Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Expanded Horizons

Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR)? Who says? While some Oahu paragliders and visiting pilots utter expletives against those who made the decision to prohibit flying between 23 December 2009 and 4 January 2010, others are exploring a not-to-distant paradise for those who can not live without a cloud between their knees. This brief but "inconvenient" window grounding all flight within a 30-nautical mile radius of Kailua is the perfect time to explore another realm of Hawaii paragliding.

Just over the horizon awaits an opportunity to experience paragliding from a completely different vantage-point. A place that does not always afford tradewinds blowing in constant 10-12 cycles; yet a place that also does not requires hiking 15-30 minutes with a 50-pound pack just to find enough altitude and clear ground to lay out a wing. It is a place where forward launching skills are a premium and much more important than the orientation or site fee required to fly there.

Imagine a place where the grass grows so thick it cushions your every step as you lay out your wing and place your helmet aside, not worrying whether or not it will race downhill ahead of you as soon as you turn around. Imagine an LZ so big that the choice becomes whether or not to scream in on final and buzz pilots already packing up their gear for their third or fourth flight, or picking a more precise target that tests the skills to balance thinner air, the unexpected thermal and the geometry of rising and falling landscapes on final approach.

While I love our Oahu flying sites and the stable, buttery air found in ridge lift, I discovered mountain flying in a way I thought possible only in far away lands. LeeAnn and I spent last weekend in the company of an incredible flying community--phenomenal pilots who truly love the world of paragliding and sharing it with all who visit their island. Over just two days we garnered six flights apiece, while adding much-needed mountain-flying experience to our toolkit and increasing our comfort zone for flying new sites.

As many of you know, LeeAnn has not flown solo for over six months and yearned for an opportunity to get back in the air...but in her own time and comfort zone. This trip afforded her the opportunity to gain confidence in her abilities once again and make the most incredible launches and landings I have seen in a newly-rated pilot. I can not fail to mention that her bump-tolerance in the thermic air increased immeasurably as we stayed aloft well past the witching hour imposed by carefully guarded regulations that keep this flying site safe and predictable.

As confident as I felt in the beginning, my paradigm shifted as I learned that reverse-launching skills get you nowhere when cycles range 4-6 mph on a shallow-banked hill. LeeAnn quickly surpassed me in ability as I struggled to get airborne without the proper skills for forward launching. However, under the tutelage of Dexter and Woody, I soon found myself soaring high above launch, even catching a thermal where multiple 360's brought me well over launch and rewarded me with an extended sledder that added 10 minutes to my flight.

The answer to the TFR is a 30-minute flight to Maui, well outside the 30-mile flying restriction. While most consider it a "training hill," how many of us new pilots can truly say we have all the forward-launching skills we need to pilot around the world in places where ridge lift is not the element sustaining flight. And how much complaining can we endure on the chatterbox before we start exploring opportunities afforded us on neighboring islands.

In closing, as an active-duty member of our United States military, I support the decisions of those who place their careers and lives on the line to keep our nation and President safe, regardless of the inconvenience to our lifestyle of "free flight." Times like these remind us that freedom is not free and that for 52 weeks this year we will be blessed with incredible flying opportunities that others on the Mainland, and more distant lands, will not. Sometimes we do not know what we have until it is taken away. But even then, the opportunity to “slip the surely bonds of Earth” awaits us, as do new friends, stories and flying skills.


Waianae Jim said...

Wow - that's great to hear J.D. & Lee Ann. I can totally relate to the lack of forward launching skills. Glad you both got in some good flights over there, and looking forward to flying with you both over here after our "hiatus". I'm venturing to a further destination (The Big Isle, a whole 45 min flight away) from 30 Dec to 04 Jan to get in some thermal action while the Oahu sites are shut down.

Larry Mc said...

Right on JD. Especially the last paragraph.

JeffMc said...

Wow - JD, what a GREAT article! So glad to hear you guys are expanding your horizons, and that LeeAnn is finding her comfort zone! I haven't flown Maui yet either, and I've to do the crater flight espeically.

See you BOTH in the air, post Jan 4th!


Alex said...

Holy cow, JD, you are a heck of a writer! Thanks for sharing your story and your great attitude with us. I look forward to future flying yarns from you!

JD said...

Thanks for the comments gents and I would be thrilled to join your ranks as a contributing member!

Brazilian Ray said...

Great post, JD. I am glad to hear you're getting some airtime and congratz to LeeAnn on her solo flights!
please say hello to Dex and Woody for me ;)
Brazilian Ray

MauiDoug said...

Awesome JD & LeeAnn! Just don't land on a cow :-)
Try to catch Woody for a kiting session, he has a whole bag of tricks to share. Aloha :-)

Joey said...

Jd and Leann..Great to hear you are taking advantage of our golden opportunities of flying! Its great to get off our island of paradise and experience new sites...
And although I too share the same sentiments of being a military man, I feel like the very freedoms we stand for and represent are being taken from us...(my 2 cents).
Cant wait to hear your stories of Maui flyin..say hey to Woddy for me.

Aloha and Happy Holidays...Joey

Thom said...

Leann awesome, great to hear your in the air, you deserve it after all the retrieves you have done, cause I been there too.

I am hoping to go to Maui during this hiatus also, then Kauai, then back here then Big Is. when Don gets back.

Mad Dog said...

Leann & JD, great fun & flights you must have had, Maui is fantastic! Also excellent write up JD, I'm trying also to write more & alliviate some of Alex's constant hard work, although he writes a good tale & as it seems so do you... You do know we all love the land of freedom & appreciate espesially all of those people in the Military who help us in every way, freedom of speech is just an opinion of every soul trying to enjoy their lives. No harm ever ment just venting & babbling so keep those opinions comming! There fun to read you must admit. Can't wait to see & fly with you both again.
Aloha Mad Dog