First Flights

As I gaze out at this year’s new students kiting on the hill, I’m reminded of my own humble beginnings here at Torrey Pines’ Gliderport. It was a happy Friday and I had left the office as early as I could. Having forgotten my tennis shoes I casually walked out onto the hill in my leather loafers and met my new instructor, Bryan Rice. I had signed up to learn how to fly under a GroupOn that Bryan put together and was excited to see what this sport was all about.

After Bryan set me up with a beginner wing, I spent the next 5 hours learning how to “kite”. Luckily, the wind was about 10mph, constant, westerly and steady. Occasionally Bryan would offer tidbits of advice, as did several of the other instructors around the hill. The world famous Max Marien (Infinite Tumble record holder) was quick to offer some subtle tips about “feeling” the wing vs. trying to muscle it into position. Ki Hong was there too and told me the wing was “like a lady”, that I needed to listen to it, respect it and to use more hip in my kiting.

It wasn’t long before I had the wing overhead and was facing out toward the Pacific Ocean. I heard Max behind me, “Are you ready?” Ready for what? “To go off the cliff of course”. Oh no, I don’t think I’m ready. I hadn’t even had a tandem flight yet; I had zero clue what I was getting myself into. My fears quickly subsided as the wind had shifted and it was too northerly to fly, but tomorrow was Saturday and the forecast was looking good. To be honest, I was scared, but a bit hopeful for what tomorrow would bring. I was ready… according to my instructors.

The following morning I resumed my kiting and by Noon the winds were complementary. Radio attached, I walked up to the edge and waited for Max to give his approval. “Off you go”, he said, so off I went. It was incredible. Somehow I thought I would just drop off the cliff face, but no, I was gliding! I headed up the North face of the cliff and found some lift. Soon Max’s voice was cracking on the radio again, “Okay, we’re going to make a nice left turn. I want you to look left, lean left and pull a little bit of left toggle.” I followed his directions closely. It was soooo much to absorb; with the ocean, the sun, the cool breeze and beautiful shoreline I was flying, but I had very little understanding of the wing and the wind. It was a magical feeling. Must keep focus, I thought to myself.

After just a few more passes, clearly outside the best part of the lift band, we decided to land on the beach rather than attempt a top landing. I remember gliding over the beachgoers smiling faces, the volleyball players and a few nudists before hearing Max say, “Flare”. I pulled both toggles like a skydiver does and tiptoed down onto the cool sand. There I was, a pilot after his first solo, heck, first ever flight. I was hooked. I thanked Max on the radio and began to pack my gear the best I could. While it was nice to be on the beautiful beach, I wanted more. I knew this was the sport for me and I wanted to get back up in the air as soon as possible. I quickly made my way up the trail to the glider port and immediately asked if I could fly again. A resounding “Yes” was the reply and that day I had 4 additional flights. I top landed each one and even performed my first touch-n-go. Damn, I was happy!

I thanked Max, I thanked Bryan, heck I think I even thanked a tourist who had no clue what I was talking about, but I didn’t care. I was becoming a paragliding pilot and I loved it. I immediately signed up for the next level, the P2 class, thus solidifying my place in this sport. I knew this was a one-way road with no turning back and I didn’t have to think about this decision; I knew this was my passion and I knew I had to continue…

Do you remember your first flight? I’d love to hear your story.

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  1. Awesome, Mateo! Here’s a link to my description of my own beginnings in paragliding:

  2. Learning to fly in New Zealand on the beach…just like Torrey, but about 20miles of soarable cliff…

    • Wow, that site looks amazing. It’s always so beautiful in New Zealand. I hope someday to visit the North Island and fly there!
      Good luck with your training Peter. Be careful and take it slow; paragliding can be a life-long sport if you let it 😉

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