The Day I Flew (My Paragliding Experience in Cape Town!)

Hi everyone!! :D Today, I’m excited to share my paragliding experience when I was in Cape Town last year! This post is LONG overdue, given that I’ve been meaning to write it before I got engaged, married, and all! (Speaking of which, I have yet to share my wedding photos and footage with you guys, so stay tuned!)

What is Paragliding?

Paragliding is an adventure sport where a person glides through the air using a wide canopy, a fabric wing that’s made up of a large number of interconnected cells. In paragliding, the pilot “takes off” from an elevated position, usually the top of a hill or mountain, then uses wind forces to help him maintain flight — sometimes even gaining altitudes! Throughout the flight, the pilot sits in a harness suspended below the wing.

See picture:

Paragliding

While skydiving only lasts for a few minutes since you’re free-falling (and slowing your descent with a parachute towards the end), a skilled paraglider — relying solely on wind forces and thermals —  can stay in flight for HOURS and cover hundreds of kilometers!

Spontaneous Visit to Cape Town

So last year, I was in South Africa for personal travel (this was before Ken and I got together). PE Reader Lizette learned about my South Africa trip on Facebook and graciously offered to host me if I were to visit Cape Town. So excited to receive her invitation that I took it up right away!! (She would later become a sweet and dear friend! Hug smiley)

I subsequently learned that Lizette is a licensed paraglider and she has licensed tandem-paraglider friends who could take me paragliding if I wanted to. Since I had never done any extreme sport before, I immediately said, “YES!!!”

Paragliding at Lion’s Head

In Cape Town, there are two popular paragliding launch spots: Signal Hill and Lion’s Head, which are 350 meters and 669 meters above sea level respectively. Lion’s Head is the more popular spot, since it allows for a longer flight and better flight scenics.

I’m lucky enough to have paraglided from Lion’s Head, not once, but TWICE during my trip!!

Signboard for Lion's Head in Cape Town

At the entrance of Lion’s Head

Celes at the foot of Lion's Head

Me at the foot of the mountain

They say that if you want something, you need to earn it. Well, that’s true in this case — before you can launch from the mountain top, you need to climb up the mountain first… and FAST, because you need to catch the wind conditions while it’s favorable for flying!

Lizette and Ian

Lizette and Ian, getting ready to trek up Lion’s Head

Lion's Head (Cape Town)

End destination: the mountain top!! It looks near, but it really isn’t!

Get this: Mid-way through the trek, I was already huffing and panting, and I was only carrying a camera. I have NO idea how Ian managed the trek with his some-20-odd-kilo backpack filled with tandem paragliding equipment — and he was scaling up the mountain faster than any of us!! I guess he’s used to it since he does this all the time? And maybe that’s why he’s so skinny too?? o_O

Ian and his paraglider backpack

Ian scaling the mountain not unlike Sun Wukong

While trekking, I could see paragliders launching off from the mountain top. That really got me excited (and nervous at the same time), as it hit me that I was going to be flying in a few minutes!!! :D

Paragliders launching off Lion's Head (Cape Town)

Paragliders launching off Lion’s Head (Cape Town)

 

Preparing for the Flight…

And after about 15 minutes, we finally reached the launch spot!!!

Paragliding launch pad

Ian and team setting up the paragliding launch pad. You’re supposed to run from the top of the mat, DOWN the mountain, and “catch” the wind with your canopy, and then take off if everything goes well. It’s possible to trip, fall, and get seriously injured in the process. It’s also possible that you don’t take off at all and get caught in the bushes while running, which will leave you injured as well. (And no, I’m not kidding.)

Since paragliding is an extreme sport filled with many risks (you can get injured or die in case it’s not obvious), I had to sign an indemnity form before proceeding. It’s standard protocol and it’s to indemnify Ian of any issues that arise from the flight.

Paragliding indemnity form

Ian preparing the paragliding indemnity form

Paraglider Membership Card

As Ian joked, “Here’s your flight boarding pass!” ;) And I jokingly responded I got a one-way ticket! (You can only paraglide from top down, not bottom up!)

Ian's backview, on top of Lion's Head

Ian meditating and praying before the flight. …Actually I’m just joking, I think he was just assessing the wind condition to see if it was good for flying.

