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Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hand gliding launch over Rio de Janeiro © Craig FastI was relieved to see my hang gliding instructor, Mauro, had a generous sprinkling of grey hairs on his head. I wasn’t about to put my life in the hands of a wet-behind-the-ears cowboy. “Trust me, Emma,” he insisted as I took in the view of Rio de Janeiro 520 metres below. Stunning it was, but so was the sheer drop from the end of the ramp I was expected to run off.

You can hang glide in Rio all year round. Tandem flights launch from a mountain in Pedra Bonita valley to the southwest of Rio de Janeiro and you land, usually seven to 15 minutes later, on Sao Conrado beach, beyond the skyscrapers straight ahead. Weather conditions are crucial to a successful flight - you need a moderate headwind to get a good lift off.

The wind was coming from behind us, exactly the opposite direction to the one required. Seasoned instructors careered wildly between pursing their lips and nodding their heads optimistically. Tied up in an odd, front-only, sack-like pouch I watched four hang gliders run off the ramp in two hours. In good conditions they can go every 60 seconds.

Contemplating the leap © Craig FastMy safety talk included a practice run, instructions on where to put my hands and a booklet that I’m ashamed to admit I read less than thoroughly. Reading it now, I learn that, “Your instructor is the supreme commander of the aircraft, you will stay at his side as a companion/apprentice, but you have the right to questions when you think he is putting you in unnecessary risk.” Define “unnecessary risk”, please…

I was second in the queue and had been tethered to Mauro and the glider for 30 minutes when the instructor in front of me gave up. Mauro wasn’t so easily put off by the seemingly adverse conditions and we took our place at the top of the ramp. Anxiously watching the wind sock fluttering out to sea, we waited for the wind to change direction. A few seconds of headwind was all we needed. Thrice we got ready to go and thrice we stood down. The tension was unbearable and building.

I had time to thoroughly contemplate the six emotional stages of hang gliding: excitement, apprehension, heart-thumping fear, impatience, anxiety that it wouldn’t actually happen, to a wild disregard for my life – just run, whatever the wind direction. Fortunately for me, Mauro knew his stuff and the fourth time we took our positions was the last time, despite other instructors starting to pack up their gear.

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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010