Kite flying weather-paragliders take to Magnolia bluff
Posted on April 6th, 2014 by Sara
By reporter Steven Smalley
In a brief window Friday, the clouds parted and the sun shone magnificently to provide superb conditions with which kites, flown by youngsters, might have taken flight in years past. Today is different. The kids are in school while adults dominate the skies.
Just above Magnolia’s western hilltop, one catches a quick glimpse of a flying wing with a man hanging just below it. It’s a startling, yet colorful apparition. Turns out our bluff provides ideal conditions to launch paragliders – billowing canopies with tethers similar to those used with parachutes – holding the enthusiast aloft.
Noah Briller, a healthcare professional who lives in Ballard, and Jake Pratt, a Magnolia resident employed by an outdoor retailer, were spotted with their gear perched above the spot where the bluff gave way in 1996 destroying several homes. The view is spectacular and the winds near perfect.
Participants concede it takes years of experience and practice before one can launch from an area such as the Magnolia bluff. Fear of injury perhaps isn’t as present in flyers as in observers.
“I’ve had more friends in the mountain biking community hurt themselves worse then my friends who are paragliders,” Briller reveals.
On this day, it was a light breeze which brought out the fly-boys. Winds perpendicular to the bluff collide with the hillside and then rise above it, creating updrafts which give the paragliders enough lift to stay in the air for more than two hours. These same currents make landings tricky, although the flying wings are maneuverable enough to allow a gentle touchdown – if you know what you’re doing.
It must be a rush, right? “It’s smooth. It’s calm. It’s quiet. It’s not like base jumping or skydiving where you’re in it for the adrenaline,” notes Briller. “If my heart rate is getting up, I’ve done something wrong.”
While standing around observing conditions with several paragliders gazing across Elliott Bay, the incoming weather shifted from glorious to ominous. Showers were evident in the distance and drifting in their direction.
“We’re not going,” declared Pratt. The perfect environment suddenly deteriorated. The sunny spring day was no more. Any anxiety in these situations? “Yes, we’re all afraid of heights.”
For further information on the sport contact the U.S. Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association here.