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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We got in a van and drove up Haleakalā, winding through pastures and stands of pine trees until we reached our destination some 6,000 feet above the sea. The visiting couple played music on a portable speaker, and as the Beach Boys discussed the merits of “California Girls,” I watched the crew lay out our gear. They spread out the paragliding wings on the ground to look them over, ensuring, I imagined (and hoped), that they were free of holes. I put on a harness and a helmet and watched them untangle a thatch of thin cables which would connect us via harness to a wing. Horikoshi made her way to a lookout point from which she could capture images of us midflight, and Franco began the business of connecting us together.

We turned toward Pā‘ia and Kahului and could see Kula Botanical Gardens and O‘o Farm far below.

“Paragliding is similar to finding the perfect wave in surfing,” he said, then he told me to close my eyes and feel for the breeze. I did, and noticed that the wind came in cycles, similar indeed to waves, and that it alternated between wafting uphill and directly toward us to blowing downslope at our backs. “We need to wait until the wind is strongest coming upward,” said Franco as I opened my eyes. “This will give us the lift to take off.”

Madonna told us all to “Vogue” as Franco finalized our tandem pairing; then it was time for me to fly. “Focus on that flag,” said Franco, indicating a small stick with a limp stripe of pink a few yards downhill. “Run when I finish the countdown.”

Strategically placed flags helped us see the direction of the wind when preparing for takeoff.

“What if I run into the flag?” I asked; it really wasn’t that far away. “Then just go ahead and run over it,” said Franco just as a gust of wind whisked up the hillside. He began his countdown, and three, two, one … run!

Together we ran and ran and ran — and got nowhere fast. “Keep running!” said Franco, and so I did as hard as I could. We moved only a couple of feet, but our efforts helped to lift the paragliding wing, and as it rose it also pulled us backward. Before I knew it, we were in the sky, soaring well above that tiny pink flag.

Franco said I could sit back; I did and found that the harness had morphed into a makeshift seat. He steered us around the wispy clouds that shared our altitude, controlling our direction and speed with two handles that descended from either side of the wing. I relaxed and looked around. Molokini, Kīhei and Kahului were so impossibly small from up here. Pacific whitecaps combed toward both sides of the Island in endless rows, and Haleakalā towered behind, stoic and majestic all at once.

Franco pointed out a few sights, then he asked: “Do you like rollercoasters?” I answered in the affirmative and with a few swift maneuvers, he took us into a sharp turn, then a steep dive — which, to my delight, was very similar to an amusement-park coaster. We leveled out and flew toward Horikoshi for a photo op. I couldn’t see her from my vantage, so I smiled for several minutes, emoji-like, to ensure she captured my glee. Then, all too soon, it was time to land. Franco told me to lean forward and to walk when we hit the ground. Suddenly we were touching down on a small patch of grass in front of Ali‘i Kula Lavender.

I kicked back and glided comfortably over Kaonoulu Ranch toward the landing site straight ahead. But I didn’t want my flight to end!

My return to earth was far from graceful, perhaps because I was reluctant to again be grounded. But Franco disconnected us and said that I did well. “Now you’ll know what to do on your next flight,” he said. And he was right; I would absolutely be coming back. As my fellow flier said, it’s quite easy to get hooked.

Proflyght Paragliding, 1100 Waipoli Rd., Kula | paraglidemaui.com | 808.874.5433

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