Celes at Lion's Head

Me, before gearing up. The wind is STRONG up here!!

Paragliding: Celes, before the flight

All geared up and ready to fly!!! That’s Lizette preparing the launch mat up there!! (Thanks Lizette! :D )

Paragliding launch pad

View from the launch pad, before taking off

 

My Paragliding Flight

Now as for the flight itself, it’s best to show it to you in video-form. I’ve uploaded a video to YouTube comprising of my takeoff, flight highlights, as well as the *a-hem* landing. :)

Are you ready? Well, buckle your seat belt, and then click “Play” on the video below! Let’s get flying!! :D

Note: For best viewing experience, watch this video in FULL-SCREEN mode.

(If you’re unable to see the video above, watch it via this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEaxXR_UbP4)

Snapshots from the Flight

Here are some shots from my flight!! :)

Celes Paragliding in Cape Town, off Lion's Head

Magnificent view of Cape Town from the sky

Celes Paragliding in Cape Town, off Lion's Head

Check out the beautiful blue skies and sea in the background!

Celes Paragliding in Cape Town, off Lion's Head

Look at me pilot the paraglider!! :D (And Ian’s screaming, “Save me!!!”)

Celes Paragliding in Cape Town, off Lion's Head

In case you are wondering why I was wearing tights in the previous picture but jeans in this one, that’s because I changed my pants while in the air. :D … Just kidding, they are simply photos from two different flights! :D

Celes Paragliding in Cape Town, off Lion's Head

Cape Town beneath our feet!!!

Ian and Celes, at Lion's Head (Cape Town)

Ian and I, before the flight

Ian and Celes, at the foot of Lion's Head (Cape Town)

A glorious shot of Ian and I after the flight. That’s Lion’s Head in the background! :)

 

My Thoughts of My Paragliding Experience

If you’ve watched my video above, my reactions and emotions during the flight say it all. :) Throughout the flight, I was feeling pure joy and ecstasy. It was incredible looking down from my seat, seeing myself float above Earth (with Ian behind me), suspended by nothing but a canopy and a harness.

In the meantime, everyone below — cars, people, restaurant waiters, fellow paragliders, etc. – was going about their own routine, without a care in the world, without even knowing that I was up there flying and having the time of my life.

Being up in the air, flying in the glider, made me feel tiny. It made the world feel tiny, given that everything (and everyone) was just beneath my feet. It also made my problems, concerns, and thoughts seem tiny. Up there in the sky, nothing matters. All you experience is purity and serenity.

I can understand why people like Ian and Lizette would fall in love with paragliding, and I’m thankful to tandem-pilots like Ian for showing this aspect of the world to non-paragliders like me. Without them, I would never have gotten to fly at all. So, a huge thank you to Ian and Lizette for making this possible for me!

I personally think that extreme sports like paragliding or skydiving is something that all of you should try at least once in their lifetime. It’ll tingle your worldview and your senses after you do it. After all, when you’ve just spent the last few minutes of your life suspended hundreds of meters above ground and seeing the world pass you by, you can’t help but have some perspective shift in terms of how you see things, even if unconsciously.

Of course, take all safety precautions and only fly with licensed tandem pilots, and not people looking to make quick bucks. There are licensed pilots charging people for tandem flights who are not licensed tandem pilots – and having a pilot license is totally different from a tandem pilot license. Make sure to always verify and ask for tandem-pilot certifications before registering for any extreme-sport activity – not taking proper safety precautions can result in serious injury or even death!

Ticking Off Item #113 of My Bucket List

By way of my paragliding flight, I got to tick off item #113 of my bucket list, which is “to fly” :D (and I don’t mean flying by plane).

Do you have your bucket list? If not, maybe it’s time to create yours! :) Read my bucket list article 101 Things To Do Before You Die, and download the free e-book version of this article by signing up for PE’s free newsletter.

Visiting Cape Town?

If you’re visiting Cape Town, you HAVE to book a tandem-paragliding session with Ian. He may look stern, but he’s really an awesome guy. His full name is “Ian De Vries” and you can contact him at +27 82 717 8389. Tell him that you are referred by Celes, Lizette’s blogger friend from Singapore, and he’ll give you a good rate! :D

Share Your Thoughts!

