I've been a Hang Glider Pilot for around 3 years now. As a local Montana boy, I've been struggling to get any air time.....not due to lack of commitment, but lack of good conditions, experience and personal skills. Here is the problem: if one wants to learn hang gliding in the mountains,plan on a lot of waiting around. Getting to the launch, setting up and sitting around waiting for the conditions to be "beginner friendly" is pretty much what it takes....and after 3 years as a beginner, I left Montana and ventured to the perfect place to bump up to intermediate status.
The flat lands is a place most people wouldn't imagine the sport of hang gliding could exist. But I stand behind this statement: There could never be a better place to learn the sport of Hang Gliding then the Wallaby Ranch down here in sunny Florida.
I've been down here with fellow KAVU ambassador Sara Close for the last month and the report is in: This place RULES.
We've been receiving training from quite possibly the best instructor in the world, Malcolm Jones. He has done over 40,000 incident free tandems and is the master mind behind the Wallaby Ranch.
And, you just can't beat one on one instruction like this.
It's fun when we all get to go up together! KAVU smiles from ear to ear.
a. Our Hooch (aka cabin) known as the Taj Mahol
b. The Barn...it has been converted into an awesome dining hall
c. The Oak Tree: A great place to sit and think, have dance parties and/or launch when the wind is blowing the right way.
d. The West Launch: A fun place to get air born.
e. The pool. Set up the mobile office, swim and soak up some rays
f. The Glider Hangers: Pick a stick then go rip
This ain't Montucky..... We are in the marshy flat lands of Florida. There is no other way to get up to start surfing thermals then towing in. Kind of like big wave surfing, except you use a plane instead of a jet ski and the waves are invisible.
Here is another POV
After about 15-30 Tandems (depending on your innate ability to fly) Malcolm starts easing you into doing solos.
But you also have to hit up some ground school in the process.
It's hard to believe how do-able this sport actually is.
After 6 or 7 successful solo flights in smooth air, Malcolm starts to slowly ease you into thermaling in the clouds.
Thermaling is actually a pretty basic concept.
Lucky for us we have Mike Barber, resident teacher here at the Ranch. Mike has been holding the world record for distance Cross Country Hang Gliding for more then two decades at 437 miles. Sara and I are in the middle of our classes about understanding and reading features of the Sky.
The next thing you know, you are munching on cloud base.
And hanging with the big boys.
The Tow Rig drops usually drops you off at around 2,500 feet right in a Thermal. You can surf up to cloud base, usually between 5 and 6 thousand, and stay up as long as you want on a good day.
It is one of the most beautiful things I can imagine.
The more you go the more you get to go. That is pretty much the deal with Hang Gliding.
We are now Flying Humans. Sara has only been in the air for 3 weeks, and has moved through the ranks to full-on intermediate status with over 15 hours of air time. I was interrupted from writing the blog post with the Malcolm coming int our Hooch saying "This will be the toughest air you have ever done, but I think you are both up for it." We just now landed, and we both stuck our take-off, flights and landings....we will be swimming around the pool with big smiles all afternoon. As KAVU athlete Jeff Shapiro always says: "Hang Gliding is kind of like dreaming awake."
Human flight is something almost everyone dreams of at some point in life. I can't help but ask the question: If humans can fly, what can't we do?