Paragliding on Maui

I recently went paragliding for the first time with Maui’s own Proflyght Paragliding tour company for an article I was working on for Hawai’i Magazine’s online publication.

The experience tested my will power, patience and mental strength. Due to challenges with the weather, I had to reschedule on two different occasions before finally getting up in the air on May 14 (which also happened to be Mother’s Day).  Naturally, weather is an important factor in determining whether or not you can fly.  So, if you’re visiting and want to try paragliding, I highly recommend keeping a few of your mornings free in case your flight gets rescheduled. Flights occur around 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. each morning.

To be honest, I’m glad I had a little bit of time to calm my nerves and become acclimated with this experience prior to takeoff.  I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but I definitely have a problem with putting my life in someone else’s hands.  But, similar to most life experiences that push us out of our comfort zone, I’m so glad I did it.

Morning of Takeoff

After a safety debriefing, I loaded into a van with a visiting couple who were trying paragliding for the first time as well. We arrived to the 3,000ft. launch location off the side of Maui’s Haleakala Mountain. The weather was perfect and I had a feeling that I might just get off the mountain that day. But, as fate would have it, I had to wait for the couple to fly tandem before I could go. So I sat placidly and enjoyed the view until the instructors had finished with the other flights.

This is the launch site off the side of Maui’s Haleakala Mountain.

After much anticipation, my moment finally came! My instructor Dexter Binder, who is also the owner of the company, locked me into a harness-like apparatus and told me to wait until he tells me to “run.”  This part is important because if you don’t run, the wind might not catch your parachute and you could miss your opportunity. Don’t worry, you won’t fall. The launch site is located on a hill, so the worst that could happen is you tumble down the side of the hill.

Ready. Set. Go! 

I had my helmet on, my harness was locked and, again, I had to wait.  We watched as the other pilot and his tandem flyer made it safely off the hill, while Dexter waited for the precise moment to launch. He explained he was waiting for a “nice breeze” to come up the face of the mountain. This is how they fly on Maui, by circling in warm air called thermals. There are other locations throughout the world where flyers use a ridge lift technique.

Eventually, a nice cool breeze came up the side of the mountain and Dexter told me to “Go!” I started my awkward run/walk until we were finally up in the air!

 

Proflyght Paragliding owner and instructor Dexter Binder made flying a breeze (no pun intended).

Spiral Dive

The flight was absolutely breathtaking and lasted about 12-15 minutes. The feeling of excitement and elation lasted the entire time, and it reminded me of being stuck on the top of a roller coaster, except you’re flying!

My favorite part of the experience was when the instructor did a 360 degree turn in the air before we headed down for a landing. This particular maneuver is called a “spiral dive.” It’s not an acrobatic maneuver, but it sure feels like one. Dexter explained that during the spiral dive we were turning fast in a tight radius, creating a centrifugal force and giving us the feeling of a spiral. So cool!

Soaring about 3,000 ft. above the Polipoli forest on Maui!

The Landing

The landing is by far the easiest part of the flight, except by then you won’t want the fun to end. We sailed down slowly and when we were about to hit the ground Dexter told me to keep my feet up. After my feet were in the right position, we slid on the ground until our parachute fell behind us and the ride was over.

The only word to describe this experience would be euphoric. The flight is incredibly peaceful and the staff at Proflyght Paragliding are professional and courteous. If you’re interested in trying paragliding for the first time, visit their website here.

 

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