By Amy Skalmusky, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Every year nearly 23,000 people strap themselves into a hang glider or paraglider and soar freely over Rio – and some people actually go more than once. The reasons vary, from wanting to take in the stunning view of the city from the sky, to experiencing an extreme sport, to checking the activity off their bucket list, or bonding with a work group.
Whether for exhilaration or therapy, the 15 to 20 minute flight offers incredible views of the Two Brothers Mountain in Ipanema, São Conrado beach and the Tijuca National Forest. When the time is right and the resolve is firm, arranging a flight can be done through the internet, or directly with the pilots at São Conrado beach.
The majority of operators speak English, along with two or three other languages. Their services, which cost around R$250 (about US$150), usually include hotel pick up and drop off and pictures or a DVD of the experience. For the thrifty, or spontaneous, you may be able to negotiate lower prices at the beach.
Tandem flights are more of a mental challenge than a physical one for riders since the bulk of their effort is spent running off a short ramp, smiling for pictures, admiring the scenery and putting their legs down when it’s time to land. After deciding to fly, the most difficult decision may be which to do – hang glide or paraglide. “There is not much difference between the two in terms of which is better for tandem flights, they both are equally exciting,” according to Maurício Monteiro, hang glider pilot from Sky Center Rio.
Although they make it look easy, pilots are always concerned about safety. Maintaining equipment in good condition and always flying with a parachute in case of emergency are indispensable. “A good pilot needs to be serious and attentive to safety requirements and at the same time relaxed and cheerful to put people at ease,” according to Konrad Heilmann, hang glider pilot.
The initial pleasure of having wings can be addictive, but the confidence doesn’t come overnight. “At first I thought it was a bit radical, but after going to the ramp a few times and tandem flying, the adrenalin gave way to pleasure. I went through a three-month course. At first I had to run with the glider on my back…then do low jumps and finally the solo flight,” said Hugo Camerini, who has been hang gliding and paragliding since 1986.
Courses for solo flights take three to four months and require purchasing equipment, all of which will cost around R$9,000 (around US$5,300) and give you a “Level 2” competency. To become an instructor or a tandem pilot requires a Level 4 competency. The clubs and associations that offer classes can be found on the ABVL (Associação Brasileira de Voo Livre) website.
However, some of the challenges a tandem pilot face may be outside the scope of the course: “There was a guy who wanted to fly with his dog – a full grown Labrador,” said Paulo Falcão, hang glider pilot. “I passed him along to a friend who had lots of experience flying with his own Labrador.”
No matter with whom or how many times you do it, hang gliding and paragliding in Rio is an unforgettable experience for thrill-seekers. For further information, go to:
Sky center: http://www.skycenter.com.br
Konrad Heilman: http://riohangliding.com
Paulo Falcão: http://www.riotandemfly.com.br