In retrospect, driving a motorcycle to take paragliding lessons wasn’t such a good idea. The steep, dusty, gravel-riddled mess of a dirt road leading up to Antenna Hill in Binangonan, Rizal, was not exactly ideal terrain for my scooter.
I muttered silent prayers to myself as I drove by the different stations of the cross perched on the edge of the cliffside roads. It took a lot of focus to maneuver my scooter while balancing an ice cooler with drinks strapped to the front of my bike near my feet. Art’s cruiser sputtered as he drove up with our paragliding guide Habu riding pillion, who himself was carrying a huge bag of paragliding gear. And by huge, I mean a full grown person could easily curl up in the bag and hide there.
But I digress, this is supposed to be about the paragliding lessons. We met our guide Habu in Angono, Rizal and proceeded to his apartment to pick up the gear. Habu teaches paragliding in Japan, but is interested in establishing a paragliding club in the Philippines. He has several gliders that come in different sizes (S-M-L) depending on who will use it, which weigh roughly about 15 kilos each, give or take. The paramotor and tandem paraglider (which can carry 2 people) are even heavier, and given our choice of transport could not be brought up. The ice cooler with drinks was essential, because the heat was pretty intense up on the hill, with only a couple of trees providing shade in between the rolling hills and patches of dirt roads frequented by downhill mountain bikers. It was actually because of a Spyder biking event held earlier this year that we got in touch with the guy who was trying out paragliding in the area.
If you ever get to try out paragliding here, I suggest you bring a car instead, preferably a 4×4 vehicle or SUV because of the rough roads and the heavy equipment you need to transport. It’s also possible to rent a tricycle to take you up (then have them pick you up after a few hours) since the area is remote and there’s no other way to get there and back aside from walking.
The view, however, is great. From the summit of Antenna Hill, you get an expansive view of the lake and the colorful houses down below. Even the skyline of Metro Manila is visible from here, which makes the place perfect for soaring over.
After parking our rides near a sari-sari store in the community, we made our way on foot to an elevated part of the hill. In order to determine which direction the wind was going so we could determine the best jump-off point, we had to make a couple of makeshift flags by tying ribbon to the ends of branches. Unfortunately, there was hardly any breeze that day, or at least not enough for a full-blown flight.
Suffice to say, we didn’t actually get to soar over the hills as expected. For safety reasons, certified instructors will not allow people to just go off and paraglide by themselves on the first try. In order to get certified, you need to complete an advanced course which can take several sessions where you learn the basics of controlling the glider, how to launch and land a paraglider, and the rules of the air. The beginner course focuses on ground control and handling, which means learning how to control the canopy as it floats over you while you remain on the ground. Mastering ground handling is essential to learning how to actually fly the paraglider.
Habu first taught us the basic controls of the glider. Each group of strings controls a ifferent section of the glider while another controls the “brakes.” It was important to lay out the chute flat with a “beautiful open” to make sure that the wind would propel it properly up. Running down the hill with the glider and trying to get it to open and fly properly felt like playing with a really large kite.
Paragliding requires a lot of patience. If you’re just after cheap thrills and are not a patient person, ride a zipline instead. There are many all around the country. Since the sport is dependent on weather and wind conditions, it is not guaranteed that you will be able to fly during your first attempt. Paragliding involves a lot of waiting for the correct wind speed so you can ride safely. This can easily eat up a whole day, which we were not prepared for, since we didn’t bring food or enough drinks.
However, we did try a few attempts to launch and control the glider when grounded with all the gear strapped on. This involved getting the glider to open properly and running down a section of the hill which kept us airborne just a couple of inches off the ground before pushing down on the brake lines. As exhilarating as the few seconds of cruising down were, I found that most of the exertion came from hiking up the hill again carrying all the gear. Still, it was a pretty cool experience to try out for the weekend. I’d choose this over malling any day.
The best option for those who want to experience flying, but don’t want to go through the process of certification (or can’t afford it) is to do tandem paragliding, where you fly together with a certified Tandem Pilot. Tandem flights use a glider large enough to carry two people, the pilot/instructor and one passenger. Each person is secured in their own harness attached together, with the passenger in front and the pilot right behind, who takes care of all the controls.
We’re definitely going to try tandem paragliding next time, once we sked another session with Habu again, who is currently in Japan right now. Check out his blog, http://blog.livedoor.jp/
Below are a few useful tips for those interested in trying it out paragliding for themselves.
- Wear light trekking/cargo pants/jogging pants and dri-fit shirts for comfort. Shorts are not advisable because of the heat and the grass in the area.
- Bring sun protection – a hat, sun block, shades, long sleeve jersey or arm warmers if you don’t want to get sunburned.
- Wear shoes shoes suitable for outdoor activities, like trekking shoes, trail shoes, running shoes or sandals with secure straps. Do not wear slippers as this could easily fall off. Bring a change of clothes if you sweat a lot (though you’ll probably have to change in a gas station or restaurant when you get down from the place.)
WHAT TO BRING:
- Because the area is isolated with no bathroom facilities nearby, you may want to bring insect repellent, alcohol, wet wipes & personal medicines
- Our guide provided a helmet but you may want to bring headware which you can use as a helmet liner.
- Don’t forget your camera or video camera for souvenir shots and a companion so you can take pictures of each other. I’d suggest a small GoPro camera to take video of the actual flight.
- Snack food and lots of drinks for the downtime. If you’re staying the whole day, plan ahead and bring food.
- Since the guide doesn’t have a vehicle, it’ll be convenient to bring your own private transport when you meet up with him. If you’re driving a sedan, be prepared to park at a lower area and walk the rest of the way up to entrance of Antenna Hill.