Have you paraglided before? Looking to paraglide in the future? Done any similar extreme sport before? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section! :D

Disclaimer: This post is NOT sponsored.

Image: Paraglider

  • Madalina S

    This looks awesome! :D

    I’ve always wanted to jump with a parachute (I think it’s called skydiving?). It’s something that makes me both excited and really scared, but I want to try it nevertheless.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Yes that’s skydiving! In skydiving, you go free-fall for a minute or two before slowing your descent with a parachute (like I mentioned in the post). It’s one of my bucket list to-dos too. Though with paragliding, you get to fly much longer; in skydiving the whole trip lasts a few minutes at most.

  • Lizette Preiss

    Brings back happy memories. Am going to pass this post on to Ian!

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Yes, please do!! :D

      • Ian de Vries

        Got it Thanks. very cool. Ian

  • Farnam

    It was really nice and exciting.. Paragliding is on my bucket list..
    While I was reading this article, something came to my mind. I (and of course others specially girls) would appreciate if you write articles about traveling alone, managing budgets, recommending places to visit, the ups and downs in a travel for a girl and so on.
    I would love to travel alone, but I don’t have any idea what I am going to face while I am alone in another country and what I would need to take with myself and how much money I would need.
    Thank you so much.

    • Educate Yourself

      I want to travel alone too by boat. :) I only daydream about it.

  • VickiB

    Thanks for sharing this. It looks like an amazing experience! This has renewed my interest in my bucket list.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      I’m glad it did! :D It’s great setting bucket list items and ticking them off one by one!

  • Educate Yourself

    I was wondering how your belly felt. HAHA. Did you have butterflies? I would and I love height. I want to fly someday. I felt like I was the one flying. Thanks for being my eyes. Thanks for sharing! Did Lizette take the pictures? In the video, I was wondering who is taking them?! Very nice pictures and the whole experience too! :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Thanks EY! :D I was the one taking the video (for the complete first-person experience!). For the pictures, Ian had a super long rod device that allowed him to snap pictures from a distance.

      I felt okay, no butterflies but a general nervousness before the flight, mainly from a (very real) worry that we won’t be able to take off before flying (say the wind not catching the canopy) or tripping over the steep mountain before flying! That’s because in paragliding, it’s the PASSENGER (not the pilot) who kicks off the flight and runs headfirst (the pilot sits behind the passenger as you can see from the picture). It all worked out fine in the end thankfully!

      You definitely should paraglide one day — it’s amazing!! Set it in your bucket list and it may happen sooner before you know it — for me it was totally serendipitous and unplanned; Lizette was the one who brought this into my reality. But none of this wouldn’t have happened in the first place if I didn’t set traveling as one of my goals and started traveling all over the place since 2011!

  • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

    Yes Ian was hilarious!! I hope you get to paraglide one day; it’s amazing!! :D

  • Aatiya

    Hi Celes, I am really interested in buying your latest book on productivity however Im not able to make the payment! it seems there are some issues with my paypal account. I even tried removing my card from the account but nothing seems to work. (the card is working fine on other sites). Could you help plz?
    Or is it possible that I send you the money on maybe some other platform and then you send me the book?

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hey Aatiya! Can you drop me a mail at orders@personalexcellence.co and we’ll take it from there? Thanks and look forward to hearing from you! :)

  • http://hackmyheart.com/ Calae

    Wow this is awesome!! I’ve always wanted to sky dive, and now this is something else I want to try too! Looks like you had a blast! Thanks for sharing! =D

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      I hope you get to try paragliding one day, Calae — it’s awesome! :D I haven’t skydived before and it’s something I want to try too (it’s on my bucket list as well)!

  • Spiraldive

    I paraglide solo regularly in the UK & this is a very accurate write up. Thermalling up to the clouds & flying cross country, thousands of feet in the air is the best feeling ever. Gliding from thermal to thermal is exciting challenging, thrilling yet also peaceful all at the same time. Landing in another town (county!) & finding your way back (on train,bus, taxi, or lift) to where you launched from is another part of the adventure.