Into The Open Air - Paragliding, The Best View Of Santa Barbara
By Joshua Brayer for The Santa Barbara Independent
The Blue and Green guide to land sea, and Sky
May 30, 2002
One Sunday afternoon in April I stood in the parking area of the paragliding training hill at Elings Park and gazed at the calm Pacific waters lapping onto the shores of Arroyo Burro Beach. The previous day the wind had been so strong that even experienced glider pilots and instructors couldn't launch, but it had died down considerably since. Sunday's weather was perfect for learning how to paraglide, and Rob Sporrer of Eagle Paragliding was the man to train me.
Paragliders attach a parachute-like wing to an over-the-shoulder harness and propel themselves off of an elevated surface until they are flying. The wing is laid out uphill of the paraglider. Experienced pilots perform "reverse launches” facing uphill with their lines intentionally crossed until a cycle of wind helps the pilot lift the wing off the ground. The lines straighten when the pilot turns to face forward. Novice pilots like me begin facing forward, running toward the down-slope of the hill until the wing inflates and rises. After centering the wing directly overhead, the pilot takes giant moon-steps until he is airborne, then sits back in the harness as if it were a lawn chair and rests his feet on a soft plastic bar.
Pilots attempt to find wind updrafts, or thermals, that allow them to soar, hover, or carve arcing turns. They control the wing by adjusting pressure on two handles. The handles are attached to the lines that lead to the rear edge of the wing; pulling down applies brakes (used most in landing) and easing up allows for gliding. Paragliders rarely achieve airspeeds greater than 25 miles per hour at trim.
After being fitted for gear (helmet, wings, and harness), my fellow trainee John McKellar, age 61, and I lugged our equipment to the top of the hill, where Sporrer and Eagle instructor, Pete Gifford, explained safety techniques. Of course, safety is their highest priority, so the Eagle instructors equip their students with walkie-talkies so they can stay in communication while they are flying. Sporrer had told me that he had trained to be an instructor with some of the nation's top pilots including Dixon White, whose Air Play Paragliding schools in Arizona and Washington are world renowned, so I knew I was in good hands. After an hour of safety instruction, we started practicing our forward launches without actually launching called kiting. I pulled up the kite at least a dozen times before Sporrer was convinced I was ready to attempt a launch and fly. Although I was a little nervous, I knew that Rob would not let me fly unless he believed I was ready. I checked to make sure that all my gear was secure and that my walkie-talkie was on. Rob stood near the take-off spot to help guide me to a successful launch. Small flags on the side of the runway indicated that a steady breeze was making its way up the training hill directly into my face; you do not want to take off in a crosswind.
I believe I can fly
Sporrer gave me the go-ahead signal: I leaned forward and ran, then pulled the kite up directly over my head and started taking giant steps toward the instructor. Just as I passed Sporrer, I jumped and tried to sit back in my harness, but I didn't quite have enough ground clearance. I touched down again, kept running, and made another take-off attempt. I felt an updraft and the ground began to disappear beneath my feet. A swarm of butterflies seemed to be dancing frantically in my stomach. I looked down at the ant-sized people below as I soared majestically above the training hill. Rob's voice crackled through my radio: "Lighten up on the controls a little bit, but you're doing fine."
As I approached the ground I pulled down gently on the controls to ease into the landing. I touched down, brought the wing down to the ground, and thrust my fists into the air triumphantly. My first attempt at paragliding was successful. Sporrer drove his Eagle Paragliding van down the hill to pick me up. I want to do that again, I remarked jubilantly.
I was hooked. That afternoon I did seven flights while other instructors were ending their lessons at about 2 p.m., Rob was willing to stay out on the training hill as long as we wanted to keep flying or until the sun went down. Each successful flight boosted my confidence level. The slow speed of the flight made the wing totally manageable. By the end of the day, I was carving broad sweeping turns; I even managed to nail a couple of textbook spot landings.
The sensation of flying is like nothing else I have ever felt; that first day of paragliding was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I can't wait to get back up there and complete the novice training program.
Learn to Fly
Eagle Paragliding, owned and operated by Rob Sporrer, offers several different lesson packages. Those who want the one-time thrill of jumping but are not interested in getting certified can sign up for a one-day or two-day lesson (6-8 hours per day). The one-day lesson costs $200; the two-day lesson is $375. To earn your P2 certification, which allows you to jump without an instructor present, requires between six and eight training days, and costs $1,500. Eagle will apply a 10% discount on the purchase of a brand new equipment package, which is purchased by yoru 3rd day of lessons. (During the training, Eagle provides all the equipment you'll need.) Treat a friend or family member to the thrill of a lifetime with a gift certificate for a paragliding lesson. For further information, contact Rob Sporrer at 805-968-0980; e-mail Eagle Paragliding at email@example.com; or visit Eagle's Web site at www.FlySantaBarbara.com.