Passengers enjoy views of
Oahu’s Waianae Mountains.
I never completely understood the phrase “free as a bird” until I
took a glider ride above Oahu’s North Shore in a Schweizer 2-32
named Sky Surfer that was as trim and graceful as a seabird.
Friends thought I was crazy to cruise the skies in an aircraft
with no engine. But as my pilot, Steve “Woody” Wood, president and
co-owner of The Original Glider Rides, pointed out, “An airplane
doesn’t need an engine to fly!”
Planes stay aloft due to air passing above and below their wing
surfaces. They’re designed to allow moving air to pass under their
wings more efficiently than over the top, thus creating lift.
The tour gliders that operate from Dillingham Airfield in
Mokuleia maintain altitudes of between 2,000 and 3,000 feet and
speeds of between 50 and 100 miles per hour by flying in updrafts.
Formed when 15- to 25-mile-per-hour trade winds hit the slopes of
the Waianae Mountains, updrafts are present here year-round,
providing the perfect conditions for Wood’s business.
Contrary to popular belief, flying in a glider is one of the
safest means of air travel, according to Wood. Gliders have few
mechanical parts, and there is no engine to break down. That also
means a quiet ride, facilitating conversation between pilot and
passengers about places of interest on the ground.
Founded 37 years ago, The Original Gilder Rides is Hawaii’s
oldest and largest glider operation. All of its pilots are
certified and commercially rated (able to carry passengers) by the
Federal Aviation Administration, and the company has an unblemished
That knowledge was reassuring as I settled in Sky Surfer behind
Wood. A 200-foot cable connected the glider to the towplane that
carried us down the runway and up, up, up to the proper altitude.
When Wood released the cable, the towplane turned away, leaving us
soaring on our own, incredible vistas visible through Sky Surfer’s
clear bubble-top cockpit.
Kaena Point lay dead ahead, bordered on all sides by the
cobalt-blue Pacific. Beyond that, the view extended to include
Yokohama Bay and Makua and Makaha beaches. As Wood eased Sky Surfer
into a wide arc over the ocean, I saw the sleepy towns of Waialua
and Haleiwa and windsurfers dancing on the waves. Propelled by
natural forces instead of engines, Sky Surfer provided the
smoothest, quietest flight I’d ever experienced. It was flying in
its purest and simplest form joyful, exhilarating, free as a
The Original Glider Rides
Prices start at $50 for one person and $98 for two people.
Commission: 15 percent