10 Things Parents Will Love To Do With Their Kids on the Outer Banks

Fly a hang glider – Soar over the birthplace of flight on the largest sand dune on the East Coast. Try out dune hang gliding, take a tandem flight and get a one-of-a-kind view of the Outer Banks, or take a few lessons in a week to get your pilot’s license and fly a glider on your own!

Surf on the beach – Learn to shred with the locals. Group lessons are available for the whole family, and there are summer camps for the kids.

Ride on a SUP board or kayak – We’ve got tours of private reserves in the Outer Banks only accessible with our guides! If you’re looking for your own adventure for the day or week – rentals are available, too. If you want to try something new, we’ve got nighttime light-up SUP (stand-up paddleboard) rentals available at our Waves Village location.

Sandboard down Jockey’s Ridge – Like sledding on sand, this activity is perfect on a dry day, and unique to the landscape of the Outer Banks.

Try a new hobby – When you leave Jockey’s Ridge, head across the street to Jockey’s Ridge Crossing. Lots of local shops have plenty of activities for the family, including toy demonstrations at Kitty Hawk Kites, Life on a Sandbar, ice cream at Scoops, Tiki Toss at Kitty Hawk Surf Company & more. There are Kids Days on weekdays and Sunset Festival activities on the lawn in the summertime. Check out our events page for more activities at Jockey’s Ridge Crossing to see what’s happening during your visit.

Mix up your regular dining spots – You should dine out at new spots each time you visit. As a destination location, we have lots of amazing cuisine constantly coming into the area. Chefs cycle between restaurants, and you might find your favorite dish is made best by a restaurant you would least expect… so be sure to ask the locals for a recommendation.

Swim with the sharks – … or at least watch. The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island offers a unique view of the ecosystem. You can touch the stingrays, see an alligator, river otters, and sea turtle conservation efforts at the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. Manteo also offers Jumpmasters for the kids & a quaint downtown with a boardwalk, park, shopping & events, including First Fridays at the beginning of each month.

Ride or fly a shark – If you didn’t get close enough to the sharks, you can ride Stanley the mechanical shark at Nags Head’s Kitty Hawk Surf Company, or fly a shark kite from Kitty Hawk Kites.

Dowdy Park – Near Jockey’s Ridge and the YMCA, this new park built on the land where Dowdy’s Amusement park used to be (long-time visitors of the Outer Banks will remember this spot…) is now a popular children’s park many people frequent, with a monthly local farmer’s market + more.

Whalebone Park – Conveniently located between Jennette’s Pier and the Tanger Outlets, this new park is popular too.

Find a local craft/craftsperson – We’ve got lots of talented local artisans on the beach. Support local business & ask a local business owner how to connect with local artists. OBX Art Studio (which used to be called Glazin’ Go Nuts) has pottery painting for kids at Front Porch Cafe at Milepost 6 & Deja New in the Dunes Shops at Milepost 4 has art workshops for adults and kids, to name a couple.

In summary, ask a local! The Outer Banks has lots of unique experiences to offer.

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Why Choose Kitty Hawk Kites to Learn to Hang Glide?

SUBMITTED BY: Sara Weaver

Do you ever get that urge just to try something new? Sometimes life calls you to do something completely out of the ordinary and unexpected. Hang gliding at Kitty Hawk Kites definitely fits the bill for getting out of a rut, it’s endlessly fun, and it’s easily accessible, especially from the greater Raleigh-Durham area. 

Kitty Hawk Kites isn’t your typical hang gliding school. Located in Jockey’s Ridge State Park and operating for almost 50 years, Kitty Hawk Kites is one of the most successful hang gliding schools in the world. Lessons take place atop sand dunes which stand 80 feet above the expansive beaches below. Nearby on the mainland, tandem flights up to a mile high teach students how to fly in one of the most scenic and safe locations in the United States. 

An intro lesson begins on the dunes, beside the Atlantic Ocean and the Albemarle Sound. Looking over the water, students soar above the ground for the first time, gently landing in the sand after a thrilling flight. Instructors describe all the basics in detail – how to steer, how to fly fast and slow, how to relax and keep eyes on a target – all while catering to each student’s unique learning style. Early lessons aim to make students as comfortable as possible in the air while they discover if flying is something they want to pursue in more depth.

