From the beginning of times humans have wanted and dreamed of flight. We always wanted to know how it would feel to glide high up in the sky freely at the mercy of wind like birds do.
Many tried unassisted flight and they indeed flew, but only for a few seconds and into eternity.
Later on, technology and imagination only lengthened by a fraction these trips to eternity. Eventually, after many deaths, injured, crippled and bruised, humans developed machines capable of flying for longer periods of time and capable of safe landings. Some day we even surpassed in speed and altitude the fastest highest flying oviparous in nature. We even surpassed the speed of sound by a few times and even reached the moon building these super expensive roaring monsters called rockets.
But as a byproduct of this dramatic evolution of flying machines two wonderful wind powered designs were born. The glider and the paraglider. These wonderful light and non contaminant designs depend solely on wind to lift up to the sky.
There is nothing closer to the feeling of pure bird flying than gliding silently over cliffs and mountains that on one of these marvelous flying apparatus.
On the summer of 2002 I dared to take a paragliding course by my mom’s house in Sopelana, in the bay of Biscay. The wind conditions there are perfect and almost any sunny day gliders and paragliders can benefit from a fairly constant and gentle breeze coming from the ocean.
The course was worth 45,000 pesetas (about 450 canadian dollars) and promised a minimum of 14 flights. The course, or should I say the instructor, Mikel, taught us the basic skills required to safely take-off, maneuver and land with a paraglider.
The first jump is the most crucial. After that you either love it or hate it. You are full of adrenaline and wondering how the hell you got into doing that. But you make your mind and not just ready to chicken out in front of your peers, you to inflate the canopy with Mike’s assistance. When the cannopy inlfates, you can feel the pull on your harness as the wind fills up the cells on the nylon wing. Next thing, Mike helps you to the edge of the cliff and shouts “run and jump!”. Then you try to run but your feet have no traction at all because the canopy is already pulling you upwards and you are almost flying, but you need to get to the edge of the cliff to catch the ascending winds.
Once you reach the edge you know is going to happen, your fear of falling is almost gone once you realize is impossible to bring the damn thing down enough to let you walk and when you get there Mikel shouts; “Pull the brakes!” and “whoosh!” you feel the vertical pull and take off slowly like a helicopter and in seconds there you are, all by yourself, hanging from an inflated cloth, 200 meters above sea level, in silence except for the zooming sound of the wind as it makes its way across the dozens of thin cords that attach your tight harness to the canopy..
The voice of Mikel over the radio that hangs from your neck is very comforting in the middle of this feeling of loneliness and helpless that overcome your senses. Mikel says; “turn left!, turn right!… let go a bit of the brakes!… face the wind!”. Landing is the most difficult part, specially being accurate. However flying these apparatuses ended up being a lot easier that I originally imagined.
I strongly recommend to try this sport if you ever have the chance. The peacefulness and freedom that you experience flying a paraglider is well worth the money and the scare of the first jump.