Paragliding - problems, Paragliding for beginners, Paragliding for the first time, Paragliding glitch, Paragliding in Cape Town, Paragliding in South Africa, Paragliding Safety First, Paragliding the Hard Way
Paragliding the Hard Way
To Signal Hill to paraglide for the first time. You basically jump off a slope on a mountain suspended by a few ropes from a piece of cloth, hover high up in the air if there are thermals, and then come flying in over the Sea Point buildings to land on the beachfront. It’s sane, logical and in booming demand in Cape Town, there being eight companies to provide you with the thrill. You have two sites from which to jump depending on wind conditions. One is on Lion’s Head where you to walk 15 minutes to the launch site. This site is relatively secluded. The second is on Signal Hill in view of the wooden lookout deck off the parking lot. The latter is very accessible to the public who look on as you jump, among which figure tourists, voyeurs, the morbidly fascinated and your odd schadenfreude dabbler. If you choose to jump there you do so in full view of the world.
Arrive early on a glorious Sunday morning at the launch site to be met by Stefan. Stefan is my paragliding pilot. Says his company is understaffed that day. Stefan takes my hard cold off me and makes me fill in forms with the usual disclaimers. In preparation to lift-off I’ll be made to stand on a large canvas which serves as a runway of sorts. Stefan will stand behind me with the paraglide fanned out on the ground behind him. He will then strap himself to me. His two helpers will come up alongside us. We’ll then ready ourselves for take-off. He’ll check the wind, and when it is right he will issue the ‘run’ command. At this all four of us will run down the piste, the paraglide will rise behind us and all having gone well, we’d be airborne thirty paces or so down the slope. Simple. All paragliders had been taking off without incident that morning and wind conditions were good.
My turn comes. I had skydived so this would be easy, I think. Fully strapped and ready, I hear “run!” We four hare down the piste, only to be hear “stop, stop, stop!” from the pilot. We stop running, veer off to the right and I crash into a bush. The paraglide comes flopping down all over the bushes as we abort. Something had gone wrong. It was the wind. Not quite right I’m told.
I trudge my way up the hill and recompose myself. Must try again. By this time a large and curious audience had amassed. Steeling myself, I go through the procedure again. ‘Run!” says Stefan. The four of us tear off again, the helpers alongside me, the pilot behind, only to hear “stop, stop!” again. I had not run hard enough for the wind it seemed, so we land once again in the bushes. I shake my head, dust myself off to face a growing and restless crowd. Hang on, there might be danger in this, one or two must be thinking. In particular, a tall, blonde woman wearing a jeans suit and sunglasses catches my eye. She sits rigidly on a park bench, arms folded tightly across her chest, staring hard at me as I walk back up. I feel a strange force emanating from her. Or is it simply terror? In any case, it unsettles me.
I repair to a bench to think things through. I also start losing faith in my pilot. He seems not entirely experienced. Or is it a body chemistry thing between us? Mechanics? Perhaps we don’t gel together. I speak to my partners on the outing who commiserate and suggest I perhaps give up for the day. But the sight of other gliders taking off effortlessly induces me to give it one more shot. Same procedure. ‘Run!’ We run. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” I fall… harder this time, and turn around to face a morbidly dismayed crowd of some two hundred people. The woman in jeans now not only emits vibes, she’s potently radioactive. Babbling in dialects of a dozen languages go up around me, as well as the odd Afrikaans expletive. Here is a guy who had failed three times. I’m not the best advertisement for the paragliding companies who need business.
Time to recompose myself. Should I try a fourth time? I’m here after all and don’t give up easily in life. But I’m heavily discouraged and nervous. What to do? Dig deep. Think. I’m not superstitious, but now and then it’s worth checking up on those things. Stuff like how well my aura was disposed to positive cosmic energy on the day, how propitious the stars were aligned for me, what my astrological augury held, the psychic energy flow, the polarity of my biorhythms etc. Stuff to which Miki B is totally attuned. So I phone him.
“Miki, I’m on the mountain. Aborted my jump three times. Should I try again? Please feel the vibes for me.” The vibes aren’t entirely misaligned, it turns out. Michael prevaricates and asks how I feel. “Lexi, are you shaken? Nervous? Will your mental state add or detract from the success of the jump? Not? Well it’s up to you. How do you feel? There’s no negative vibe I can pick up, but only jump if you’re strong, else don’t.” “Thank you Miki.”
I phone Graham. Unlike Michael, Graham feels nothing, nothing. Yet I tell him the story. He listens, then huffs “Don’t jump full stop, go home now, end of story!” and slams the phone down on me. Sometimes I even think he cares. I mope around a bit then chuck it in. But before leaving I sound out the helping staff, the guys who run along with the pilots at take off, to find out who the best pilot is to jump with. When I would come again I wanted to be absolutely sure. They say Stef Juncker is my best bet. If Stef couldn’t take me up, no one could.1
Two weekends later I arrive on the perfect paragliding afternoon for a paraglide with Stef. I of course wear my Stellenbosch white top this time, the one I had successfully skydived with, not the red Paris Sorbonne top with which I had no success paragliding the previous time. No I’m not superstitious, but.
“Where’s Stef?” I ask. “Sorry, Stef couldn’t make it. Payne is taking you instead”. Payne is sitting at a bench.2 He has a bit of a belly, looks unfit and is puffing away at a cigarette but is the perfect picture of insouciance. Right. Another guy to take a chance on. Payne’s cigarette waves ‘hello’. “Don’t worry I’ll take you down. I saw you fall a few times. I know what was wrong. I’ve been doing this for twenty years. What do you weigh? How much?” I tell him. Payne dismisses it with a matter-of-fact puff of smoke. “I weigh more than you, so our combined centre of gravity will be different to what is was with your previous pilot. We’ll make adjustments, the wind is good and we won’t have to run hard. All will be fine.” That said, Payne takes another drag and blows smoke up into the wind, as though he were sweeping my worries away with it. I look hard at Payne. Then I remember reading that the only airplane pilot who could land on some landing strip in the Amazon was a guy who drank two bottles of whisky a day. He alone could land his plane plumb on the runway among tall trees which housed the wrecks of planes of the sober. “OK let’s go”, I say.
I’m strapped up for the fourth time, we run… and we fly! As we soar, I let out a shout of joy, I am so thrilled. We glide over the fynbos and the city and the tall buildings and the promenade and over the sea. Here we swerve around and Payne unleashes some wild swings that bring my heart to my mouth. I hear him telling me to lift my legs as we come in to land, and we land on the soft, soft grass of the promenade, in front of the gentry at the Winchester Mansions having their late afternoon tea.
I jump for joy, throw my arms in the air, give full vent to my Latin temperament, plant a kiss on an unsuspecting Payne’s cheek and madly race out a few circles on the lawn.
At times life can be good.
1. Stef Juncker is from Parapax Paragliding, http://www.parapax.com, telephone number +27(0)82 881 4724. They paraglide around the Cape Peninsula and even have thrills such as motorised paragliding etc. A very professional paragliding outfit.
2. Not his real name.