After the dunes, student pilots get their first taste of flying at altitude with a tandem instructor at the scenic Cotton Gin nearby. After towing up behind and releasing from an ultralight aircraft at 2000 or 5280 feet, students – with their instructors right there with them – get to experience the wonders of free flight thousands of feet above the ground, gracefully floating above the ocean and the countryside. Hang gliding is a relaxing, peaceful experience, but there’s still exhilarating options for students that want more excitement. Tandem instructors can take thrill seekers on a roller coaster ride, turning sharply and stall diving all the way down. The magic of Kitty Hawk Kites is that after taking lessons students can fly solo, choosing their own type of flying, be it relaxed or acrobatic.

Both hang gliding lessons play well into a weekend or week long getaway from the hustle and bustle of a busy life. Stay on the beach, fly twice a day, and enjoy the magic of North Carolina’s Outer Banks! It’s the perfect recipe for escaping the crazy schedule of everyday life and discovering something new and unique in a beautiful place. 

Another reason why learning to fly hang gliders at Kitty Hawk Kites is because of the incredible local flying community. Nowhere else can you find so much joy and excitement for the beauty of flight. The instructors and local pilots are all at Jockey’s Ridge for one reason: to spread the stoke for flying, free of noisy engines. Everyone’s ultimate goal at Kitty Hawk Hang Gliding School is to make sure that every student has the flight of a lifetime, and to cultivate a deep joy in our ability to experience soaring without heavy machinery. 

Kitty Hawk Kites wants to make it easy to learn how to fly, like they’ve done for nearly 50 years. Hang gliding might be an obscure sport, but it’s far more accessible than you might realize. Kitty Hawk Kites has all the gear necessary, from beginner to advanced hang gliders, harnesses and helmets. Instructors’ number 1 priority is safety, and learning how to fly has never been more fun. So here’s to trying new things, breaking free from everyday life, and enjoying this beautiful world from the sky.

We hope you’ll meet us on the dunes!

Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School 2019 Events Calendar

dune-hang-gliding-nags-head-nc

Rogallo Birthday Celebration

January 26, 2019

In celebration of what would have been the 107th birthday for the Father of Hang Gliding, Francis Rogallo, we will be taking 107 hang glider flights from the sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Francis Rogallo flew here often, so should you! Come join us! Students and certified pilots welcome.

Las Vegas Powered Paragliding Clinic

March 18 – 24, 2019

Join us for a powered paragliding clinic in Nevada. Our PPG instructor and manager of Morningside Flight Park, Heath Woods, will be leading a clinic in Las Vegas focused on first time students’ proficiency in powered paragliding.  See www.flymorningside.com for details.

Cotton Gin Flight Park Opening Day

April 5, 2019

And so it begins! Come fly with us!  Students and pilots welcome!

Spring Hang Gliding Camp

April 28 – May 5, 2019

Learn to fly with a group of like-minded students. Immerse yourself in hang gliding for the week.  Lessons daily, lodging included.  Hang 1 or Hang 2 training available. 

Morningside Opening Day 

May 3, 2019

It’s been a long winter.  Finally, flying is back!  Our New Hampshire location opens for the season.  Hang gliding, paragliding, powered paragliding, zip-lines and camping will be in full swing! 

Tournament of Champions

May 16, 2019

All previous winners of the Hang Gliding Spectacular are invited back to compete in a one-day, winner-take-all competition on the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge to kick off the 48th Annual Hang Gliding Spectacular.

48th Annual Hang Gliding Spectacular

May 16 – 20, 2019

Come be a part of the oldest continually held hang gliding competition in the country.  We’ll fly on Jockey’s Ridge Friday through Sunday, and at the Cotton Gin on Monday.

Francis Rogallo Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

May 19, 2019

This year’s inductee will be honored for their contributions to low speed flight.

Wills Wing Demo Days

May 17 – 20, 2019

The largest hang glider manufacturer in the world will have their latest models available to fly on the dunes and at the Cotton Gin Flight Park.

Cotton Gin Flight Park Barbecue and Spot Landing Contest

June 1, 2019

Join local pilots and students for some good flying and good food! The winner will get the highly coveted bullseye prize!

Eaglet Wars

June 8, 2019

The start of our weekly eaglet hang glider competition on Jockey’s Ridge. Pilots of all skill levels will compete to see who has mastery of our training gliders.  We supply the glider, you supply the “skill”.  Spot landings, distance and pylon flying are all part of the fun. Minimum of beginner rating required.

Mountain Flying Clinic

June 15 – 16, 2019

Join us for an introduction to some of the best flying on the east coast in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. A minimum of novice rating required.

