I Tried Hang Gliding When I Was 55, Here’s Why I Think You’ll Love It
The Outer Banks, North Carolina has long been a dream vacation. Gorgeous sandy beaches, great weather, and great outdoor activities – as long as you’re not there during a hurricane, you’ll be awe-inspiring.
I worked with the Outer Banks Convention and Visitors Bureau and was partially hosted by them to organize an excellent five day familiarization trip for four travel writers. All opinions are mine.
where i went and why
A group of four travel writers went for four days and had a blast. We stayed at Nags Head, centrally located on this 175-mile stretch, in a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom stilt house. Having our own fully equipped kitchen thanks to Kees Rental has made a big difference for us. I was able to prepare and eat my breakfast before anyone else got up. They were able to have their late night snacks long after I went to bed.
Being in Nags Head was convenient for reaching Jockey’s Ridge State Park where Kitty Hawk Kites took us for our ground school and hang gliding experience. Bad weather with high winds delayed our initial flight until the winds died down in the afternoon.
How I approached the trip
There are so many amazing villages in the Outer Banks and things to do that I knew we would beat the clock all the time. Also, the weather. We went in May, known as “shoulder season”, when the weather is uncertain. We were lucky to have arrived at the end of a nor-easter, not in the middle of it, but several events were canceled or postponed. Being centrally located, we allowed one day for each island (Roanoke, Hatteras and grouped the others accordingly). We had a wish list that could have taken two weeks to complete.
All we knew about hang gliding was where and when to show up. I thought we’d jump off a cliff, tandem. One of the others said she was just scared. We were all excited to go. I was the second youngest in the group, we were all over 50, but we knew the hospital was only a few miles away. So we were ready.
What did you do, where did you go, how did you get there and what did you experience
We went hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the same sand dunes that Orville and Wilbur Wright went from hang gliding to flying. They calculated everything on the Wright Flyer.
We arrived at Jockey’s Ridge, parked in the parking lot, walked up the bridge to the front of the Kitty Hawk Kite store, signed our lives with the hang glider release form and started our ground school with Michael Vaughn , young enough to be one of our sons. After flight school we walked across the boardwalk to the sand dunes and out of the sand dunes to where they set up the hang gliders for our use with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond.
What a relief to learn that, even though we would be soloing, we would be attached to two runaway instructors. Think of it as training wheels, except you’re in the air.
How it went: what worked and what didn’t
The whole experience once we got on the plane was glorious. You fly once, then wait for the other members of your group to take their turn, then repeat for a total of five flights. This gives you a chance to get back up the sand dune, catch your breath, and maybe get a pointer or two for your next flight.
The challenge was the weather. A couple we met had come from New Jersey just for this experience. Bad weather had kept them at their hotel for six days. They did when we got back this afternoon and the weather held out just right for us.
Which surprised me in a good way
I was surprised by the comfort of the harness which held us in place in the paragliding position. Michael and his father, he told us, had worked on this particular harness to perfect it. I was surprised that it was effortless.
Following Michael’s instructions was key. He warned us that most people overthink it and all we had to do was listen. He didn’t say much during my flight after “One, run, two…” and later told us that meant we were doing “everything right”.
“If I don’t say anything, it means you’re doing just fine.”
I was impressed that every time we ‘escape’ think superman pose if you’re a yoga fan the hang glider did exactly what it was supposed to do and landed us safely and efficiently. One of us even looked like Mary Poppins every time she landed. Perhaps the best statement of the day came from Michael: “I want my mom to spend time with you four. You are funny !
Which surprised me in the wrong way
I was surprised to be frustrated that I couldn’t gain more height and distance right off the bat. The other writers told me they thought it might be partly because I was taller than the instructors. So when I ran away from the sand dune, being auto-attached meant I would have a size drop. I don’t know if that’s true, or if I should have done what one of the other writers did, just refuse to flare up and land, but I’ll keep working on it next time.
What would I do differently next time
Next time I would have done more research on the hang gliding company. It’s just on their website that they are committed to students, which would have given us peace of mind from the start. Next time I go to OBX will be during peak season so I can catch The Lost Colony play and go hang gliding again.
Now that we have done our first flights and our training, we can continue, much like I did with scuba diving and my PADI certification. Tracking our hang gliding flights allows us to glide in different locations and difficulty levels around the world.
Tips for someone who wants to hang glide and/or try something new or scary
- Understand the physical demands. After ten years in a wheelchair, I wasn’t used to jumping from a lying position on my feet, but it was easier than expected.
- Follow all instructions given to you to the letter.
- Do your research, then trust the process.
- Don’t think about it too much.
- Be prepared: stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and insect repellent.
- Just do it.
- Have fun.
I’m so glad I tried hang gliding. If I had the chance, I would have done it sooner.
After all, without trying new things, how can we progress?
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