The best para-gliding moments for Chilliwack’s Martina Lang aren’t the ones where she’s soaring hundreds of feet above the ground, taking in a panoramic view of the eastern Fraser Valley.
Those moments are extremely cool, big reasons why she’s sails above the treetops every chance she gets.
But the best moment is the one before she leaves the ground.
“Running off the mountain, that moment where your feet leave the ground, your wing takes you and you start floating,” Lang smiles. “It’s all about the anticipation. Your voice is saying, ‘Yes! Let’s run off this mountain!’ Your mind is saying, ‘What are you doing???’ And as soon as you’re in the air, you stop, look around and suddenly everything is so peaceful.”
Lang is a member of the West Coast Soaring Club and one of several paragliding enthusiasts who launch themselves off of local sites at Mount Woodside, Bridal Falls, Elk Mountain and Mount Cheam.
Mount Woodside, in Kent near Harrison, is the most popular, bustling with activity on any nice day from April-May through September. Paragliders get there via a forestry road (4×4 vehicles highly recommended).
At 650 metres elevation, it is an old logging clear-out maintained by the paragliding community. The launch site faces southwest and gets direct sun. Warm air is what para-gliders seek because that is what carries them up, up, up.
In good conditions, a paraglider can take off from Mount Woodside, get hundreds of metres above the launch site and stay there for hours.
“I always loved heights when I was a little, the type of kid who cheered for turbulence on airplanes,” says Lang, who’s been para-gliding for 17 years. “For me, perfect conditions are a nice spring day where it’s chilly up top and warm at the bottom. Blue sky with those puffy Simpsons clouds that mark the top of thermals. No wind, or a light southwest wind about five to 10 kilometres and hour. And Westjet not flying that day so the ceiling is lifted!”
Lang has logged more than 2,000 flights, both solo and tandem, yet the thrill of para-gliding has never lessened.
“Conditions are always different,” she explains. “A morning flight might be calm and quiet. Then the wind picks up in the afternoon and you’re soaring higher. The next time the sun’s come out and it’s a bit more turbulent. The last flight of the day might be beautiful and calm again as you watch the sun start to set.”
Thermals are key, whose columns of hot air that para-gliders work so hard to find.
“Birds are good markers to see where thermals are, and we fly with a lot of eagles at Mount Woodside,” Lang says. “Eagles. Hawks. Falcons. We’ve been around so long they’ll come up and fly wingtip to wingtip with us, which is incredible. They help us find the thermals. Once we’re inside one we fly up to the top and go looking for the next one.”
The view, she says, is incomparable.
“I like the evening flights when the sun gets lower in the sky and it’s reflecting off the river,” Lang notes. “Elk Mountain gives you a great view of Cultus Lake. You can’t have a bad view from up there. Everything is beautiful. Stunning.”
What goes up must come down, but Lang says landing a para-glider isn’t a violent process.
“If you’ve seen sky-divers, our landings are a lot softer than that,” she says. “We have wind indicators and flags at the landing field, and most of the times it’s nothing more than like stepping off a step. If it’s a hard landing it might be like running down the stairs and missing the last couple. You may just have to run it out.”
From the moment her feet hit the ground, the anticipation starts building again, until Lang is once more soaring through the clouds above Chilliwack.
Lang is one of a handful of paragliding instructors based in the Fraser Valley.
Find her website at jetsetparagliding.com
For lots of general para-gliding info, see westcoastsoaringclub.com