Eaglet Wars

June 15, 2019

Our second installment of the competition. Pilots of all skill levels will compete to see who has mastery of our training gliders. We supply the glider, you supply the “skill”.  Spot landings, distance and pylon flying are all part of the fun. Minimum of beginner rating required.

Summer Throwdown

June 21, 2019

Join us for a celebration of the start of summer! We are going to count the total number of hang glider flights taken on Jockey’s Ridge.  Come help us beat 500!  Students and pilots welcome!

Eaglet Wars

June 22, 2019

Our third installment of the competition. Pilots of all skill levels will compete to see who has mastery of our training gliders. We supply the glider, you supply the “skill”.  Spot landings, distance and pylon flying are all part of the fun. Minimum of beginner rating required.

Hang Gliding School Barbecue

June 26, 2019

A picnic for students, pilots and instructors at the pavilion next to Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Parachute Clinic

June 29, 2019

Come learn how to repack your parachute at Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Eaglet Wars

June 29, 2019

The culmination of our Eaglet Wars series.  A grand champion will be crowned!

Cotton Gin Flight Park Barbecue and Spot Landing Contest

July 6, 2019

Join local pilots and students for some good flying and good food! The winner will get the highly coveted bullseye prize!

Hang Gliding School Barbecue

July 10, 2019

A picnic for students, pilots and instructors at the pavilion next to Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Morningside Encampment

July 13 – 20, 2019

Join us for a week of training at our Morningside Flight Park in New Hampshire.

Mountain Flying Clinic

July 20-21, 2019

Join us for an introduction to some of the best flying on the east coast in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. A minimum of novice rating required.

Morningside Encampment

July 21 – 27, 2019

Join us for a week of training at our Morningside Flight Park in New Hampshire.

Hang Gliding School Barbecue

July 24, 2019

A picnic for students, pilots and instructors at the pavilion next to Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Morningside Encampment

July 28 – August 3, 2019

Join us for a week of training at our Morningside Flight Park in New Hampshire.

Landing Clinic and Barbecue at The Cotton Gin Flight Park

August 3, 2019

Learn landing techniques from some of the best in the business.

Anniversary of The First Flight of The Rogallo Wing

August 15, 2019

The preeminent Rogallo Historian, Billy Vaughn, will give a talk on Francis Rogallo and the evolution of his flexible wing.

Mountain Flying Clinic

August 17 – 18, 2019

Join us for an introduction to some of the best flying on the east coast in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. A minimum of novice rating required.

Fall Hang Gliding Camp #1

September 15 – 22, 2019

Learn to fly with a group of like-minded students. Immerse yourself in hang gliding for the week.  Lessons daily, lodging included.  Hang 1 or Hang 2 training available.

Mountain Flying Clinic

September 28 – 29, 2019

Join us for an introduction to some of the best flying on the east coast in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.  A minimum of novice rating required.

First BrewTag launch of the day. The Kitty Hawk Kites glider established a new BrewTag world record of 20', soon to be shattered by Loonies on Tab.
First BrewTag launch of the day. The Kitty Hawk Kites glider established a new BrewTag world record of 20′, soon to be shattered by Loonies on Tab.

OBX Brewtag

October 26, 2019

A celebration of flight and beer.  The event is a fundraiser for the Rogallo Foundation that includes launching homemade wings carrying empty kegs from the top of a 30 ft. platform and a beer festival all rolled into one really fun event!

Fall Hang Gliding Camp #2

October 20 – 27, 2019

Learn to fly with a group of like-minded students. Immerse yourself in hang gliding for the week.  Lessons daily, lodging included.  Hang 1 training available.

Kitty Hawk Kites Fly-In

November 4 -5, 2019

Join us in the mountains of Virginia as we take all of our instructors and mountain certified pilots to fly together!

Hanging with Santa & Kites with Lights

November 29 -30, 2019

Start the holiday season off by getting your picture taken with Santa and his festive custom hang glider at Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head. 

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Visit kittyhawk.com/events for more details. Any questions, please email bruce@kittyhawk.com or the Hang Gliding School at (252) 441-2426.

A Flight in Mexico

Sara flying in the clouds above Mexico
Flying in the clouds above Mexico.

SUBMITTED BY: Sara Weaver

Some trips change you for life. For me, Valle was that trip.

