The Flight of the Felix

Have you ever wanted to fly? Paragliding is about as close as you can get without growing feathers.

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STORY BY FELIX SUNNY D’SOUZA | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIEKO HORIKOSHI

paragliding
It was thrilling to fly over Maui and get a bird’s-eye view of Mā‘alaea, Kīhei and the entire Central Valley.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to fly. Yes, I was that kid — jumping out of trees, hoping that somehow, mid-leap, I would magically take flight. After college I threw myself out of a perfectly good airplane for a skydiving experience and loved the feeling of the wind beating my face and body as I plummeted toward the green Pennsylvania hills.

My pilot, Paul Franco, ensured I was securely fastened to him and to the wing, and we both enjoyed our ride through the clear blue skies.

Fast-forward 10 years and my husband, William, and I live on Maui. During a visit to Kula Country Farms, I noticed colorful arcs floating in the sky — paragliders skimming down the face of Haleakalā. My urge to fly was reanimated, and after a little research I found Proflyght Paragliding.

Dexter Binder, owner of Proflyght, has been in business for more than 20 years. He oversees 60 local pilots and instructors and organizes about 320 flights per year here on Maui. Proflyght also has a perfect safety record, so I had no doubt they would be the right company to take me safely on my next adventure.

William and I left West Maui early — apparently the wind is best in the morning — and drove to the orientation site at Kaonoulu Ranch. The weather was gorgeous, and we could see the crags of the West Maui mountain, the reliably rotating windmills above Mā‘alaea Harbor and the hazy outline of Lāna‘i in the distance. I stepped out of the car and was immediately glad to have brought a jacket; Upcountry is decidedly cooler than Honokōwai, and we zipped up against the 50-degree breeze. We met up with our photographer, Mieko Horikoshi, who would be documenting our adventure, then took stock of our fellow fliers. There were quite a few, including a visiting couple who actually brought their own gear. All were experienced paragliders, including my husband, who had glided years before, which meant I was the only rookie. And being the only rookie, I had a million questions: What do we do to take off? How far do we have to run? Do we jump off a cliff? What if the wind doesn’t cooperate?

Blue skies, sunshine and reliable winds are the ideal elements for paragliding.

Binder greeted us and checked us in, and shortly thereafter addressed the group to discuss both the thrills and the dangers of paragliding. I felt a shiver of nerves, but Binder forged ahead with a litany of instructions which I distilled down to this:

Run as fast as you can to take off, don’t lean back and keep running, even as you begin to fly. Sounded simple enough.

I would be flying tandem with my pilot, Paul Franco, a veteran glider of 21 years with more than 8,000 flights to his name. Franco was welcoming and talkative, and because of his experience (and the fact that he stood quite a bit taller than myself), I felt a surge of confidence. As I was signing my waiver, one of the visiting gliders said: “You’re going to love it, and it’s quite easy to get hooked!”

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