Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aloha Hawaii

My time in Hawaii has officially drawn to its end. From cliff jumping to lava to swimming with dolphins and cloud hopping in the trusty old wing, I consider myself very fortunate to have been permitted the entire experience. Being able to live there for five months gave me the opportunity to take my time and take in all that was happening that much better. I never felt rushed or like squandering my Hawaiian time, even when I was doing something as lazy as sitting on the edge of the Halemaumau overlook reading a book.

The Big Island, as any new part of life, was everything but what I had expected it to be. I tried to imagine what life in Hawaii would be like and it's weird to think that I am leaving.

Now, I am headed back to Oregon. It's time to fly.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flying Kealakekua and Kahana

I couldn't resist the clouded beauty of my last Kealakekua flights when I was trying to put something together from Kahana, so the video starts with some of my favoriate Kealakekua footage of cloud hopping before the breathtaking views of Kahana.

This was one of those videos that pretty much threw itself together requiring little editing. It's easy when working with scenery so beautiful.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mary's Peak, OR

It looks like Ryan got a nice little flight in last weekend at Mary's Peak in Oregon. I have yet to fly over snow and it looks like he beat me to it. I'd say I am and jealous, but I wasn't exactly watching the Superbowl either. Enjoy another Rogue Duck flick. It's always good to see footage from the white wing.

And to Ryan, until we fly again buddy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kahana Indeed

Until recently I had been under great trial and tribulation. I sold my car last week and that left me with three weekends in Hawaii with no means to fly. However, Oahu, a sort-of kind-of really famous flying Mecca was only an hour's plane ride away. The thing about Oahu, especially in the winter, is that the weather can be unpredictable, at least when the wind is concerned. Dropping $350 on a weekend of potentially no flying is a dangerous thing to someone my age.

Last week, I checked the weather everyday through Thursday. I asked the Oahu pilots what they thought of the coming weekend's conditions. Late Thursday night, I took the plunge, bought the tickets, reserved the car, and didn't ask or think about the weather again until Saturday morning.

Saturday, I awoke on Oahu at my buddy Gary's. He was kind of enough to let me use his pad as a home base. The wind looked bad, really bad. A SE with 20-30 mph was hammering the island. It was unlikely that the wind would ever clock the 7-10 mph NE I so desperately wanted. One pilot, Woody, brought his speed wings, and several of us hung out on a grass beach kiting the little wings. It was my first time with such a small wing and I found them easy to control even in the high winds. Seven or eight stayed till sunset talking and enjoying the kiting practice.

Oahu had recently made national paragliding headlines as one of the best clubs in the county and I soon saw why. Even though flying was out of the question that afternoon, they chose to just hang out together and they enjoyed it. They acted like one family enjoying the sunny Saturday. I admit I felt like an outsider, but that's because I was.
Kiting speedwings Saturday
Early on Sunday Gary and I headed toward Makapuu a cross country ridge soaring site. Yes, cross country ridge soaring. There were already two pilots in the air, but it was coming in strong - too strong for me and my half powered wing. Understand that I am flying a beginner's wing that sacrifices speed for stability. To make matters worse, Oahu flying is known for strong winds, 15-17 mph base. I am certain my glider tops out around 17 mph, so standing there with Gary at Makapuu, watching gliders faster than mine parked in the air, barely able to penetrate forward, made my heart sink. The winds were supposed to be howling Monday, my last day on the island. Sunday was my only chance. Then Gary got a call from some folks headed toward another site, farther north - Kahana. It wasn't flyable there, but the winds were expected to change there in a good way. In the Hawaiian language, Kahana means wondrous or amazing. I would find the site lived up to its name.

We jumped drove the hour to find two pilots sitting on the landing zone beach with a gentle breeze coming directly in. I tried to contain my excitement as some other pilots began to arrive. Then the first of us began the steep climb to launch.