In February 2019, I ventured to Valle de Bravo, Mexico to participate in the legendary El Peñón Classic Race, a hang gliding competition known for attracting the fiercest sport class competitors in the world. Located three hours from Mexico City, the vibrant lakeside town of Valle is already well-known for free flight, with images of hang gliders and paragliders adorning the sides taxis and tequila bottles alike. 

The actual launch site is an additional 45 minute drive from the city, but several free flight companies offer daily shuttles between town, launch and the landing zone. Launch faces southwest into the area’s prevailing winds, with the site’s most striking feature – a rocky rounded-top outcropping jutting from the earth – situated just 1 kilometer west of launch. El Peñón acts not only as the namesake of this formidable competition, but significantly influences daily thermic activity and is often a source of lift.

Foot launching at the El Peñón Classic Race.
Foot launching at the El Peñón Classic Race. Photo by Freddy Yazbek.

The surrounding area is characterized by mountainous landscapes, impressive cliffsides, and shockingly beautiful inactive volcanos (the most notable being Nevado de Toluca, Mexico’s 4thhighest peak and just 30 kilometers from El Peñón). With unbelievably consistent weather and 300 flyable days per year, it’s possible to crank out two flights a day and rack up 30 hours per week in the dry season. With cloud convergences lining up right behind launch, the XC potential is unbeatable. Bouncing back and forth between turn points, pilots are daily afforded the opportunity to explore some of the most unique landscapes in Mexico. 

With such an enticing prognosis, it’s no wonder I had to fly it for myself. I had never flown hang gliders outside of the United States before this trip. And since graduating from my early flying days at Kitty Hawk Kites, most of my hang gliding had been aerotow competitions in the flatlands all around the US. I traveled to Mexico not with goals of winning, but to rekindle my foot launch fire and to learn the mountains. This is the story of my final flight in Mexico, where everything I had learned over two weeks culminated in one of the best flights of my life.

Happiness at goal on day 4.
Happiness at goal on day 4. Photo by Aaron Rinn.

The Flight

Because the awards ceremony would be hosted that night, the task for day 6 of the competition was shorter than usual, at just 35.2 km. I launched and headed to El Peñón to await the start. Tens of pilots had thermalled to cloudbase, and we patiently anticipated the start of the race as a graceful, spinning flock of gliders. It was the longest four minutes of my life. 

In competition, it’s illegal to fly through the clouds, and very dangerous because the pilot is unable to see their surroundings. However, it’s crucial to start the race with as much altitude as possible. So when waiting for the start of the race, a pilot has to find perfect balance between flying too high into the cloud, and losing their altitude altogether. In this limbo, four minutes is a very long time.

But then the gate opened and the migration began. There’s something so strange and so incredibly surreal about 30 bug-like creatures simultaneously transitioning from barely organized floating to a full on Spartanic charge. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and overwhelming. I secured my flight line just behind the leaders, with 20 pilots chasing me down. Only a couple wings passed me; for once, I was moving fast, toward the lead. The first turn point came and went like lightning. 

We swung around 180 degrees to the north and retracted up the spine. I stayed on a good line, losing very little altitude and hitting solid thermals along the way. Suddenly, I heard a happy scream, too close for comfort. Looking to my right, I saw Wolfi Siess unbelievably close to my wing, giggling and shouting and trying to get as near as possible. Maintaining my heading, I screamed back. I could feel the air compress between my right wing and his left as he crept closer and closer. If you’ve ever driven next to a semi truck on a windy highway you know exactly what that feels like. After flying in tandem for a dozen more seconds, Wolfi dove down and sped away, leaving me in the dust. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Representing Kitty Hawk Kites every day.
Representing Kitty Hawk Kites every day. Photo by Aaron Rinn.

Everything was falling into place. The thermals were where I expected them to be, and the turn points didn’t seem far away. The second arrived as fast as the first. Finally, the most daunting challenge of the flight presented itself: Our course would take us over the back of the Spine, and traverse the gap to the adjacent ridge toward a triplet of rocky cliffs known as the Three Kings. I had flown there earlier in the week and didn’t like it. The thermals were trashier and further apart, and the landing fields on the other side of the Kings were terrible. 

After crossing the gap, I arrived at the Kings with a handful of other pilots, working light lift. I was torn… when was the smartest time to dive past the Kings to get the turn point? Should I go early and look for lift past the formation, or hang back and try to get higher, all while being pushed further away by the wind? I watched one pilot go for it. He got low, but he managed to get the point and fly back into the lift below me. I had more altitude then he had when he left and decided to go for it. I copied his path, tagged the point, and made it back only slightly lower than when I had left.

