On the list of things I’d never have imagined doing, throwing myself of high objects is pretty high up. Near the top. A paralysing fear of heights pretty much has me kicking and screaming up average sized mountains so as I was perched on a seat in a warm, careering mini-bus being pelted towards the 6000ft (1600-and-something metres) high Badabag Paragliding Station I was pretty surprised at myself for having even handed over the dosh and got in the vehicle.
I talked to a few people sat around me and was pretty impressed that a bunch of them also considered themselves scared of heights – question is, why are we all doing this to ourselves? I had been assured, however, that there was no jumping involved.
The top of Badabag was teeming, it’s the Piccadilly Circus of paragliding at this time – the sunset slot, although the sun seemed stubbornly far away from setting – and I was simultaneously reassured and terrified by the hordes of people drifting up into the distance as we disembarked. The instructors are fabulous at not giving you time to think (I only saw one person wimping out, he kept sitting down on the floor every time they tried to get him to take off, I do hope he made it eventually); they just chuck you in a harness and helmet, keep you talking, demand a quick selfie and then make for the steepest bit of concrete that is free.
It’s been paved up here for take-off but there is something quite alarming about the concrete just falling away into nothing; it may not be a sheer cliff face but it’s damn steep. Before you know it a spot has become free as some other helpless dangling body sails off screaming into the orangey sky. They clip you in – ‘when I say walk, we walk forward, maybe I say run, then we run yes?’. Erm… yes?! It was this point I could feel my stomach plunging and twirling in anticipation and I thought I might just say no and stop but you can feel the adrenaline kicking in too and mine was enough to hold down the fear.
It’s a weird feeling as the wind takes the slack in the large brightly coloured wind sock behind you and attached to you; you get tugged and you’re walking forward whether you like it or not. There may also be a blokey helping with take-offs who will grab the front of your harness and begin to drag you – it helps the general feeling of, ‘whether I like it or not’. Then you’re running and you’re gone. It’s so simple I laughed much more than I screamed (although one or two profanities may have slipped past my lips), there’s no jumping or plummeting sensation or moment of agonizing fear, there’s just sailing up like a balloon. Gentle as you like. You can rearrange yourself to sitting now and it becomes obvious why this is a tourist attraction; it’s pretty comfy up there, you have nothing to do except get an adrenaline rush and the view is phenomenal. The beach is tiny. The hotels are almost invisible. The sea is so blue, turquoise in the shallows and rich, almost-navy a little further out. Then sun is spreading a warm haze over everything and my tandem partner explains a little about the thermals that are to thank for carrying us around up here. From and living in the nearby town of Fethiye, he has been doing tandem flights for 12 years, and begun gliding at the age of 14, which I consider an impressive resume, when this route becomes unusable in the winter the paraglide from a venue further west. Non-stop flying, seven days a week, all year.
It might make you feel sick, even if you have a strong stomach; my partner asks me to warm him as he has a bag for this very scenario. ‘Sometimes people don’t warn me, then they spewy in my face’ – an exact quote I kid you not. When you’re not feeling slightly motion sick, as you might in a simulator, it’s very relaxing and just immensely peaceful up there, riding the thermals, the envy of all below (probably). Then sometimes it’s not. He asks me if I want to spin and my brother did so I can hardly refuse and be one-upped. I get video footage to prove it. Spinning is optional but it’s one hell of a rush. No roller coaster can match up; you drop rapidly, sometimes angled so the fabric of your trusty ‘chute is actually below you and you’re hammering round and round. There is no way you can feel sick doing this, there’s too much else to feel: the wind, the G-Force, the sheer adrenaline, I could even feel my flailing feet going numb it was incredible.
Landing is also not unexciting. You sway quite dramatically into a steep drop towards the street below, where tourists may or may not get out of your way. You are aiming for a patch of grass on the open sea front but if you over shot you’d only hit the beach. The instructor’s feet hit the floor first then you stand up too, usually staggering a bit with the plain shock of dropping to the pavement at such an alarming rate, even with rather handsome young men running alongside to grab your strings and make sure you’re properly grounded. I was certainly not grounded. Not for a while after doing that. What a buzz! I would certainly repeat it – and 100% recommend it.
P.s. I’m counting this as another new sport I’ve tried, although I cannot afford to take it up full time!
If you’re interested I flew with Gravity, one of many fairly equally priced companies you can find on the high street of ölüdeniz. They are all rated pretty well, I wouldn’t be in a position to recommend one over the other and besides, they’re all sharing facilities and being pretty friendly, there’s no hard sell or company-bashing here. It cost 370 TL to fly plus 140 TL to have my photos and DVD – so no, it’s not cheap, but it was definitely worth it, and well worth weighing up.