Where can you hang glide in Florida? I found the perfect spot to do it, Florida Ridge Air Sports Park, in Clewiston in Southwest Florida.
Up, Up And Away
“Do you like rollercoasters?” Alan Friday asked.
“Yes,” I replied while looking down on him, “but we’re not going upside down are we?”
“No, we’ll go up, then down, then this way and that way,” he replied while using a hand showing the direction of our motion.
Rollercoaster in the Sky
Our exchange took place somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in the skies over Hendry County. It was the smoothest thrill ride ever! My screams of delight (or terror) were heard on the ground, at least that’s what I was told.
Friday, a hang gliding instructor and tandem pilot, asked if I wanted to try it again. Riding off the euphoric high, I eagerly agreed.
Although an exhilarating, smooth experience a second time, he should have asked if I am prone to motion sickness. Because I am. Following the second run, my stomach was feeling a bit unsettled. I hoped to hold everything in until at we were back on the ground. Thankfully, I did.
Yes. You Can Hang Glide in Florida.
“Where can you hang glide in Florida?” people asked when I told them of my experience. Many assume you need a cliff or mountain side to jump off. Sure, it’s done that way in some destinations, in Florida, hang gliders can become air born is either through an ultralight airplane or boat. At Florida Ridge Air Sports Park, a motorized ultralight plane tows tandem hang gliding participants into the for a smooth, calming flight.
A late-spring Sunday morning was the perfect day for my first tandem hang gliding experience. Turning onto the air park’s road, I passed cows. In my mind, an air park means concrete, pavement, and airplanes taxiing in and out. What I saw was a wide-open grass field, a few storage units, three adorable cabins, a swimming pool, trees, and a couple of dogs chasing one another.
I checked into the office where I signed a waiver and learned about the do’s and don’ts during the experience. Taxes and gratuity are collected during registration, too. Initially, the flight I booked and prepaid via Groupon.com, was about 1,000 feet in the air. I upgraded to the next level, about 2,000 feet which also meant a few extra minutes in the sky.
The air park’s vibe is chill and fun, yet serious and professional when the time comes to take flight. A small pavilion with a picnic table by the airfield was the perfect waiting area. It was also fun watching others enjoy their experience.
When the time came for my tandem flight, the pilot/instructor secured himself into the cocoon harness, which looked like a sleeping bag, with an emergency parachute on the side. Next, with the help of the sports park team, I climbed into my cocoon harness above Friday and securely strapped. Before takeoff, I was provided a helmet and eye protection.
Flying in Capable Hands
Friday signaled to the pilot, we briefly rolled over the grass and within seconds, we were airborne. As we climbed, I held onto my straps, as if I was holding my backpack straps. Silently, I silently said a little prayer while keeping my eyes open and taking in the stunning scenery below. Giddiness replaced my fear. I was flying.
When we reached our cruising altitude, Friday released the cable connecting us to the ultralight and we were on our own. There was a slight tipping forward feeling. I shifted my weight hopping it would make a difference, but I was in capable hands.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Alan Friday learned to hang glide in Kitty Hawk, N.C., the Birth of Aviation. He has been a tandem pilot and instructor for about five years and has spent time piloting and instructing in North Georgia, too.
He showed me the basics of controlling the glider. To move down and forward, you push the control bar in that direction. To slow down, you pull back. Turn right by shifting bodyweight and moving the bar to the right. The same is for the opposite side.
“Okay, you can be in charge again,” I said to him after trying my hands in controlling the glider.
I Was Lois Lane Flying with Superman
The only times I have been in the sky are when I was in airplanes, amusement park rides, and briefly in a tethered hot air balloon. This tandem hang gliding experience was like nothing I have done before. Rather than being a spectator in the sky, as when I’m inside an airplane, I was now part of it. Cool air brushed against my face and danced with my lockets of hair that peaked out from under my helmet.
I felt like Lois Lane flying with Superman. Looking down, I watched birds soar over the treetops. The ground looked like a mismatched quilt with square patches of brown fields, circular and wavy patches of greenery, and round and rectangular bodies of water. A sprinkling of horses and cattle dotted the landscape, looking like toys on a model train set.
Too soon, the experience was over. From flight to landing, I estimate my experience was about 11 minutes and well-worth it. We returned to the grounds of Florida Ridge Air Sports Park with a gentle, bump-free landing. The next flyer was eagerly waiting. During the peak winter season, Friday has piloted and/or instructed 37 gliders in one day.
“Do one thing every day that scares you,” Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying. Before my 50th birthday in 2020, I hope to achieve 50 things I have not done. This was one of those experiences. It is worth doing again and I cannot wait for the next time to take flight.
Nuts & Bolts About Florida Ridge Air Sports Park
Florida Ridge Air Sports Park
12671 East State Road 80
Clewiston, Fla. 33440
Tel: (863) 805-0440
Hours of Operation: Friday – Monday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Prices of tandem hang gliding experiences range from the Mile High Club at 5,280 feet for $399 to the Tandem Introductory Flight at 1,000 feet for $149 (as of Aug. 2019)
- Closed-toed shoes are a must and shorts are ideal.
- Cameras and phones are not permitted but a media package is available for $99. The package includes high definition video of your flight and high-resolution photos.
- In addition to tandem flights, they offer hang gliding lessons.
- Enjoy the morning and/or afternoon at the air sports park. A swimming pool, grill, and picnic areas are available for guests to enjoy. The area is dog-friendly, too.
- Waivers must be signed prior to flight. Depending on the type of package you prepay, taxes and gratuity are collected at the time of registration.
- I purchased my experience on Groupon.com and upgraded to the 2,000 feet experience.
- If you plan on spending additional time at the park, bring sunscreen, lunch, swimsuit, towel, and insect repellent.
Photos on Flickr
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