I wasn’t yet in the clear. Although I had altitude to work with, the ridge was still too close. I had been here two days earlier, so I flew a couple hundred meters toward the spot where I’d found lift then. The thermal was there, but it was confusing. Sometimes it was stronger at the ridgeline, other times back on the mesa. Me and one other pilot, Jose Sandoval, pulsed in and out of the core, tracking it’s inconsistent upward trajectory. Three pilots below us were unable to find it and flew off to search for something better. 

Finally, Jose and I were high enough to consider hopping the gap back to the Spine. Moments like these always fascinate me. We weren’t in radio contact but had been spiraling upwards back to back for nearly 15 minutes, hyper-aware of each other’s movements, falling into a shared trust knowing the other wouldn’t mess up. As we gained altitude, subtle changes in the air told us the same thing at the same time… it was time to leave. We silently, simultaneously broke formation and left. 

Jose was a bit faster than me, so I watched his line, choosing to follow slightly to the south. We sank at similar rates and maintained our headings. Traveling downwind, we quickly arrived back to the Spine with altitude to spare. Jose flew north to find the thermal behind El Peñón. I stayed to search near the dip in the Spine known as the G Spot, and another pilot circling below me led me to what I was looking for. I had two more turn points to hit before heading to the landing field. The first was the same one I had missed two days earlier and had to go back to get. The second was 1 kilometer in front of launch. I would need one more thermal besides the one I was in to make it.

Another launch photo with El Peñón in the background.
Another launch photo with El Peñón in the background. Photo by Laura Soto.

I continued climbing as my anxiety mounted. I was so closeto another successful day. In hindsight, I should have stayed in this thermal longer and got more altitude, but I wanted to GO. I pulled in and left alone for the turn point, using the experience from that other flight to inform my choices along the way. I knew there was probably strong sink at the point itself, and I was right. Once I tagged the point, I was still sinking and when I turned north to head to launch, my altitude continued to dwindle. I was going to come up short. 

I managed to reach the foothills in front of launch, but there was no guarantee that I’d find the altitude I needed to bench back up to get the fifth and final point. I was getting thrashed. Low enough to consider landing, high enough to try not to, I floated in bumpy, miserable air willing my glider upward. Rough turns into barely lifting pockets pushed me closer to the mountain and further from the safety of the LZ. I watched a glider come in with enough altitude to hit the point and make the goal field as I struggled for every upward inch. 

Fifteen minutes later, mid-turn, my computer squealed, and I did too. I had hit the fifth waypoint. I swung my glider around and flew toward the LZ. Fabian Grimion appeared at my left and we threw up ‘rock-on’ hands and raced toward the ground. He made it to the goal field just in front of me – I’ll blame it on the fact that I was shaking from excitement and had to slow down. I knew that flight was one of my fastest and I couldn’t wait to see the scores posted.

In the landing zone, we celebrated. The city of Temescaltepec had organized a celebration for the pilots. There was food and ice cream, booze and music and a hot air balloon. We watched as a dozen more pilots landed at goal. On launch, tens of paragliders took off, floating into the sunset sky and landing gently at the party. It was one of the best days of my life.

Later that evening, the meet organizers took to the stage to announce the winners. They started with the top ten pilots from the flight that day. In tenth place, Fabian. Knowing he’d beat me by only a few seconds, I realized that I barely missed the top ten. I was thrilled. The El Peñón Classic is the most competitive sport class competition in the world, and I almost made the top ten for one of the days. 

Then, a shock – my name was called… Ninth place! It hit me then; I realized that I had started the race leading the charge with a few others. I must have earned enough leading points to overtake Fabian’s time points. I walked on stage to stand next to Fabian, both of us grinning. As the top eight pilots joined us, chills crawled across my skin. I was standing on stage with some of the best pilots in the world. I knew I would run this gauntlet forever to feel those chills again.

Sara Weaver on the podium with Paty Latona and Emma Godinez
On the podium with Paty Latona and Emma Godinez!

If I judge myself by how well I competed, I didn’t do so hot. I finished day one near the bottom of the roster, in 40thplace. As the week wore on, I learned countless things about the mountains and how they work. By the end of the week, I had recovered to 27thplace overall, 1stplace in the women’s category. But that’s not really what happened that week.

