Dancing with the Wind

Image of Susannah Kenton paragliding

Recently, on a walk, I looked up to see a paraglider winging gracefully down to earth in swooping twists and turns. It was so beautiful – like a dance with the wind – that I pulled out my phone to film it.

I decided I wanted to meet the winged being who had fallen from the sky and share my video, so I walked over to the landing site. He turned out to be a French Canadian paragliding instructor called Jean. We chatted a bit about flying and other things that “light us up” and he invited me to go on a tandem flight.

“It could be tomorrow,” he explained, “Or we could have to wait a few months for conditions to be right. Are you okay with being patient?” Anyone who knows me knows that patience is not my strength! I assured him that waiting was fine and thought, as I walked away, it was an immensely generous invitation, even if nothing ever came of it.

About a week later, I got a text saying conditions were perfect. It included a pin drop showing me where to meet Jean at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean and suggested I bring “a puffer jacket and gloves.”

As I drove the 30 minutes from home to our meeting I did question my sanity and my nonchalant attitude to extreme-sport-risk-taking, but I couldn’t talk myself out of a resounding “yes!” for the adventure.

I arrived and singled Jean out immediately. “Still keen to fly with a complete stranger?” he joked. “If you are!” I countered. Jean briefed me and took me through a take off and landing drill – both of which I did with a little too much gusto. We got harnessed up and did security checks.

A few steps later we were airborne and for the next 20 minutes we rode the thermal currents like a bird. We soared and glided. We lost altitude and gained it again. Jean could read the wind moment by moment and make subtle wing adjustments to spiral us upward. He watched for ripples on the tussock below to find a good updraft. He also read the Cumulus clouds to use their energy and he warned me when to expect a moment of turbulence, when another paraglider cut in front of us.

Instead of landing on the beach below and having to walk back up (which he’d told me we might have to do) we landed safely on our feet, right where we’d taken off. I was hoping for a perfect 10/10 gymnast landing, but stumbled backwards onto my rear. Jean was quick to point out that my move provided a counter balance for him to control the wing back down to earth. I went with loss of dignity at the service of good co-piloting. I got back to my feet and marveled at what had just happened. I’m still marveling…

Susannah Kenton

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