Over the past few months I have covered many sporting activities which are available in Tenerife, from relatively sedate past-times, such as golfing, fishing and swimming, to the somewhat more energetic sports, including lawn tennis, paddle-tennis and marathon running. I have also written several blogs on many of the water-sporting activities (above the waterline) which are at one’s disposal on the island, such as water-skiing, jet-skiing, banana-boating and parascending, along with several aqua-activities ‘below the waterline’, including snorkelling, scuba-diving, bob-diving -and also a wonderful submarine adventure.
As for adventures above the ground, well these have included go-cart racing, a quad-bike safari -and also cycle-riding (well, free-wheeling actually) down the highest mountain in Spain. However, none of the above can compare to what is in my eyes, the ‘Ultimate challenge’ and that is to ‘paraglide’ hundreds of feet in the air around the southern coast of Tenerife. For almost two decades it has been my ambition to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, to be ‘Master-of-the-skies’, with not a care in the world -and yet like so-many people before me, who have lived their entire lives on false dreams and aspirations -I just never got around to doing anything about it, until it was too-late!
With impending operations for two new hips to look-forward to, I guess that the coward in me (or perhaps the logical side of my brain) has for once in my life, won the battle over the adventurous demons that lie within me, and so at Christmas-time last year I duly handed-down the mantle to my one-and only protégé -namely my darling daughter, Hayley. So what do we know about paragliding? The definition of a paragliding craft is a ‘Free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure’. Before taking off the pilot is loosely and comfortably buckled into a harness, which allows both standing and sitting positions, and is suspended below a fabric wing, that consists of a multitude of interconnected baffled cells.
The majority of harnesses have foam, or airbag protectors, which are located underneath the seat, and also behind the riders back, in order to reduce the impact, in the unlikely event of a failed launch, or an emergency landing. Some even have adjustable lumber supports -and nearly all of them include reserve parachutes. Although paragliders have no engines, flights can last up to several hours, and the maximum distance that can be covered by any one pilot in a single flight can be literally hundreds of miles.
In fact the current record-holder is Frank Brown, who reportedly covered 319 miles (514 kilometres) flying from Tacima to Monsenhor Tabosa in Brazil on 8th October 2015. However, the normal flying distance is only a couple of dozen kilometres, and flying times are usually between one and two hours. Since the 1980’s paragliding equipment has improved considerably -and so has the popularity of the sport, with the first FAI ‘World Paragliding Championship’ being held in Kossen, Austria in 1989. (Two years prior to this an unofficial world championship had also been held in Verbier, Switzerland). The biggest growth in the sport has been in Europe, with France having apparently registered over 25,000 active pilots to date.
The speed ranges of a typical paraglider from stall speed to maximum speed, are normally between 12 to 47 miles per hour (20 -75 kph) –beginner wings being at the lower end of the scale, and high-performance wings achieving the top-end speeds. Paragliders are somewhat unique in the aeronautic industry, as they are easily portable by means of a single rucksack, and therefore they can be carried on the pilot’s back -and even tandem paragliders, which are designed to carry two people, can likewise be packed into (slightly larger) rucksacks, and carried to their take-off point, or brought back from their landing platforms, with the minimum of effort.
As for Hayley’s flight, well I am pleased to say that riding tandem with an expert at the helm -and having excellent weather conditions (something to do with the ‘thermal’s’, I believe) on the day, the flight went without a hitch, albeit a little shorter that my daughter would have liked, as the pair of them were only airborne for around half-an-hour, but none-the-less it was an amazing experience which would last with her for the rest of her days. To support Hayley on her BIG day (as unfortunately I had to pop back to the UK at the very last minute) -and to join-in with the fun, was her boyfriend, Kevin, an ex-army veteran, who was accustomed to doing all-sorts of dangerous manoeuvres all over the world, as so this little jaunt was going to be a walk-in-the-park for him, of course -but guess what -for some unknown reason he suddenly lost his footing at the very last second, and ended-up crash-landing (about 2 mph) on his backside -much to the delight of my daughter, of course, who had it all on camera -and within minutes his by now brightly reddened cheeks (the ones she could see, anyway) were being splashed all over Facebook. The poor lad was never going to live this one down, but like my daughter, he also happily admitted that paragliding was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience that should not be missed by anyone.