The real story was that in just two weeks, I went from barely having flown mountains at all to placing in the top ten for a day in the world’s most competitive sport class hang gliding competition. My confidence skyrocketed. I re-earned my foot launch. I had the most fun flying in a comp than I’ve ever had. So yeah, if you look at the numbers, you won’t see anything special. This is simply a story about one flight… but it’s the flight that kidnapped my heart and left it in Mexico.

A First Flight Story

SUBMITTED BY: Sara Weaver

hang gliding launch

My name is Sara, and I’m a competitive hang glider pilot. I’ve been obsessed with free flight since my first lessons in 2013, and suspect that I’ll always feel more comfortable 5000 feet above the ground than with 2 feet planted firmly below.

It wasn’t always like this though. I am not like most other pilots. Sometimes their story of first flight was rooted in family history. They’ve known airplanes or gliders as long as they’ve been alive. For others, flying was the super power they dreamed of as a kid. I hear story after story of now-hang glider pilots jumping from picnic tables with an umbrella opened wide above their heads, wishing it would keep them aloft. I bet the Wright brothers felt that way when they were little.

I was nothing like that though. When I was a kid, I was a rug rat, a dirt explorer, a tree climber. I roamed the woods barefoot and scratched away at poison ivy. My family had never been on a plane. Once, we went to an airshow and I sat in the underbelly of an aircraft that transported cargo and troops. The wing-walkers were my favorite.

It wasn’t until a friend from high school called me in April 2013 during my freshman year of college that flight shoved its way into my life and changed everything about me. He told me about Kitty Hawk Kites, a hang gliding school on the coast of North Carolina. They would teach me how to fly and they would teach me how to teach others how to fly if I worked for them for the summer.

I was busy looking for my first internships in the environmental field at the time, and initially wasn’t interested. I wasn’t even certain what hang gliding was until I looked it up on the internet. But I kept thinking about it and I started losing sleep. Maybe it was the idea that I’d get to live within steps of the ocean, or that I’d feel really cool telling people that yeah, I flew hang gliders, and what did you do with your summer? I submitted my application, interviewed, and got the job. I was 19 years old.

Flashforward to my first flight in May 2013. I was standing atop a 40 foot sand dune in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Albemarle Sound, wearing a weighty canvas chest harness and clipped into a blue and white glider called an Eaglet. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed.

Mike Pattishall was my instructor. Over the years I’d get to know him as Too Tall, because that’s what he was. Like me, he was a rock climber. Unlike me, he was not attached like a caterpillar to butterfly wings it wasn’t sure it was ready for.

For as overwhelming as this experience was, I felt mostly prepared for the next steps. I’d spent an hour in ground school that morning, learning a brief history of flight, the basic mechanisms of a hang glider and how to fly one safely. The team I would one day be a part of was knowledgeable, energetic and kind. They helped me into my harness and helmet and we walked out to the dunes together. None of us understood that because of this lesson, one day I’d be traveling the world as a competition pilot desperate for wings and airtime.

Mike held the glider and had me simulate a left turn, a right turn, and a flare for landing while squirming in the sand facing into the wind. We did our final checks together and I held onto the base tube of the glider as I stood up facing southeast toward the Atlantic. I knew vaguely what would happen next; I’d walk, jog, run and suddenly be flying before returning to the sand below the dune after all of 5 seconds. Mike would run alongside me the entire time and coach me through each part of the flight.

And then it actually happened. I yelled “CLEAR” and ran until my feet weren’t touching the ground anymore, and when Mike yelled, “FLARE!” I pushed the bar high above my head and softly plopped back onto planet earth. It was that fast.

We repeated this flight 4 more times and with each repetition, I gained more awareness for exactly what was happening. I didn’t land on my feet every time, but it didn’t hurt, it wasn’t scary, and Mike’s coaching and confidence meant I was excited every time I hooked back into the glider.

I’ve launched and landed hang gliders hundreds of times since this moment, but there are very few flights I remember as thoroughly as my first. I think hang gliding can be scary for some people. There’s this idea that everyone that flies hang gliders is an adrenaline junky, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hang gliding is safe with proper instruction, and being at altitude is easily the most peaceful experience of my life.

I think I was the last person on the planet who would try hang gliding. Why would I? I’d never been in a plane and I’d never dreamed of flight, so what was the point? But stepping out of my comfort zone and off the dune would be one of the best moments of my life, and I hope everyone reading this gets the chance to try. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be racing you in the sky…