Having already experienced and loved skydiving, I was interested to try to hang glide to see how they compare. And what better place to try out this unique flying experience than at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, during our road trip to the gorgeous Outer Banks.
There are two ways a novice can hang glide. One is to take a lesson and then strap on a small pair of wings and jump off the dunes; the other is to fly tandem with a trained pilot at heights from 2,000 ft. up to one mile over the earth, no experience necessary.
Can you guess which one I choose? Yeah, baby! Take me up, up, and away!
At Kitty Hawk Kites, I met my pilot, Jonathon Bland, and knew this was going to be memorable. His extensive experience, exuberant personality, and great story-telling ability were just perfect. And his long, dark blonde dreadlocks only added to his intriguing backstory.
To start the tandem glide, Jonathon and another engineer helped me into the “boot” so that we would be safely harnessed into the glider together. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminum alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth to form a wing.
The non-motorized glider we were using was specially designed with a larger wing area so we could obtain more lift. The take-off/landing gear was designed in the style of a tricycle to simplify take-offs and make landings more smooth.
“Hi everybody! My name is Jonathon and this is Patti. We’re about to go on a wonderful adventure in the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina and fly around like a bird in a hang glider!” Jonathon said looking into one of the two GoPro video cameras strapped onto the glider for different perspectives. “How are you feeling there, Patti?” Jonathon inquired as he looked up to my tandem position.
“I feel great! I cannot wait to do it! Let’s go!” I said, spreading my arms like a bird. And YEE HA, the ultralight plane took off, towing our glider into the wild blue yonder.
After a few minutes, Jonathon gave the tow plane a signal, and the rope that was towing us to the plane visibly snapped. And suddenly we were released, untethered and on our own, soaring through the clouds. I could not suppress my giggling, and truth be told, I didn’t even try.
Once released from the tow plane, the only sounds came from me, Jonathon, and the wind flowing around us. One of the nice things about gliding is that conversation is possible. Jonathon was very intrigued that I’m a travel writer, and we chatted animatedly throughout the flight about places we both had been as well as destinations on each of our bucket lists.
The views of the gray-blue Atlantic Ocean, the Currituck Sound, and the surrounding landmass of the Outer Banks are simply stunning when observed from these altitudes. And the stalls, dives and turns made tandem hang gliding so exciting and memorable!
About halfway into the ride, Jonathon asked me if I wanted to steer the glider. “Ha!” I thought to myself, “Apparently he hasn’t heard about my automobile driving abilities!” It’s not that I’ve been in or caused any accidents, mind you. It’s just that whenever I volunteer to drive, friends and family quickly, firmly, and vocally decline. I may or may not be a tad reckless.
But why not? I placed a hand on each side of the glider rails. “If you want to turn, all you have to do is lean ever so slightly in that direction,” Jonathon instructed. “You don’t need to make any big movements.” Yeah, that’s what they told me when I tried to jet pack, and yet I kept plunging headfirst into the ocean.
So, I was a little nervous at first and just kept the glider straight. But after a few minutes, I gained confidence and just leaned a little to my left and we made a minor turn in that direction for a slightly different but equally breathtaking aerial view of the coastline.
One of my favorite parts of the glide was when Jonathon said, “Are you ready for the roller-coaster?” “Bring it!” I invited. He then skillfully pushed the bars of the glider to make it dip straight down, and then pull it to bring it back up, and then dipped it again. Oh! Those butterflies in my stomach – just like the feeling you get when a roller coaster peaks at the stop and zooms to the bottom! More giggles from me and laughter from Jonathon.
All too soon, it was time to land. Jonathon slowly descended the craft and steered it to the landing strip. The plane-like touchdown of the glider’s tricycle wheels was practically imperceptible.
“So what did you think of that?” asked Jonathon.
“I loved it!” It’s like being in another world up there. Let’s go back up!” I said. “Alright!” Jonathon said, laughing.
Unharnessed with our feet back on the ground, Jonathon said “It’s amazing, isn’t it? I’m not sure who has the best job in the world, you or me!”
I had to agree, that’s a tough one.
Hang gliding at Kitty Hawk Kites is very different from skydiving. They are both exhilarating but in different ways. Skydiving is definitely an adrenaline activity. Jumping out of an airplane and free-falling towards the hard earth will get your blood pumping.
I would categorize hang gliding more as an adventure like scuba diving. It’s surreal to experience the world in a way that humans were not meant to, i.e., as fish or birds. The feeling you get when you delve into the underwater world or the atmosphere is more akin to euphoria or endorphin pleasure. Sure, you can get hurt if you don’t follow the rules, but statistics show that participants who follow safety instructions do not get hurt.
Go ahead! Try it!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.