Thursday, November 01, 2012

Full Circle - by Marc DePaul

The year was 2000, and I was sitting in my tiny apartment in Japan, when I saw powered paragliding on TV. Having soloed in a sailplane when I was fourteen, I'd gotten the flying itch early in life, but had rarely had the chance to scratch it. After all, airplanes are tough to come by. After seeing PPG I thought, "Here's an airplane I can fit in my car!"

Fast forward a few hundred hours of internet investigation (my new hobby in the staff room between English classes) and I'd disposed of that silly engine notion and settled on paragliding. Think of it, an airplane in a backpack! Where better to learn than Hawaii? It was close, it was beautiful, and it was an easy sell to my Japanese girlfriend.

Come Christmas vacation and I'd booked the full monty with some guy named Pete at Gravity Sports. I still remember him picking us up at the airport and driving us 'over the hill' to his shop. The crinkle of the new wing as we opened it; sitting in the harness suspended from hooks in the shop; the look on my girlfriend's face as she realized "This crazy man actually means to do this!" are all etched in my mind.

Next stop was Sandy's, for training. Reality fallout; this is harder than it looks. Took a couple of days, but finally the wing was overhead, big and beautiful. Time for towing! More looks from the girlfriend at the custom towing rig. "Isn't that just an old scooter bolted onto a trailer?" "Yeah, cool isn't it!" Run the line out, hook in, tow up, release, fly, land, and run the line out again. After twenty or so of those it was the sleep of the dead that night. A week later I soloed, and my re-entry to personal aviation was complete. Or was it?

The real thrill had been the tandem at some place called Maka-something. I'll never forget that either, because that was when I actually flew a paraglider for the first time. Okay, it was just Pete letting me steer the thing for a while, but I felt the wing move under my command. I was flying.

Fast forward again, twelve years later. I'm in Hawaii, again. I've bought the full monty from Pete, again. And I have a new girlfriend, Cara, who's giving me crazy looks, again. But this time I've got a little experience under my belt. Or should I say, under my wing.

We're coming back from flying kites at Sandy's, it's a bit windy and overcast, and I'm figuring there's no chance of flying. We come around the corner and there's a wing in the air at Makapu'u. Oh, yes! I call Sidehill and he's already on his way. He arrives, Cara drives us to Juice, and within minutes Thom is giving me a site orientation and flight plan. Two things are critical: constantly check penetration, and if you land on the beach be super-nice, and then ask them what kind of beer they like.

The new Hook 2 pops up clean and I'm in the air. Thom steers me over the power lines and towards the bowl. Just as I reach for the mike to answer he gives me a final admonition, "And stay off the radio - just fly!"

And I'm flying Makapu'u. I'm riding the slope of a wave of wind flowing up and over the cliffs. I'm excited, thrilled, and scared sh*tless at the same time. I can't believe how far in front of the walls I'm flying, yet I'm still in lift. It feels like the whole bay is going up. Everyone's 'blown over' stories are in my mind, so I stay well out. Steady at 1200' feels about right, and I can look over the walls and see the Koko crater in the afternoon sun. The local pilots are playing low over the beach, but I'm fine here.

Two hours pass before I know it. I work my way down, fun fun fun all the way. I cruise in to a beautiful toe-touch landing.

And there's Pete to shake my hand and give me a cold one!


Waianae Jim said...

I got this story from Marc via email:

"I was wondering if you could ask Alex to post a story for me on Windlines. I've included it below, along with an unedited picture (huge file, I know).

Please say hello to Thom, Pete, Woody, Bonnie, Harv, and all the rest of the monkey's for me."

Thom said...

Great story Marc, glad you got your feet off the ground and back again.

I hope you and Cara have fun in New Zealand, I hope to get down there one of these days too.

If Cara is keeping a blog of the time down there could you put it on the chatter or email it to me