Student running off the dunes (image from Kitty Hawk Kites)It was more years ago than I care to recount that my friend Mark and I drove down to Kitty Hawk so we could take hang-gliding lessons. We weren’t deluding ourselves that we’d ever really become hang-gliders. What lured us was the idea of a “safe” thrill; we could experience a brief training flight without rising very high above the sand dunes.

(No, that’s not me in the photo. It’s a student flight from the Kitty Hawk Kites online catalog.)

            And so we signed up for lessons at Kitty Hawk Kites. First, we took a ground school lesson, in which we were taught the basics of how the glider works. There was a lot of information about pushing the bar away from your body to do certain things, and pulling it toward you, or leaning sideways, to do other things. Frankly, I’ve never even learned to drive a car with manual transmission. Most of that information lodged in my head just long enough for me to nod earnestly to convince the instructor I knew what he was talking about.

            Early the next morning, we climbed up to the top of an 80-foot high sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, along with several other people in our class. One woman was over 70, I remember, but most people were much, much younger.

            One by one, we strapped ourselves into the harness that supported a hang-glider above us. The glider on the ground is heavy; it took concentration and help from the instructor to hold it steady. Once prepared, you basically start running toward the edge of the sand dune. The glider catches the air just about the time you run out of sand. Your feet leave the ground, dangling in the open air, and you’re flying on your own, more or less, above the soft sand below.

            That’s how it’s supposed to go. Once airborne, you do the thing with the bar and try to extend your flight as far as you can before landing gently in the sand. You’re not going far, maybe a couple of hundred yards, but you are definitely flying.

            Mark took to the air easily. I, on the other hand, was not a stellar student. Every time my feet left the ground, I laughed hysterically, delighted with the sensation. I laughed, I howled, I giggled. And I forgot every single thing they’d taught me in ground school. Within micro-seconds I’d have bellyflopped onto the sand, having flown maybe..oh…ten feet or so.

            The instructors retrieved me and gave me another shot, and another, and another. It became clear to everyone that hang-gliding was not a sport in my future. I just couldn’t master the simple mechanics.

            And it absolutely didn’t matter.

            Running off the edge of the dunes, feeling that harness lift me off Mother Earth, was plenty for me. I loved every fleeting moment of that magical rise where my feet no longer connected to the ground.

            Neither Mark nor I had any intentions of continuing past the flying lessons on the dunes. We’d had our fun, and we drove away grinning.

            Now I hear that you can take a tandem hang-glide, a real one, where you’re strapped in with an instructor. THAT just might be in my future next summer.