I had awoken well before sunrise and started the drive just as the sun started to peak over the mountain. It was an early call time, but I would have to be at the Proflyght Paragliding booth by 7:30am in order to beat the morning thermals, and needed at least an hour to drive from my hotel.
As I made my way up the mountain the views started to get better and better. With each break in the vegetation, I could see the distant ocean getting further and further away. The last few turns took me into some real upcountry roads which were just enough room for one car, partially unpaved and quite bumpy. This is how adventure is supposed to be.
Finally, I pulled into the parking area and met up with the owner of Proflyght, as well as my tandem instructor, Dexter Binder. We were still waiting on one last couple that would be flying that morning, so we had some time to chat.
It turned out that Proflyght is the oldest paragliding school on Maui, and that his wife (who drives the passengers to the launching point) had probably made the drive up the mountain at least 1000 times.
Once everyone had arrived we all hopped into the van and started the drive up the mountain. This wasn’t just any drive, it was an adventure in it’s own. The road was basically a dirt path ascending the mountain. Of course it was safe in all ways possible (especially with that 1000 drive record driver!), but it felt like a true adventure into the unknown.
Looking out my window, the ground dropped off below, and got higher with each minute. The van twisted and turned its way up the road, crawling around hair-pinned turns and bumpy dips in the mud. I could hear the Japanese couple behind me making a rather high pitched noise with each bounce of the van, and giggled as I popped around in my seat in front of them.
Eventually, with a few last pops, we pulled onto the smooth grass landing of our launching point. This was it.
Everyone piled out of the van and we were all immediately distracted by the view. I wandered over to the edge of the hill and stood there, staring for a few minutes.
From this point I could see the majority of the island of Maui. I could see Kahului and the airport, the entire central Maui valley, and even my hotel over in Makena in the South. The Western Maui mountains blocked my view of Lahaina side, but this had to be the best view of the entire island.
The instructors all started to gather their gear and spread the parachutes out along the grass ledge. This is not what I was expecting. For some reason when I thought of paragliding I pictured more of a hang gliding style. I really had no idea that they simply just laid the chutes on the ground behind and that they would just pick up into the air when you ran.
Either way, it was pretty awesome to watch. I was the last one to go, so I had plenty of opportunity to watch as others’ launched into the air in front of me. I could explain it to you, or I can just say that it went a little something like this….
So, I watched this a couple more times, getting more and more excited with each launch. I wanted to do it so badly that I was literally pacing around on the hill.
Finally, it was my turn. My parachute was lined out on the grass and my gear was on the ground in front of it. I stepped into my harness and Dexter clipped everything into place.
These were my instructions:
1. Do a jog for the first 5-6 steps
2. Run as fast as you can for the rest
3. Continue running in the air like Fred Flinstone after take-off
4. Once in the air, lean back and pull the seat up and under you
5. Sit back and enjoy the view
What was more comical was watching Dexter and the other instructors explain these steps to the Japanese couple that didn’t speak English before they took off.
So, that was it. I was in the air.
The first part was pretty thrilling, as we so easily lifted up into the air and I watched the ground disappeared below my feet. It’s very different from skydiving in that (obviously) you are taking off from the ground. However, you still get that relaxing and scenic flying sensation after take-off.
We soared high above the tiny forest below and I watched as miniature houses passed by my feet and tiny lines (roads) disappeared beneath me.
A warm wind brushed past my face and I smiled with that familiar feeling of being completely free in the air, so many thousands of feet above the ground. There were no airplane windows or seatbelts to keep me constrained, it was just me and the clouds (and Dexter).
If you’ve ever been at a high elevation in the air when it’s humid or raining or the clouds are below you, you might have noticed a circular rainbow beneath you. It’s a common thing with parachutes especially, and is called a “glory” rainbow.
You have all the classic aspects that create a rainbow, but the glory can only be seen when the observer is directly between the sun and cloud of refracting water droplets. Hence, it is commonly observed while airborne, with the glory surrounding the airplane’s shadow on clouds.
The phenomenon is related to the optical phenomenon anthelion. This is something that I first noticed while skydiving; we made the glory into an improvised target and flew straight threw it. I later noticed it while up in the CN Tower in Toronto.
I waved my feet around in the air in front of me and then let them dangle over the nothingness. I watched as we made our way a little closer to the landing field, and as another pair of paragliders floated near the ground below us.
Knowing that I was into the adrenaline pumping type of activities, Dexter asked if I wanted to do a 360 spiral dive.
WHAT’S THAT?! I asked, excitedly jumping up in my seat.
He explained that in pulling one of the chute-handles all the way down we would start to spin in a 360 degree spiral toward the ground at a fast speed, drastically reducing our elevation.
Um… YES! LET’S DO THAT!
And so we did. Dexter pulled the handle with one sharp motion and we began to twirl. Starting at a quick speed we picked up in motion and began to dip. Suddenly I felt all of the gravity rush up through my stomach and straight to my head. Everything in my body was pulling upward as our little tandem parachute was speedily taking us downward.
I actually let out an excited scream as I waved my hands around in front of us. This little action made the entire experience for me and I was happily kicking my feet around in the open air from my seat, completely exhilarated as we slowly circled out of our spin.
Eventually we had reached a landing elevation and would need to bring it in for a running stop. Dexter let me know that the ground would come rushing up quickly, but would slow right down before we touched down. With my feet safely back on the ground, we had completed our paragliding adventure.
I thanked Dexter for the amazing experience (especially for the dive) and looked back up at the sky that I had just fallen from. For less than 24 hours of being on Maui, this was a pretty awesome way to start the trip.
I not only recommend that you go paragliding with Proflyght Paragliding, but I URGE it. Seriously, go. Now (or at least next time you find yourself on Maui). I can’t believe how many locals I spoke to that had never tried it. Just because you live there doesn’t you that you should miss out on this exciting experience :]
This trip was made possible by the Maui Visitor’s Bureau;
all thoughts and opinions are my own.