Hang Gliding in San Diego

Hang Gliding in San Diego

Many of us would love to fly and have dreams we are flying, soaring like eagles unencumbered and free. If flying in its simplest form appeals to you, try hang gliding at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Hang gliding is a sport requiring only the wind, a pair of wings, and a pilot with know-how and nerves of steel. While you must acknowledge the risks involved inherent to the sport, hang gliding in San Diego is far less dangerous than most people believe. It isn't just for the daredevils and adrenalin junkies of the world. It's for the dreamers too.

On almost any day in San Diego, weather and wind permitting, you'll see many hang gliders taking off from the Torrey Pines Gliderport and dipping and soaring with their multi-colored wings above the coastline, from the La Jolla beaches to Del Mar. They are flying using glider technology and the equipment that is far more sophisticated than it was in the earlier days of experimentation. Although the origins of hang gliding date back to 1896 when German pilot Otto Lilienthal experimented with curved wing aircraft, the days of the experimenting with winged things in backyards and building gliders in garages weren't that long ago. Hang gliding is a relatively young sport. It wasn't until the late 60s and early 70s that the more advanced technology and structure were established. Now there are also hang gliding schools, certifications, and rules and regulations.

Today hang gliding and its younger cousin, paragliding, are thriving sports and you can enjoy them both in San Diego at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. The Torrey Pines Gliderport is part of one of the largest hang gliding regions in the United States. Its combination of almost perfect weather and beautiful coastline attract hang gliding pilots from all over the world. On most days a pilot can take off from the cliffs above Black's Beach in La Jolla, fly around the Torrey Pines Gliderport and fly over the beaches all the way from La Jolla to Del Mar. It is even possible for a truly committed glider to make it to Arizona without ever stopping. Of course, weather and wind conditions are paramount to safe hang gliding in San Diego California, and the spring and summer provide the best winds.

A hang glider is a wing made of aluminum and covered with a strong, rip-stop synthetic fabric. The V-shaped wing resembles a stealth bomber. When it projects itself into the air, it causes lift and that allows flight. The pilot steers the aircraft by moving a triangular bar that connects to the center of the wings. The pilot wears a harness (equipped with a parachute) and lies flat, parallel with the wings overhead. The harness is also securely attached to the center of the wings. Although the flight of a hang glider appears slow and gentle, and while most pilots agree the sensation is a calming one, the large kite-like structures can fly up to 70 miles per hour.

A paraglider has a soft wing structure (no internal frame) and takes on an elliptical shape once it's inflated. It can be easily transported in a backpack. Paragliders are lighter than hang gliders and have slower flying speeds, but they need less wind to stay aloft. Since paraglider pilots are suspended from in a seated position from the wing, they can use their pendular momentum to perform some stunning air maneuvers (aerobatics). Due to their lower flying speed, paragliders are much more forgiving and usually have a lower learning curve. Paragliding is a much newer sport and has grown in popularity quickly over the last several years.

Although San Diego hang gliding pilots can launch from just about any cliff, truck, boat or building at their own risk, no matter their levels of expertise, safety regulations mandated by the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) and the City of San Diego are strictly enforced. In order to fly at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, pilots must wear parachutes, and they must be advanced or master pilots, which are the two highest ratings on the USHGA ability scale. To be ranked advanced, pilots must have four years of flying experience; master ranked pilots must have five.

You can rent hang gliding equipment at the Torrey Pines Gliderport or at one of many local San Diego hang gliding equipment rental companies. In addition, you can rent motorized hang gliders, radio-controlled hang gliders and remote control model airplanes, which you can fly in San Diego. The city of San Diego requires designated launching and landing zones to ensure spectator safety. Due in part to the regulations (but more so to the keen skills of local and visiting pilots), officials haven't seen any critical injuries in a long time. Most hang gliding San Diego pilots agree that the sport is only as dangerous as the pilot makes it.

And it's a sport that's appealing to many people in San Diego, including pilots, hang gliding students and spectators. For information on hang gliding classes or individual flights, call or visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport. It normally takes about six lessons to become semi-proficient at hang gliding.

But if calling the shots with a 50 to 80-pound contraption overhead and a 300 to 1,500-foot drop below remains intimidating, there is another alternative. Tandem hang gliding in San Diego (flying with an experienced pilot at your side) has become very popular. To fly tandem, you should be in good physical condition and weigh less than 250 pounds to lessen the risk of injury. If you decide hang glide in tandem, dress in layers, bring gloves and wear sun glasses that will stay on. Also, remember that a tandem hang gliding flight isn't just a joy ride. In fact, according to USHGA regulations, as the second pilot you are learning to fly. You will learn about the glider, hang gliding equipment used and the history of the sport. You'll learn about your hang gliding instructor and his experience, and then you'll go up for a tandem hang gliding lesson that you won't ever forget!

If you're still not convinced that the wild blue yonder is for you, you can keep your feet planted on the ground and still enjoy the sport. Watch takeoffs and landings from the edge of a nearby cliff. Even from the sidelines, it makes for a soaring, adventurous day.

If hang gliding sounds a little too extreme, but you're looking for some high-flying fun, try hot air ballooning!

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