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Summertime: A Guide to Entertainment, Activities And Excursions : Discoveries : * If you've exhausted all of the usual tourist spots, it's time to visit some destinations along the unbeaten path. : A Kinder, Gentler Flight

June 20, 1991|DAVID COLKER and DAVID WHARTON

Ted Boyce spends a lot of time on the telephone explaining what paragliding (cover photo) is not.

It's not para-sailing, in which a flier wearing a parachute is pulled into the air by a speedboat. It's not sky-diving, glider flying or hang gliding, although it's related to all of these.

Paragliders use a lightweight, colorful, nylon canopy that resembles a rectangular parachute. Like glider pilots, they are dependent on the wind for the duration and quality of their flights. Like hang gliders, they launch from hillsides and even cliffs.

But paragliding is a kinder, gentler way to fly. You move at slow speeds, control turns with subtle motions and glide around air currents with a grace that few of us have on the ground.

It's the kind of flying you do in your dreams.

"You look at people up there flying around and you can see why people like me think this sport is going to be very popular here," said Boyce, who this summer opened L.A. Paragliding Center in Van Nuys for training and equipment sales. A veteran long-distance hang-glider pilot, Boyce got much of his paragliding training in Europe where the sport has been popular for more than a decade.

"It's much easier to learn than hang gliding--you start flying from the very first lesson," he said. "You can fit all the equipment you need into a backpack.

"And one of the big attractions for me is that it is new here. There are very few teachers."

Not that the sport is for everyone. Paragliding does take a certain amount of physical stamina and coordination and as with any flying sport--even one as gentle as this--there is the potential for dream flying to turn into a nightmare. Boyce allows no one to even get into the paragliding harness without wearing a helmet.

An introductory lesson that includes as many as 20 low-altitude flights on a training hill in Simi Valley costs $79.

L.A. Paragliding, 16145 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys. Classes are offered daily except Mondays, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Information: (818) 988-1112.

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