Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kite Day

A little over 6 months ago, my friend Gideon and I bought coupons on (“deal of the day” site like groupon) for paragliding in Netanya, a city on the beach north of Tel Aviv. For those of you that do not know, paragliding the activity of strapping oneself to a giant kite in windy conditions and flying through the air on the pull of the wind.
The coupon had a six month expiration window, and due to our busy, travel smattered, conflicting schedules, we were unable to pick a day that we were both able to make the trip and paraglide. Luckily, the owner of Israglide, Udi, was super flexible and told us not to worry about the expiration date. Gideon and I finally made it happen this past Friday, about a week and a half after the coupons expiration date.
Udi turned out to be pretty laid back about everything. He told us we could come more or less whenever we wanted on Friday. When we arrived, the whole flight was so informal that I didn’t have to time to think that what I was doing was madness. I was directed by a guy at the entrance to go to “that guy”, who turned out to be Udi. Udi promptly handed me a helmet and told me to put on a large backpack contraption that would in a few minutes be clipped to him and hold me firmly to the kite. As we stood 10 feet from the cliff side overlooking the Mediteranean beach below, I was surprised that I was not asking myself if this was a bad idea. Instead I was excitedly strapping in as Gideon snapped pics of me. Within minutes of our arrival, I had my helmet on, pack clipped in and was strapped to Udi and the giant kite/parachute. My flying lesson went something like this “lean and walk forward. Do not walk backwards ever. Once we take off, sit back into the pack.” He told me some other rules, but it was all told so quickly I simply figured if it was that important I just heard it, or its not that complicated. Suddenly, the parachute was up in the air and we were walking towards the edge of the cliff. Before I could decide if I was game to jump up and hope the chute caught us, we took off. We soared above the cliff drop, gliding north and south along the coast. As we flew past a nearby hotel that was hosting a wedding in the back, Udi started singing traditional wedding songs to the crowd below (it was cocktail hour, not the reception). Kids waved to us above as we swooped down accelerating and climbed slowly to our initial elevation.

During my 25 minute flight, I got to talking to Udi. He was a pilot in the army and had been flying hiw whole adult life. I asked how long it took to learn to fly a paraglider, and was surprised to hear that certification took 100 hours until a person was competent to gl it alone. The idea seemed cool to me, but the time commitment is prohibitive. During our flight, we passed and flew alongside Gideon and his buddy pilot. When we came in for the landing, Udi told me to simply prepare to stand. Embarrassingly, the landing wasn't so easy for me… I fell over, taking Udi down with me.

           In we come...                                               For our smooth landing

After the flight, Gids and I took advantage of the location and headed to the beach. We rested, swam, played Frisbee and flew my kite. I keep a small keychain kite (see pics) in my backpack, and am proud to day I was able to make it fly out to the point that there was no more string without getting up from my beach bed, a true accomplishment.
The Paragliding was a really fun and different activity that I would categorize as a calm extreme sport, similar to scuba diving – nothing moved too quickly, and yet you are in a perpetual environment of danger as you enjoy the activity and take in the unique scenery and sensations that come along with it. The price of 550 shekel (~$160) seems a bit high for the 25 minute flight, but Gideon and I both agreed that at 250 shekel (~$70), it was a good worthwhile time. In case the post and pics haven’t done it justice, take a look at this short video:

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