First time I … tried paragliding!
I am at the top of Bukit Jugra in Kuala Langat, Selangor staring at a long and sharp fall to the ground below. The hill is at a cold sweat-inducing height of 120m above sea level – and I’m about to leap off it.
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, I have accepted an invitation by Tourism Selangor to try paragliding. At that time, I thought we would be descending a rock face by using a rope coiled around the body.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is abseiling.
Paragliding as I realise a little too late, requires one to jump off a cliff (or a hill) with nothing on your back but some lightweight fabric.
The scenery beyond, from where I’m standing on a late Saturday morning, is of lush green trees and clear blue skies.
Over the horizon, one could even see the Langat River flowing out to the Straits of Malacca. Behind me, a historic lighthouse stands majestically.
On any other day, I would have enjoyed the breathtaking scenery. Today, though, the nerves about trying paragliding for the first time threaten to push bile up my throat.
My paragliding instructor is Captain (Rtd) Ikhwan Azilah, an energetic man with no shortage of dry humour. He has been in several international paragliding excursions and happens to be the co-founder of the Malaysia Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association.
“We will be doing tandem paragliding today. This means you will be flying as a passenger while the pilot steers the glider. In the hands of an experienced pilot, you are safe,” he explains with a reassuring smile.
The butterflies in my stomach settle down a little.
“Of course, anything that is labelled ‘extreme sports’ carry with it some degree of risk,” he says, before sternly adding, “Do only what you’re told and refrain from doing anything that I forbid.”
I feel the butterflies returning in full force.
In order to paraglide, wind has to be at optimum conditions. Not too soft, not too strong – just right.
“The wind has to travel within the speed of 20kmh for us to take flight today. If it goes beyond 25kmh, I have the right to call off our activity to ensure your safety,” Ikhwan explains.
What happens when we reach terra firma?
“Your pilot will steer well so that you get a smooth landing. Just be prepared to run upon reaching the ground. Now, step forward and let’s fly,” Ikhwan answers.
Before long, I’m strapped onto a harness that’s tethered to a feather-light glider.
Ikhwan passes me a GoPro camera and runs through some last minute instructions: “When I say retreat, you retreat. And when I ask you to run forward, you run. Got it?”
Getting the wind to lift the glider up feels like an eternity. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Ikhwan suddenly barks: “Run, run, run!”
I run with all my might and leap off the edge of the hill. But fudge, fudge, fudge – I’m falling into the trees below!
Luckily, just as I thought I’m going to crash into some foliage, a sense of buoyancy takes over and I soar above the skies.
The view from above is absolutely spectacular as we glide over the top of trees and across vast fields. It’s amazing how quiet and calm it is up there.
And for a while, that’s how I stay – quiet, as I take in the beautiful topography from above. Perhaps mistaking my muteness for boredom, Ikhwan suddenly makes a sharp swerve.
“Oh my god, oh my god, please don’t…” I blurt out through a shriek, much to Ikhwan’s mischievous delight.
“Wasn’t that fun?” he asks. I only manage a weak smile.
We hover in the air for a while more until the landing field below grows nearer and nearer.
“Alright, get ready to run,” Ikhwan instructs.
But before I know it, we are already on the ground.
With just the thin sole of my Converse between my feet and the ground, I immediately feel the brunt of the impact rising through my legs up to my back.
Ikhwan looks over and asks if I’m fine. I give him a thumbs up.
“In life, if something is not dangerous – it’s no fun,” he says with a grin.