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I Tried Hang Gliding At Age 55, Here’s Why I Think You’ll Love It

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

One step… and you’re off!Photo credit: Gail Clifford

The Outer Banks, North Carolina has long been a dream vacation. Gorgeous sandy beaches, lovely weather, and great outdoor activities — as long as you’re not there during a hurricane, you’ll be grand.

I worked with the Outer Banks Convention and Visitors Bureau and was partially hosted by them to arrange a great five-day familiarization trip for four travel writers. All opinions are mine.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

The Wright FlyerPhoto credit: Gail Clifford

Where I Went And Why 

A group of four travel writers went for four days and had a blast. We stayed in Nags Head, centrally located along this 175-mile stretch, in a house on stilts with four bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. Having our own completely equipped kitchen through Kees Rental made a big difference to us. I was able to prepare and eat my breakfast before anyone else got up. They were able to have their late-night snacks long after I’d gone to bed.

Being in Nags Head was convenient to reach Jockey’s Ridge National Park where Kitty Hawk Kites took us for our ground school and hang gliding experience. Foul weather with high winds delayed our initial flight until the winds calmed in the afternoon.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Getting familiar with the kitePhoto credit: Gail Clifford

How I Approached The Trip

There are so many incredible villages in the Outer Banks and things to do that I knew we’d be fighting the clock the entire time. Also, the weather. We went in May, known as “shoulder season,” when the weather is iffy. We lucked out that we came in on the tail end of a nor-easter, not in the midst of it, but had several events canceled or rescheduled. Being centrally located, we allowed a day for each island (Roanoke, Hatteras, and clustered the others accordingly). We had a wish list that could’ve taken two weeks to complete.

All we knew about the hang-gliding was where and when to show up. I thought we’d be jumping off a cliff, tandem. One of the others said she was just plain scared. All of us were excited to go. I was the second youngest in the group, all of us over 50, but we knew the hospital was only a few miles up the road. So, we were ready.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Readying Kitty Hawk Kites Hang GliderPhoto credit: Gail Clifford

What Did You Do, Where Did You Go, How Did You Get There, And What Did You Experience

We went hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites in Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the same sand dunes that Orville and Wilbur Wright went from hang gliding to flying. They worked all of it out on the Wright Flyer.

We drove into Jockey’s Ridge, parked in the parking lot, walked up the deck to the Kitty Hawk Kite storefront, signed our lives away with the hang gliding release form, and began our ground school with Michael Vaughn, young enough to be one of our sons. After flight school, we walked across the boardwalk to the sand dunes and out the sand dunes to where they set up the hang gliders for our use with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Strapping inPhoto credit: Teresa Otto

What a relief to learn that, though we’d be solo, we’d be tethered to two instructors running aside. Think of it as training wheels, except you’re in the air.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Ready position Photo credit: Teresa Otto

How Did It Go: What Worked And What Didn’t 

The entire experience once we got to fly was glorious. You fly once, then wait as the other members of your party take a turn, then go again for a total of five flights. It gives you a chance to get back up the sand dune, catch your breath, and maybe get a pointer or two for your next flight.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

I’m flying! Over the same sand dunes that the Wright Brothers first flew.Photo credit: Teresa Otto

The challenge was the weather. One couple we met had come all the way from New Jersey, just for this experience. Bad weather had kept them at their hotel for six days. They made it when we returned that afternoon and the weather held fair for us.

What Surprised Me In A Good Way

I was surprised by how comfortable the harness that held us snug in the glider position was. Michael and his dad, he told us, had worked on this particular harness to perfect it. I was surprised that it was effortless.

Following Michael’s instructions was key. He’d warned us that most people overthink it and all we had to do was listen. He wasn’t saying much during my flight after “One, run, two…” and shared with us later that meant we were doing “everything right.”

“If I’m not saying anything, that means you’re doing great.”

I was impressed that every single time we “flared,” think superman pose if you’re a yoga fan, the hang glider did exactly what it was meant to and landed us safely and efficiently. One of us even looked like Mary Poppins each time she landed. Perhaps the best statement of the day came from Michael, “I want my mom to hang out with you four. You’re fun!”

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Slowing downPhoto credit: Teresa Otto

What Surprised Me In A Bad Way

I was surprised that I got frustrated when I couldn’t gain greater height and distance from the start. The other writers told me they thought part of it may be because I was taller than the instructors so, when I ran off the sand dune, being tethered automatically meant I’d have a drop in height. I don’t know if it’s true, or if I should’ve done what one of the other writers did, just refuse to flare and land, but I’ll keep working on it next time.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

Heather Raulerson excited after her flight Photo credit: Gail Clifford

What Would I Do Differently Next Time

Next time, I would have done more research on the hang-gliding company. It’s right on their website how they are tethered to the students so that would have given us peace of mind from the beginning. Next time I go to OBX, it’ll be during high season so I can attend The Lost Colony play and hang glide again.

Now that we’ve done our first flights and training, we can continue, much as I did with scuba diving and my PADI certification. Tracking our hang-gliding flights allows us to glide at different places and difficulty ratings across the globe.

Tips For Someone That Wants To Go Hang Gliding And/Or Try Something New Or Scary

  • Understand the physical requirements. After ten years in a wheelchair, I wasn’t accustomed to leaping from a prone position to my feet, but it was easier than I’d expected.
  • Follow all the instructions you’re given to the letter.
  • Do your research, then trust the process.
  • Don’t overthink it.
  • Be prepared: stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • Just do it.
  • Have a blast.
  • Repeat.

I’m so glad to have tried hang gliding. If I’d had the opportunity, I would’ve done it sooner.

inspire, i tried hang gliding at age 55, here’s why i think you’ll love it

First flight by Orville Wright Photo credit: Gail Clifford

After all, without trying new things, how can we make progress?

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