I admit it. I’m scared of heights. My whole life I have shied away from adrenaline activities which involve leaping (stupidly!) off cliff-faces and from aeroplanes. I am happy to go canyoning, provided the jump is not more than 4 meters. I’m kinda hopeless. Knowing this about myself, it was somewhat surprising to hear my mouth responding in the affirmative when someone propositioned me with a paraglide flight.
It was scheduled for a frantic Friday, in the middle of a frantic week – a blessing-in-disguise as it turned out. I recall the day dawning bright and warm and my to-do list looming large. The thought that I was going paragliding later in the day only briefly punctured my conscience, but in that moment it terrified me, luckily I had no time to dwell on it! Before I knew it though, I found myself at the bottom of lion’s head, facing the climb up to the take-off site, and suddenly my imagination went wild! As we climbed, the guide explained the procedure to me and fielded the array of ridiculous questions I threw at him; what happens if the parachute strings get tangled and the wind doesn’t catch it? What if I need to vomit? What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you? I almost managed to distract myself from the reality of the situation with all my silly questions. Until of course, I was strapped into the harness and told to run.
Taking off for a paragliding flight, much like sky-diving or bungee-jumping, is just about the most counter-intuitive thing a person of my delicate constitution can imagine. Put all of your faith in a person you don’t know and equipment you don’t understand, and then run off the face of a cliff. Great.
As it turns out, it was pretty great, which is not to say that it wasn’t simultaneously hair-raising. Being meters above the ground in a harness which feels rather flimsy provides the weirdest combination of sensations. A sense of absolute freedom – how I imagine a bird might feel, mixed with a sense that this is too good to be true, a little person on my shoulder reminding me that should something go wrong, it’s going to hurt like hell!
Fortunately, as my instructor assured me beforehand, nothing did go wrong. We landed on a school field about 7 minutes after take-off, both of us in one piece, respectively. Despite the fact that I was forced to walk around on jelly-legs for the rest of the day (heights have a lasting effect on me), the verdict was clear: Paragliding is awesome!
Apart from the kick the adrenaline gives you, the views from up high are amazing. I paraglided off Lion’s Head in Cape Town, but there are a number of great paragliding spots all over South Africa, and a number of companies offering tandem flights (for the first-timers like me).
What: a parachute, a harness and a qualified instructor. Put the three elements together and you have you have a safe paragliding flight. Depending on the launch site, you’re either required to run off a cliff or you’ll be pulled into the air using a towline and a winch.
Who: Pretty much anyone as far as I can figure out. As long as go with a qualified pilot it should be all systems go.
Where: There are launch sites all over South Africa, with the most popular sites being located in Cape Town and along the Garden Route in the Western Cape.
Para-Taxi is a Fairtrade certified company offering flights in Cape Town.
Paragliding South Africa offer tandem flights in Cape Town, Hermanus, Sir Lowry’s Pass and Porterville.
Flytime Paragliding do lovely flits ‘round the Garden Route.
Paragliding Adventures do tandem flights in Gauteng.