Andy Kenworthy casts aside his fears and jumps off a very large cliff ...
Skywings paragliding offers the opportunity for you to tell your friends or family to go jump off a cliff this summer, in the nicest possible way. The sport offers probably the cheapest, easiest to learn and most unencumbered way to take to the skies. So it makes a perfect gift for the "got it, been there, done that" type of person.
A day's introduction and training comes in at $190, and combines a touch of high-adrenalin sport with a sociable learning experience.
After a few weeks of waiting for the right weather I joined Alan and Belinda Hills and Ed Gordon from Skywings at Karioitahi Beach. An unusually high tide prevented the team's vehicle from reaching their customary 100ft-high beginners launch spot, so we joined some of the friendly paragliding fraternity at a nearby 300ft-high clifftop.
The longer climb afforded more time to mull over my mortality and the potentially terminal effects of gravity. But not for too long, as only a few minutes after reaching the top I was clipped to the front of Ed, a paraglider with more than 20 years' experience, for a tandem flight.
It's quite daunting suddenly being told to run off the edge of your world, but in fact the paraglider took to the air quickly with very little fuss.
Even so, it took me a good couple of minutes to really enjoy the scenery and the marvellous floating sensation. Ed even let me steer.
Back on the ground it was my turn to learn the magic. This involves standing on the ground and flying the canopy over your head like a massive kite, learning - under close supervision - how to control it with the minimum of effort. It can be tricky, having to adjust for changes in wind by walking from side to side and pulling just enough on the two steering lines, especially when you have to turn round and do it all backwards. But the team were extremely patient and helpful, and didn't laugh at me when I lost the ability to tell right from left.
I was just getting grumpy about collapsing my canopy in the grass for the umpteenth time when we broke for lunch. Refreshed, I graduated to some short hops down a nearby slope, the exhilaration of which banished my grumpiness for good.
On a normal introduction day at the lower launch site this would be the time to begin contemplating a solo launch. But given the additional height Alan decided it would be safer to round things off with another tandem ride. My second flight with Ed really cemented what I had learned on the ground about handling the paraglider, and also involved a couple of more dramatic manoeuvres to give me a taste of what these contraptions can do given the right conditions.
I felt very welcomed by the paragliding people and was given helpful advice and encouragement from everyone there, whether they were being paid to train me or not.
Tantalising tales of flying over Nepalese mountains and six-hour cruises across coastlines gave me a great sense of the scope of the adventures this sport offers. I will be back to learn more.
Contact: nzgliding.com, ph: (09) 570 5757 or 0274 98 2345.
Who can go: There's no specific age restrictions - the team has trained people as young as 12 and can provide training for anyone without existing health problems.
Getting there: You can meet the team at their Auckland HQ or at the beach.
What to bring: Plenty of sandwiches and water, a windproof jacket, comfortable trousers, grippy shoes, a sunhat, sunscreen, your camera and a willingness to listen and learn: dropping out from this school could be hazardous to your health. You will be provided with helmet, radio, and paraglider.
The weather: Be aware that this is a fair weather sport, so you may have to wake a week or two to get flying.By Andy Kenworthy