Backing up... “Hi Craig, welcome,” Manu says shaking my hand warmly. “The winds a bit northerly at the moment,” he says nodding towards the vaguely flapping windsock. We're at Signal Hill and below us the beautiful city of Cape Town stretches out towards the sea and the infamous Robben Island in the distance. “We need it to be more head on,” Manu the owner Cape Town Tandem Paragliding says. He then goes on to explain how we must take off into the wind. “It's not like a helicopter that creates its own wind, we need the wind to be provided.” I look at the windsock still flapping forlornly and wonder if we will fly. I'm hoping we will, but I'm all for there being enough wind to keep us up.
“It looks like the wind is fine now,” we're told about 20 minutes later. Soon I'm being strapped into my gear. It sort of feels like I'm wearing a giant diaper. “Maybe it's for those who get a little afraid on the flight,” I muse sagely as I stare down at our destination far below. “Just make sure you keep running,” Manu says, “just don’t stop or sit otherwise I’ll end up on top of you.” And so it is that after just three steps I’m suddenly like one of those cartoon characters and running in the air. The ground drops away and it’s almost miraculous as we are suddenly flying.
After a minute or so…time in this heavenly place takes on a different meaning, so it could have been an hour, we bank left and the hill drops away. Moments later we’re flying above the busy Sea Point suburb below us. The packed streets, crane-active buildings, and daily life seem like a distant planet as we float softly on the gentle breeze. It’s quiet. It’s tranquil. It’s amazing.
“Do you want to experience some tricks?” Manu asks as we near the Sea Point promenade. “Yeah sure!” I exclaim enthusiastically, “bring it on.” I’m loving this and the more the tranquility mingles with the thrill the better. “You don’t get motion sickness do you?” Manu enquires. Well, even if I do, I want to taste the action. “No,” I reply, “let’s do it. Even if I get sick I want to experience the fun.” And so as we glide out like a seagull with wide-spread wings over the sea, the action begins.
All of a sudden Manu banks to the left and we are thrown into a spiral. Then moments later we are tossed around and spinning in the reverse direction. Or at least I think that’s what happened. All I really know is that I’m yelping with excitement as the adrenalin pumps and the stomach gets that awesome tingling feeling. Wow!
Finally as the sparkling ocean screams past us just meters below, we bank once more to the left and are suddenly calmly floating down towards the grass field on the promenade. And then like a butterfly landing on your skin, we gently float and touch down on the grass. One, two, three…earth. Wow. What an incredible experience.
“That was incredible,” I say as Manu packs up the gear. “Absolutely incredible. How many flights do you do?” I ask.
“About one thousand a year. But then there are between three and six in the team depending on the time of year,” he continues. I can see why they’re so busy. From start to finish the experience is not only incredible, but it's professional and you feel totally safe. Minutes after we land their shuttle is there to pick us up and take us back to the top.
“Ninety!” I exclaim. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Manu replies, “The oldest person I’ve taken on a flight is 90 and the youngest is 3.”
That is incredible. It truly is a sport that anyone can do. An opportunity for anyone to experience flight in a way that a few years ago we would never have dreamed possible. An opportunity to step, at least for a moment, into heaven…or at least heavenwards, where the wonder is better experienced than ever explained...because most won’t believe until they’ve been.