The first time I remember seeing someone paragliding, I stared up at the sky in awe. Growing up on the Norfolk coast, paragliders were a regular sight during the summer so I suppose it was no surprise that I was only a kid when I added it to my bucket list. Sadly for me, I become fascinated with paragliding long before I realised I had a phobia of heights. Oh the folly of youth, it gives us such grand ideas before we know anything of the real world! Unfortunately, it was when I was already halfway up the Eiffel Tower that I realised heights scared me. This was my first experience of jelly legs and the dizziness which stole my sight. I was around twelve at the time and it was then I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t be beaten by the fear. Despite having been robbed of the strength in my legs, I clawed my way up the stairs on my stomach until I reached the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Fast forward to over a decade later and I had already been working as a ski chalet host in Morzine for two months. It had taken this long to summon up the courage and begin searching for paragliding schools! I’m not great with heights… Paragliding translates to parapenting in French, which comes from two words: para for parachute and pente for slope. After sending out a few emails and desperately hoping to cram in a flight in the few days we had left in the town, Tim had a phone call.
Paragliding instructor Laurent had agreed to take us both for a flight later that afternoon. I was both excited and nervous and could feel the butterflies flitting around inside my stomach. This slightly nauseous feeling was not helped by the fact I’d had a rather big night the evening before… Remember I was a seasonaire!
We met Laurent and jumped in the van that would take us up 650m to where we would plunge off the mountain. As we ascended the windy roads up to the top I remember feeling steadily more sick.
What am I doing?! I’m afraid of heights!
I stood frozen on the spot whilst Laurent strapped me to himself and the parachute; the only thing that would save us from plummeting to our deaths. He shouted, “When I say run, you run. Don’t stop running”. I remember emitting a squeak of okay.
We started to run and suddenly I was pushed back by the air force. Instead of heeding the advice of my knowledgeable instructor, I simply stopped. I became aware that this was a mistake almost immediately. We were gaining air but I was bumping along the ground uncomfortably on my knees. Despite my mishap, we soared into the sky.
As soon as we were safely off the peak my fear melted away. The views, for miles in every direction, were simply too much for my brain to take in. A complete feeling of peace came over me as we glided through the mountains and hovered over the town of Morzine below. From up here, it looked more like a model village than an actual place with real people. I felt like time had just stopped, leaving me to cherish this one single moment. As the wind picked up Laurent said he had a treat for me. Suddenly we were pivoting around in the air as Laurent spun us even quicker. As I sampled this first taste of acrobatic flight, euphoria flooded me, a manic smile firmly etched upon my face.
It was all ending too quickly as the ground rushed towards us and I braced myself for the landing. Fortunately, this was a much more pleasant experience than take off, with me simply standing up as we reached the ground.
My experience of paragliding was even better than I had hoped it would be and I would not hesitate to fly again. Next on my list is the full acrobatic experience; I think I’m becoming an adrenaline junkie!
Have you tried paragliding or another air sport? What did you think?
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