THIS ( WEIGHT- SHIFT) LIFE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints - BOB HAYES

‘ I’ M a hangie.’’ ‘‘ A what?’’ ‘‘ A hang- glider glid­ers.’’ ‘‘ You’re crazy, you lot.’’ This is the gen­eral re­ac­tion I get. When I started fly­ing, I would do my very best to con­vince peo­ple I wasn’t the crazy one. I would point out the ob­vi­ous ( to me) ben­e­fits and ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ences that could be had with foot- launched un­pow­ered flight.

You may have been cor­nered by me at a party some­where, ex­tolling the virtues of foot­launched fly­ing with an al­most re­li­gious zeal, and for that I apol­o­gise.

I now re­alise I was fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle. Peo­ple with feet firmly planted and no de­sire to fly with­out an en­gine would lis­ten po­litely, eyes slightly glazed, with no in­ten­tion of tak­ing my ad­vice to get train­ing and take to the air.

It can be a most frus­trat­ing sport, this one. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of days spent sit­ting on a broil­ing, bar­ren and dusty hill, wait­ing for the wind to ‘‘ come on’’. Of­ten, the wind teases and tempts with promis­ing lit­tle gusts, in ex­actly the right di­rec­tion, just long enough for you to climb

pilot,

I

fly

hang- into your har­ness and get set, only to have the wind die down.

You stand there, all frocked up with nowhere to go, feel­ing slightly silly, wish­ing and wish­ing the wind to come back. The wind does not lis­ten to your threats, plead­ing or prom­ises, how­ever, and in the end, it’s back to more hang- wait­ing.

Then there are days when ev­ery­thing is per­fect. The wind is from the right di­rec­tion, at the right strength and at ex­actly the time you are ready to go. Those days, oh, they are won­der­ful. They are won­der­ful for they don’t hap­pen very of­ten and they are won­der­ful for the chance they of­fer to fly.

I can’t think of any­thing more as­ton­ish­ing than fly­ing with­out a mo­tor. To take some alu­minium tub­ing, some fab­ric, a few zips and odd bits and pieces and use it to soar above the moun­tain ridges, glide over beaches, rivers and pad­docks, in ut­ter si­lence, to feel the lift­ing air take you higher and higher. Look­ing an ea­gle in the eye as you cir­cle the tur­bu­lent air to­gether is some­thing that, once ex­pe­ri­enced, will stay with you for many years.

If you think of all the peo­ple and all the gen­er­a­tions that have lived on this planet, all the dreams of man step­ping off into the air and fly­ing like a bird, we are the first to have achieved this in­cred­i­ble feat. I am hum­bled and grate­ful that of all the peo­ple who have gone be­fore, I had the chance to fly.

Hang- glid­ing started in the ’ 60s in the US and was per­fected in Aus­tralia. Thanks to the in­cred­i­ble ef­forts of Aussies John Dick­en­son and Bill Moyes, among many oth­ers, the ba­sic ( and fairly dan­ger­ous) hang- glider has been honed and pol­ished into to­day’s in­cred­i­bly sleek, safe and ef­fi­cient fly­ing ma­chines. Hang- glid­ing is Aus­tralia’s fly­ing gift to the world and some­thing we should all be im­mensely proud of.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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