THIS ( WEIGHT- SHIFT) LIFE
‘ 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
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