There are a few things I really don't like hearing from a guide, pilot, or instructor. At the top of the list is "brace for impact," but not far behind is "do you want to see what this baby can do?"
Drifting high above the Turkish Mediterranean, sparkling in the mid-day heat, this is exactly what my tandem pilot Alper said in broken English. Before I had a moment to reply, he pulled heavily on the paraglider's right brake, and spun us into a spiral dive, a rapid descent that left my breath, and stomach, somewhere way up in the sky above.
Paragliding has boomed in recent years, largely because of the ease of set up, its undeniable thrill, and its excellent safety record. After giving hanggliding a go in Rio de Janeiro, I got caught up in the flyboy debate over which form of recreational human flight was better. In Olü Dëniz, located along the coast in southern Turkey, I had my first opportunity for comparison. At 1,800m, it offers the world's highest commercial launch pad, and ideal conditions for paragliding year round. The view is nothing less than extraordinary, but that's a given when it comes to sailing in the air, supported by a thin chute and the elements. By contrast, it was a long, torturous drive up the mountain to the launch, as the August sun cracked 40C, and the beaches become packed with holidaymakers.
A few months later, affluent golfers in San Diego's Torrey Pines were pointing at me as I paraglided over their heads, the late afternoon sun setting over the horizon, while I drifted alongside the cliffs of California that frame the Pacific ocean. Torrey Pines attracts gliders from around the world, with its view and excellent facilities. Today, however, there were not enough thermals; the gusts of hot air that give paragliders their lift. Without hot air to boost us up, my pilot was unable to land on top of the cliff, instead floating down to the beach below. We arrived unceremoniously on a nudist beach, gawked awkwardly, packed up the chute, and started the long hike up to the parking lot.
In Bohinj, located in Slovenia's Julian Alps, a far more civilized cable car and ski lift shepherd paragliders to the launch pad. As with previous experiences, my tandem pilot and I waited around until the wind picked up, strapped in, and ran off a cliff until our feet no longer touched the ground. A crystal lake, green forests, views of the highest peak in this Central European country — I was about to say breathtaking when, in broken English, I hear something not unlike: "Do you want to see what this baby can do?"
By the time my feet touched the ground, I had turned a shade of green, covered in sweat from the heat and the adrenaline. I don't handle spins well, much less sudden plummets towards the ground from thousands of feet in the air. As I had experienced in Turkey a few years before, this sudden spiral dive had my cheeks expanding with projectile vomit, forcibly swallowed to save some element of pride. We landed on the soft grass, and I bee-lined it to the lake to cool off. Fortunately, there were no nudists around to see me lose my breakfast.
Paragliding in Turkey
Olü Dëniz is located on Turkey's popular southern coast near Fethiye. Tandem paragliding costs around US $100, and rides last between 30-45 minutes depending on conditions. More info at: hectorparagliding.com
Paragliding in Torrey Pines
20-25 minute tandem flights can be taken through Torrey Pines Gliderport, located off the I5 in San Diego. It costs US$150 for the flight, and bookings can be made on location. More info at: flytorrey.com
Paragliding in Slovenia
PAC Sports offer incredible paragliding from 3 locations in the Julian Alps, depending on the winds. Tandem rides last around 10 minutes, and costs 85 euros. More info at: pac-sports.com/en/paragliding.htm
Vancouver-based travel writer Robin Esrock hosts Word Travels (CityTV/OLN) and is the author of the book, The Great Canadian Bucket List. You can find him at: robinesrock.com