I laid out and watched some pilots launch. Some sunk out. Some scratched and climbed out. Conditions were light. It looked like those who were able to climb out found delightfully stronger winds aloft. With much anticipation, I pulled my glider above me and was surprised when I was plucked backwards. I steered clear of the ridge, turned myself around, leaned back in the harness, took a wrap of the controls, and prepared to scratch until my wing bled. For twenty minutes I struggled to maintain altitude at launch. Then I started catching the occasional thermal. I did all I could to linger in them and gain 10 - 20 feet here and there. I would gain a little and scratch to stay there, gain a little more and scratch again. It was slow, but I was working my way higher. At one point, I was high enough to clear the first ridge and was met with breath taking cliffs. They generated really good lift too. I eventually crested entire ridge line with a feeling of victory. Of the ten or so that had launched, I was one of four to make it up at that point. I have a slow glider, but it is buoyant for DHV 1-2.

I was rewarded with this view
Gary was one of the lucky few above me. He invited me to go cross country with him. I knew any thermal cross country trips would be over in an hour. I gambled that conditions would improve where we were and decided to stay. The others departed.

And there I was, back in the coastal ridge lift I had learned in all the way back in Oregon. I turned off my vario several times that day. There was just no need for it. Then there were times I grew too curious of my altitude and I turned it on and the beeping would quickly become annoying, so I'd turn it off again. I eventually settled on keeping the toy muted.

The thermals were nothing like Kealakekua. Instead, they were light with extremely mellow edges. At one point, I found one large enough to climb to 2600 feet before sinking down to the top of the ridge's lift band. I flew the ridge for over an hour until another glider came to meet me. Jim, another local, flew around me for a half hour before he took off towards the north in hopes of finding the others. He heard the earlier talk on the radio and knew I was content where I was as he never asked if I was interested. I enjoyed my first mid-air paragliding snack, a granola bar, and kept on flying.

A little stretch 2 hours into flight
The only unsettling aspect of the day was the abundance of helicopters that would fly by. They'd be higher than us, lower than us, and at the same altitude as us. Too often, I would see them before I would hear them and usually whirly-birds were already too close. At one point, a helicopter flew about quarter a mile upwind from me, crossed my path. I began to wonder if the rotor would reach my wing and tried not to think about how my wing would react. Another glider immediately began making spirals to lose altitude and, what appeared to me, get away from being downwind of the coming rotor. I didn't ask. I did the same thing and climbed up several hundreds feet a few minutes later after what I imagined to be enough time to let everything smooth out.

Woody enjoying the setting sun
As the hours passed, I worked my way back toward the ocean. The wind was shifting from more east to more north and I wanted to make sure I was out in front of everything while that was happening. I worked the sea cliffs over the ocean until Woody and Rodney, a Maui instructor, joined me. The three of us flew together for over an hour until Woody decided to land. Rodney and I tried to cross the bay, but even on full speed-bar, I found my ground speed sinking to .6 mph with no lift over the water. He and I were forced to turn around and return to our ridge. The sun had already started to set. I had been in the air over four hours and the wind was starting to pick up. It was becoming much harder to move forward. I swung out one last time over the bay and completed two series of spirals before beginning my landing routine on a beautifully wide and long beach. I landed more or less cross wind due to some beach goers blocking a final turn into the wind, but I touched down softly nonetheless and packed everything away.

Me  and my wing off in the valley: photo by Jim
That night, the club president, Alex, hosted a BBQ at his place. Most who flew that day found their way to his place, where everyone welcomed me and I greatly enjoyed talking story and eating. It was the sort of group in which you just feel you belong, like everybody there would be easy to befriend given time. I no longer felt like an outsider. Goodbyes involved hugs and laughing. I said farewell and headed toward my host's abode recapping the events of the day.

Monday saw a return to winds 20+ mph and my return to the Big Island. I had only one day of Oahu flying under my belt, but I knew I was lucky. To have a light wind but flyable day on Oahu is rare. I definitely felt grateful to have had such an experience to call my own. After returning to the Big Island, I am still trying to process everything about the mellow flight. I can't help but keep thinking how different Kahana is from Kealakekua. I also realize that this will be my last Hawaiian flight. I am OK with this given that everything was EPIC!

PS. The photos in the gallery of my blue Ellus 2 are compliments of Jim when we were flying together.