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Wind, Sun and the Ocean: The Aerial Thrills of Paragliding Over Đà Nẵng

Paragliding means heaving in a lungful of air, bracing against a gale’s resistance, letting one’s mind ponder the vastness of the ocean below, floating in the middle of the sky, and — for me this time — taking film photos.

Across the length of Vietnam, there are myriad recreational activities that adrenaline junkies can participate in, from trekking among the northwestern mountains, stand-up paddling along the central coast, surfing the crests of Mũi Né waves, or marveling at coral reefs while diving in Phú Quốc and Nha Trang.

On Đà Nằng’s Sơn Trà Peninsula, one can take in the beauty of Vietnam not just along the road or from the ocean, but via the incredible vantage point of the troposphere through paragliding.

Floating above Đà Nẵng.

Introduction to paragliding

Paragliding is an adventure sport not for the faint-hearted. Participants jump or are dropped from a certain altitude that could be hundreds or thousands of meters from ground level. After that, they glide horizontally while supported by a fabric wing until landing.

To get the glider up high, the pilot must take advantage of lift and gravity. Both take-off and landing are on foot. Depending on the type, the paragliding wing, or canopy, can have space for a single harness or tandem harness. Gliders control the canopy’s movement by sensing the movements of the air. Paragliding enthusiasts can opt to explore the sky alone or in tandem with a friend or professional.

Faster alone, more fun in pairs.

Where to start paragliding

At a height of 700 meters above sea level, Sơn Trà has become an ideal base for those wishing to experience the exhilaration of gliding across the sky. Near the peninsula’s peak lies a patch of flat land while below is the deep green of the jungle. The most important factor, of course, is the abundance of wind that naturally surrounds the peninsula.

Inexperienced paragliders must be accompanied by a certified gliding pilot with all required documents presented to the peninsula’s management committee. If take-off is allowed, you will have a rare opportunity to observe the entirety of the Sơn Trà Nature Reserve, Mỹ Khê Beach, and metropolitan Đà Nẵng from a crane’s viewpoint.

Starting point: The take-off ground on top of Sơn Trà.

Before flying, there are a few things to consider.

Because paragliding is an extreme sport, participants must follow very strict guidelines to ensure they stay safe throughout the duration of the trip.

First, check the local weather on the day to see if it’s ideal for flying. If the sky is too cloudy, rainy or stormy, take-off is not possible. Furthermore, after 4pm, experts warn that the wind direction tends to be unpredictable and the visible range is very limited due to a lack of lighting, so it’s best to postpone the session to the next morning. Those living with vascular or blood pressure disorders, or acrophobia are strongly advised against paragliding.

Attire-wise, gliders are freer to express their personal style compared to other sports, but my advice is to stick to long pants and a jacket and avoid skirts or dresses. A pair of sports shoes might be suitable for helping with the take-off run.

Ready for flying!

18 minutes to touch the sky

A mutual friend introduced me to Thế Anh, a professional paragliding pilot in Đà Nẵng. Anh is a member of Danang Paragliding — a gliding club that hosts instructional classes. Members have joined numerous paragliding events throughout the country, like Mù Cang Chải (Yên Bái), Đường Tam (Lai Châu), and Tri Tôn (An Giang). As a veteran, Thế Anh is entrusted with handling the technical control of the flight. I could only contribute by…wholeheartedly enjoying the incredible view of Đà Nẵng.

My trusty pilot preparing for take-off.

11am: Pre-flight

Thế Anh picked me up at the Mân Thái Beach and we took a cab together to Sơn Trà. After driving past many checkpoints where our documents were assessed by officials, we finally reached the paragliding ground.

Before we flew, my pilot gave me many instructions. The most pressing priority was to fully cooperate with him and understand how to assist him when needed. The other requirement was to mentally prepare myself for take-off.

Waiting for the wind.

One needs to understand and accept the inherent risks of paragliding. During the flight, one must only touch wing components with the pilot’s permission.

11:30am: Assessing the wind direction

First and foremost, a flight can’t start without a thorough inspection of the day’s wind. Once it’s determined that the wind direction and volume are satisfactory, the pilot will start setting up.

The guest glider will be tightened into a harness and given a helmet. The pilot checks the wing and then deploys it in the correct way for take-off.

There's the wind, let's fly!

12pm: Fly!

After a final wind and equipment check, the pilot and guest glider make a dash according to the pilot’s instructions. When in the air, the pilot will help you adjust the position so you’re as comfortable in the harness as possible.

Linh Ứng Pagoda from above.

Đà Nẵng Bay and city center.

Floating in the sky.

Thế Anh occasionally steered us according to the wind direction, levitating across patches of thick forest on the Sơn Trà Peninsula. From above, I caught the entire structure of Linh Ứng Pagoda. The 70-meter-tall Avalokiteśvara statue seemed as tiny as table decor. Our wing slowly made its way to the sea, bringing us closer to Tiên Sa Port and scores of majestic bridges that connect the banks of the Hàn River. I sat there in my harness, my legs swaying in the air, my hands working my camera to capture everything from the basket boats on the far horizon to the throngs of traffic just beneath us.

The pilot also prepared a GoPro for us and I only needed to hold it. Breathe in a lungful of fresh ocean air, feel the wind resistance on my chest, and let my mind immerse in the view — this was no doubt an unforgettable milestone of my life!

12:18pm Landing on Mân Thái Beach

After 18 minutes in the air, Thế Anh guided the canopy down a sandy beach in Mân Thái, putting an end to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Back to reality.

On the beach again after 18 minutes in the sky.

There’s no need for feathers like birds. There’s no need to be as light as clouds. There’s also no need for complex plane engines. Paragliding in Đà Nẵng is an accessible way for humans to explore our aerial dreams.

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