Want to pilot your own aircraft and solo after just an hour of instruction without putting a dent in your wallet? That’s the appeal of hang-gliding lessons. Invented as an accessible alternative to private planes, hang gliders aren’t an efficient form of transportation, but as a thrill ride on vacation, they are hard to outmaneuver. It’s a breeze to get airborne and everyone from kids to seniors can try. The only “equipment” you’ll need is sunscreen. Learn on sand, and you don’t even need shoes.
As a novice you will clip your harness in, stand up and begin running down a slope. In as little as three to five strides your feet will leave the ground. Then you fly prone, legs out behind you, hands on the bottom bar of the tubular aluminum triangle that is the cockpit. Easing your body forward increases speed, easing back slows you down and moving right or left lets you turn. The perfect beginner flights last 10–15 seconds, hit altitudes of 5–15 feet off the ground, then end with a feet down, stand-up landing. Because it’s normal for you to finish on your knees or chest the first time, sand and soft grass make ideal “runways.” Most beginner outings last two to three hours, including an hour of ground school and around five solo flights with an instructor running alongside shouting instructions. After the heart pounding anticipation of the first, you quickly dial in more control for smoother flights, better landings and ear-to-ear grins.
Key to an enjoyable experience is finding perfect conditions. That’s what led the Wright Brothers to Kitty Hawk, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The excellent breezes and soft sand—as well as tall sand dunes—is also why more people try hang gliding here than anyplace else on earth. Kitty Hawk Kites, a local instructor, teaches up to 125 people daily. For most people, soloing on the first day is a thrill. But—who knows?—it could be the first step on your great adventure.