through my increasingly foggy mask I see Sam steering his wing while aiming his video camera at us. I start shooting at the camera thinking this will make great footage. It did. I also nearly killed Sam’s camera. Everyone has masks on, no one is taking any risks with the wings. In the third and final round I cover the harness which is for sale with pellets. We can worry about that later.  I have been laughing so hard that my eyes are streaming. My mask keeps fogging up, I hope Rob can see to land.

Too soon we are below our agreed firing height and the sky falls quiet. Only the wind whooshing through the lines and the occasional burst of manic laughter break the silence. On the way to land we fly past some men painting from a platform halfway up a multi storey building. In my adrenaline charged state it takes all my willpower to resist a few pot shots. The same challenge awaits me as we fly over the flight park, the highway, the footpath and the beach.

Back on solid ground my hands are still shaking with adrenaline. My cheek and stomach muscles are sore from laughing. Dead legs from standing in the leg straps the whole way. High fives all round and excited babble about how much fun that was.

Thankfully the stray bullets which hit the purple harness did not burst. No people or equipment were harmed. We arrive at the beach to find no police or angry motorbike riders waiting for us. Fabio and Sam have walked away disappointingly bruise free. I should have followed the Austrian’s advice and put my paintballs in the freezer to make them harder.

As we slung all the equipment on our backs and started up the hill I got to wondering where we could rent some motorbikes for a re-match on the dunes….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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