‘For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” Leonardo da Vinci, who invented a whole lot of really amazing things, probably knew what he was talking about.
My plan was to put his claim to the test.
I went adventuring to Cape Town (thankfully the Mango flight there was free of any “adventures”). The itinerary involved taking a swoop through the air with Stef Juncker, owner and manager of the oldest and largest tandem paragliding company in Africa, Parapax.
A quick look at Stef’s biography did little to ease my nerves. Stints as a hypnotist, an escape artist and most worryingly a professional clown all seemed like a recipe for disaster when hundreds of metres above the ground.
However, Stef is also one of the top commercial paragliding pilots in the world, so I was to be in safe hands.
A scenic flight over Table Mountain would have been a good option, but to ensure a complete immersion in the paragliding culture I met Stef in the small town of Porterville. The reason for this was the SA Winelands Open – a cross-country paragliding competition attracting the top 80 pilots from all over the world.
Due to strong thermal conditions Porterville is the ideal place for high and long cross-country flights. Driving to Porterville (about 140km from Cape Town) I could well believe it. It’s dry, dusty and baking hot. I even spotted a solitary horse grazing just before arrival (in this case the cliché about being a one-horse town illustrates Porterville better than any description I could think of).
The idea was for Stef and I to take a quick tandem flight in the morning, before the competitors took over the skies in the afternoon.
True to his resume, Stef is a character-and-a-half (some may remember him as a hypnotist at the Catalina Theatre – see DrStef.co.za), and I spent the car ride up Dasklip Pass learning of crazy adventures he’s experienced all over the world. Despite our best intentions to get away for an early flight, the launch site of Pampoenfontein was already a hive of activity, with paragliding pilots all preparing for the afternoon competition.
Thankfully Stef isn’t the sort to get stage fright, and before long we were all strapped in and ready to go. Stef got our wing into the air (a giant 33m fabric used for tandem flights) and we both ran straight towards the edge of the mountain, with only wheatfields in the distance far below.
At the (seemingly) last moment we launched upwards and soon we were circling high above the ground with only a few birds for company. Despite clutching desperately to my harness/chair (the expression “flying by the seat of my pants” definitely applying) it was a breathtaking experience. With only the wind for sound, and the most astounding view below us, it was easy to appreciate the beauty of flight. Maybe Leo was on to something after all.
All too soon it was time to land and we touched down on solid earth once again. It’s definitely not a sport for the faint-hearted, but if you’re in the mood for adventure, I can’t recommend a more adrenalin-filled way to spend a morning. Just remember Leonardo’s warning – flying really is addictive.
What you need to know…
Parapax does tandem paragliding flights daily. Flights depart from Signal Hill and Lion’s Head, and offer excellent views of Table Mountain and Cape Town.
Flights are R950, and you can book on the website by visiting www.parapax.com or by calling Stef on 082 881 4724. Anyone with a medical condition should speak to the pilot and confirm that their safety will not be at risk.
The Paragliding World Cup is being held in Porterville in the Western Cape from February 22. For all the info you’ll need on the event, accommodation and other activities, visit www.flyporterville.info or speak to Coral Benn on 022 931 3567.
If you’re looking to paraglide in KZN, speak to Jo or Marilee Chananie in Durban (firstname.lastname@example.org; 082 904 1020) or Hans Fokkens in Bulwer (www.wildsky.co.za; 082 395 3298).
Paragliding is a pretty expensive hobby, as a qualification course (consisting of 36 solo flights) normally costs about R7 500.
Paragliding equipment is also not cheap, with a full set of new equipment (wing, harness, helmet, books, flight suit and radio) ranging from R15 000 to R45 000. - The Mercury