Friday, May 27, 2011

Size Matters

Sometimes bigger is better, but when it comes to strong wind soaring, less is more. Good things really do come in small packages.

Forecasters are calling for an extended period of strong and gusty tradewinds, generated by two powerful high pressure systems parked just to our north. But they aren't saying whether the extended period means a week or several years. That's why it's a good time for us to figure out what the deal is with these crazy tiny wings we've been wondering about. As a famous pilot once said: looks good, you go first!

Well, lucky for us, Scot, Doug and Frank are happy to be wind dummies for paraglider pilots who are tempted to check out the newest breed of small wings. And after seeing them fly every day this past week while the winds were blowing dogs off chains (and trying it myself a few times), I have to say I think they're onto something.

The video above was shot at Kahana on a day when the average windspeed on the Punaluu sensor reached 18 mph, gusting to 22 mph. Scot and I flew his 16 sqm. S'Lide, and Doug flew his 18 sqm. Little Cloud, and while the wings handled the strong wind beautifully, we think that 18 mph might just be the top of our comfort zone in this class of wing. But that's still pretty amazing: it's twice the average wind I look for at Kahana to fly a regular size wing!

Here's a video Scot made last week, from a day at Kahana when the wind was a bit lighter, but still soarable, about 12 mph average.

What are we supposed to call it when we fly these tiny wings? Apparently it's not speed flying. We're told we are only allowed to call it that if we're plummeting straight down a hill and dodging the trees. (Although to me that sounds more like speed sledding!) And it's not speed riding - that's what we are doing if we wear skis and bomb down the ski slope under a tiny wing.

So what it is called if we're flying tiny wings and trying to soar in strong wind? Some people have suggested we call it speed soaring. But that's no good - I mean, come on, it rhymes with boring! So I think we should call it, I don't know, crack smoking, or main lining, or speed balling. I've never done those things (I swear!), but I am pretty sure that's what this feels like. Flying Scot's petite wing is a nonstop adrenaline rush.

But seriously -- it really is just paragliding. And I'm pretty sure that's what we're going to end up calling it.

A long time ago, Troy, now an expatriate in Oregon but back then a local pioneer, figured out that small wings are better in strong wind. He flew the 19 sqm. Edel Funcky, and later on, Doug, Dave and Ray flew them too. Actually Dave says Doug was the first and Troy got one later. I could be confused about the timeline. Then our long lost hero Jimmy Hall flew a very tiny speed wing and soared briefly above Cactus at Makapuu one day.

Our famous friend Cade and his pals have been flying tiny wings for years at the Point of the Mountain in Salt Lake City. Cade started out as a skydiver but is now a master of all forms of paragliding. Here is a video of Cade soaring a small wing in Utah a few years back.

Then a little over a year ago, Cade visited here and showed us how to soar a super tiny wing at Makapuu.

Since then many of us have marveled as our local skydivers have brought their tiny wings out to soar at Makapuu over the last year. Lately they've been speed soaring some other interesting places as well. Here is a video that includes footage from Kaena Point, Makapuu, and Kalalau.

Thanks to all the pioneering spirits who have helped us figure out that size matters. Thanks especially to Scot for sharing his tiny little vixen with me. I am still hoping she might decide she wants to be my girl...


Anonymous said...


I would call it "fun" flying!!! Sounds like your quickly becoming enthralled by this form of "fun", and hopefully soon will have your own "fun" wing.

When I get back to visit I will for sure be bringing my 10M "fun" wing as well.

Have "fun"!


Anonymous said...

Call it : Toss the Floss !!!
what a trip ! just got a puddle of drule on the counter watching these videos !!

JeffMc said...

I think one of Cade's videos puts it succinctly... "Speed Soaring"

Awesome videos! Me want.


JeffMc said...

Speaking of size - what do you think would be a good size for us, here on Oahu @ 18mph-ish? My instinct is "bigger" (relatively speaking!) would be better - probably in the 16 to 18 range?


Anonymous said...


I'm really liking the 16m at our weight. I think the 18 would be good for >190 and a 14 for <140 or so. I started to get some nasty rotor off the north ridge when it went to 18mph on PUN. You can see it a bit in my last flight on the top vid when I turned back by the wall. The limits aren't defined by the wing size so much as the terrain.


Alex said...

A few addendums to the local small wing historical timeline: I think Jetflap also owned and flew one of those Edel Funckys at some point as well, making some long XC flights on them. And I don't know how I forgot to mention Fireman Dave flying the 17 sqm Morpheus, winning our fun little XC comp to Pounders one year. And I should also mention that our own Carson is a speed flying pioneer from the early days on the mainland, and he has lots of experience to share with us newbies.

Thom said...

Alex, thanks again for the funny read. Unfortunately if this wind stays strong we may all evolve into dirty old men with a sweet 16 under our arms.

Again, I guess I am being conservative here, lets not forget that these wings come with a heighten need for alertness while flying.

Maui Doug had a good comparison. Our wings are like cars that you can steer, reach for the radio, do some picture taking and even texting. These little vixens are like Nija bikes, no brakes just lean into the turns and go like hell. Pay attention every second and rotor is felt ex-potentially.

I can see a trend, guys all ready are standing in line to hook-up. Just be ready, I think these young things are going to give you a really fast ride. If they slap you in the face, it just might hurt.

It's Time To Fly Get Your 'lil' Gear and Go !!!

Sky-alis is recommended for all pilots of a certain age.

Waianae Jim said...

As always, a well written piece Alex. With all the stories of these teeny wing's glories, I'm sold already and I haven't even gotten out to watch you guys kite or fly them, but of course being the gear junky I am I'm gonna buy one. Then I'll have to quit working on my bathroom for a day or two to come out and learn to fly it.