Paragliding is a recreational and competitive flying sport, quite well known in many western countries, but in Phuket it has taken about 17 years from being first tested here near the scenic Cape Promthep, to become airworthy and now successfully set aloft with its own first event, the Phuket Fun Fly 2010 which took place last Friday to Sunday 21-23 May. Phuketindex let me go along not just to take pretty pictures but to take to the air and glide like a bird.
A paraglider is a free-flying, foot-launched ‘aircraft’, but without any motors, relying on the wind and thermals in the air to somehow keep it up. The pilots, and sometimes a powerless passenger, sit in a harness suspended below a fabric wing, whose shape is formed by its suspension lines and the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing. The pilot controls the wings to fly in the direction he or she wants and land as needed. Paragliding is now becoming very popular for those who love the excitement and challenges it brings, and for those who like to watch these majestic human-birds soaring high and low over-head.
Dr. Presert Theplaong, Phuket Paragliding Club president, and organiser of the 1st Fun Fun Fly contest & festival, told me this event attracted 49 competitors mostly from Thailand, but also New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan, plus a world champion from Germany who just demonstrated his skills in the festival. Dr Prasert himself is also quite skillful in flying and showing the others the way to go. The contest was not really serious but had more fun elements to promote tourism in the Rawai area in the green rainy season. “I’m not god, but I prayed to get 1-2 days good weather!” The rain did stop play for a while on Saturday but mostly the wind was excellent with a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 25 kilometres per hour for flying. The windmill hill with electric and telephone poles nearby was admittedly “very dangerous but we flew with responsibility and knew the surroundings to make it safe with no serious accidents.” I only saw some of the many spectators get a bit flustered by the wings occasionally landing on top of them.
The contest centered around heading for a target down on Nai Harn beach, with acrobatic, costume and trick shows adding spice to the event. Some of his friends loved it so much they flew for 2-3 hours at a time, not wanting to come back down.
A couple landed in the sea but again nothing serious, though a rescue boat should be available all the time.
Their flying equipment doesn’t come cheap; around 80-170,000 baht for wings and 15-25,000 baht for the safety harness, sort of like an air bag for soft landings, with most stuff imported, “depending on who sponsors you!” The event also attracted several generous sponsors to get it off the ground and was well organised by BMS Events.
There was also a Canon photo contest with 200 possible participants, so many that Dr Prasert wasn’t sure, as so many spectators had cameras anyway.
He and the TAT hope it will be an annual or year round relaxed recreational activity in future, not a real competition as that requires more work, rules and care to arrange, with more accidents likely. He just wants everybody to have fun and bring their families to enjoy the beautiful area. Being a dentist by trade, he wants all to leave smiling with no dented teeth!
I risked my rattling teeth and nerves to get a lift up in the air with khun Narint Lohathong, who has 19 years of paragliding experience and 17 years ago actually discovered this perfect pitch for Phuket paragliders to launch at picture-perfect Promthep Cape. He is based in Rayong, in eastern Thailand, but thinks this Phuket site is better. He gives out airworthiness licences to Thai pilots and their crafts, and gave me a bird’s eye view 50-100 meters high over the Capes, with beautiful beaches of Yanui and Nai Harn in between. It was amazing, exciting and nerve-wracking for a first-timer like me, as just the wind and air held us up so close to the windmill, poles and cliffs but he assured me he was in full control and steered us around and around, as the people watching below looked like little ants. An airforce plane whisked by at one point, but this began to seem like a better way to slowly enjoy the aerial views. The warm thermal airs were comforting nerves and the teeth stopped rattling. The freedom to fly with no noise, no pollution, no gas, is the way to go. In the end I was quite relaxed and the landing on soft clean sand of Nai Harn beach was a pleasure.
This was definitely a Fun Fly festival that found many fans in Phuket.
For more info check out www.phuketparagliding.com & www.thaiparagliding.com
Question for readers: Would you like to fly in a paraglider in Phuket?