Mum once said that she and dad wanted to “give me roots and give me wings.” Taking this turn of phrase quite literally I booked in to do a hang glide over Rio.
Well I didn’t actually book it, it was really a present from my old job. Whether this was a kind gesture, or them trying to ensure that this trip would be my last, is still not entirely clear. And when the overweight, joke-a-minute driver turned up to collect me from my hostel on Friday 13th, two hours later than originally planned, I definitely thought it was the latter. He had clearly never hang glided in his life (I don’t think they make hang gliders big enough) and so I was relieved when he introduced me to Konrad, my instructor.
Konrad was one of those cool outdoorsy types; with sun bleached hair, a deep tan and a relaxed demeanour. He was the sort of person you would imagine would be as happy surfing 15 foot waves as he would be climbing mountains. He drove us in his ‘ute’ up a steep, winding road through the Tijuca national park to the launch platform; while he calmly talked about just about anything other than his job as a hang glide instructor.
At the top, there was a large wooden platform that poked out from the hillside into thin air. Behind this a number of hang gliders were all being prepared to slowly fall 900 meters down to the beach below. Konrad got me ready by giving me an emasculating harness and a crash helmet (something I hoped I wouldn’t need) to put on. The helmet was one of those aerodynamic numbers that you see Bradley Wiggins coolly wearing in the velodrome. I however looked ridiculous, and once Monty had finished taking photos and laughing at me, Konrad took me aside for a demonstration.
This consisted of putting my arm around his shoulders, taking a couple of steps, and then sprinting as fast as we could over about ten meters. That was it. He seemed happy and so we walked to the back of the platform and strapped ourselves in. I never received any safety briefing or explanation of what we were actually doing. When I asked how we were going to land he simply turned to me, grinning, and said “just worry about taking off first.” That was as much explanation as I got. Before I had time to get nervous he was already counting down from three and we were off.
Going where the wind takes you
As soon as we left the platform I felt the reassuring uplift as our wing caught the wind. From that moment on it was strangely relaxing. The hang glider basically flew itself, you could actually completely let go of it (as I found out) and it would continue its course.
I even had a go at directing it by holding onto the bar and shifting my bodyweight one way and then the other. Fun as it was, I was much more relaxed when Konrad was at the helm.
We glided from the rainforest clad hills, over the built up southern area of Rio de Janero, towards São Conrado beach and the Atlantic Ocean beyond that. From the air, you get a totally different perspective of the city and being able to see the poor slums on one side, and the golf courses and white villas on the other really highlighted the vast gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Either way, the scenery was stunning and being able to soak it all in from the sky was a real privilege.
A few minutes later we were swooping down towards the beach. Konrad unbuckled my leg strap which caused me to flip from horizontal to vertical and he finally gave me my instruction for landing: “when I say run, start running!” Thankfully we landed without any problems and another life goal had been completed.
If you are ever in Rio I’d highly recommend booking a flight with Rio Hang gliding.