Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paragliding (Maybe someday)

One cold Sunday afternoon in February I was driving along the ocean. At White Crest Beach in Wellfleet I pulled into the parking lot. There were a dozen-or-so paragliders hanging out, waiting for the wind to shift, some of them practicing their take-off and control skills by scooting (so it seemed) along the beach but without ascending. All were bundled up in outfits against the cold. One guy did go aloft for brief back-and-forths, while another guy, a sort of instructor I guessed, shouted suggestions to him and the others.

Eventually this instructor-type turns to me, standing near, and says "Hi!" I ask him some questions ... how they controlled their altitude, and such. He explained as best he could to someone who never knows which way the wind is blowing. "I'd take you up tandem if the wind shifts ..." he says, and then, to everyone on the beach he shouts excitedly, "The white caps are gone! Hurray! Good sign!" ... and then, back to me, he finishes his offer, " ... if you'd like."

I'm thinking good god in this cold with just my jacket and hat? "How about when spring comes?" I say.

"Sure, I'll be around. It's great. Some days you can float above the dunes all the way to Nauset and back." That'd be about a 20-mile round-trip I guess. "One time, it was just a perfect day, I was sailing low and came upon this young couple going at it out in the middle of nowhere! She saw me and tapped him on the shoulder but he couldn't stop, couldn't even bother to look up. I just waved at her."

The paraglider pictured below was a tiny young woman who looked to weigh all of 90 pounds or so!

Today is beautiful and sunny and warm. I drove to the Wellfleet Library and then to White Crest Beach. But I knew there'd be no paragliders; the National Park Service bans the activity from the first sighting of a piping plover -- a cute bird which is an endangered species, and which nests on the beaches. There have been several sightings recently. When their eggs hatch and their chicks fledge -- which may be in early July, maybe later -- then the paragliders can return.

The amount of gear hauled to the beach bespeaks a serious dedication to the sport:

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