By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After a mere four steps for take-off, I was soaring over São Conrado Beach. For a second I was dumbstruck. We had been killing time for ten minutes at the top of the cliff waiting for a headwind and it was hard to believe we were now suspended in midair.
I gazed at the treetops of the Tijuca National Park 520 meters below me before I became conscious enough of my exhilaration to let out a whoop of joy that nobody but my pilot Paulo and I heard.
Paulo Falcão is one of the guides running tandem flights for Superfly, a hang gliding company operating off Pedra Bonita Mountain in São Conrado. Paulo took his first flight with his brother in 1978, just four years after the extreme sport was first invented.
“I piloted my first flight,” he explained as we flew over the skyscrapers, the beach and the crests of the waves. I nodded as I wondered how he was controlling the direction of our gliding. It seemed effortless, though I don’t think I would have the courage to push off the side of a cliff by myself without any experience.
“I began on small hills,” he explained as we turned back towards the mountain. If it hadn’t been for the wind, it would hardly have seemed we were moving. As long as I looked towards the horizon, the flight was actually quite peaceful after the initial rush.
Ruy Marra, owner and chief pilot of Superfly, believes the exhilaration of flying can relieve everyday stress in the work environment. He has written a book entitled “Taking Off to Happiness” which surveys thousands of passengers on the effect that overcoming their fears of flying and heights has had on their emotions and stress levels. As well as being a two-time Brazilian champion distance glider and a South American record holder for tandem flights, Marra also holds a degree in biopsychology.
When he is not busy defying gravity, Marra is also an intellectual property attorney, offering consulting on stress management and performance improvement.
Whatever I felt as we plummeted towards São Conrado Beach, it wasn’t stress. “Lift up your knee,” Paulo advised and just before we seemed about to nose dive into the white sand, the glider lifted a little and our feet hit the ground running in a landing that was smoother than I expected. Paulo helped to detach me from the glider then told me, “You’re free.”
This is exactly the opposite of what I felt as I stumbled groggily across the beach sand. “I was free then,” I thought, looking up at the sky.
The price of a flight iwith Superfly is R$250 including pick-up, drop off and a fee for entering Tijuca National Park. They operate everyday as long as the conditions are acceptable. Superfly can be reached at (21) 9982-5706 or through their website www.riosuperfly.com.br.