NORTH SHORE, Oahu Free-falling from a parachute seemed a bit risky,
so I took a safer alternative, but one with similar sensations.
During a recent visit to Oahu, I satisfied a longtime desire to
soar in a glider. Riding in a glider (not to be confused with hang
gliding), you’re still floating in air, absorbing spectacular views
while drifting casually toward earth. But instead of hanging limply
from a parachute, you are enveloped by a protective cocoon.
“It’s the most exciting adventure many people have on the
island,” says Bill Star, a.k.a. Mr. Bill, co-owner of The Original
Glider Rides, which has offered the flights since 1970. Located on
Oahu’s gorgeous North Shore, The Original Glider Rides takes off
from Dillingham Airfield, about a 50-minute drive from Waikiki on
the South Shore.
Riders may go individually or in pairs if their combined weight
meets certain requirements. But if you’re flying with a companion
(my daughter and I shared a ride), be sure it’s someone you don’t
mind cozying up with in the compact back seat.
While twosomes ride in the rear, a single can opt for the front,
which brings the opportunity to take control of the glider an idea
that greatly tempted my husband. But fortunately, my husband was
too busy looking around and taking pictures to be bothered with
flying the glider too. Because a glider has no engine and cannot
become airborne on its own, it must be towed into the skies by
another plane. How high you go depends on the length of the ride
and wind currents. Guest rides generally last about 20 minutes to
an hour, cover a five- to six-mile radius, and ascend up to 2,500
After assuring that my daughter and I were properly snug, our
pilot physically maneuvered the lightweight craft into position,
tethered it to a small plane, and hopped in just before we started
skimming the runway. Takeoff felt like being pulled by rope in a
sled or wagon, except that suddenly the glider’s wheels were above
the ground, and we were kept on course by a rope stretched between
the two planes. Then, ever so quietly, when we reached the desired
altitude the tether was dropped, and the host plane flew away.
There we were floating in air awed by the spectacular beauty of
Row after row of waves rolled to shore, broke silently against
the sand, and retreated to the sea. Coral shined beneath the clear
blue water. I caught glimpses of cattle and horse trails along
rugged volcanic mountains, and the vegetation seemed greener from
several thousand feet above ground. Blocks of sugar-cane fields
from Waialua Plantation drifted beneath me. It was eerily quiet.
Being motorless, the glider floated silently through the air, with
only the sound of wind and our clicking cameras to break the
reverie. With 30 to 40 miles of visibility, the view from our
bubble top was breathtaking.
“We fly in a rural area, perfect for sightseeing,” says Mr.
Bill, who knows the landscape thoroughly.
Whoosh. A rush of air spontaneously lifted us higher; then a
downdraft plunged the craft. Although winds may buffet the plane
with up-and-down movement, the ride is still quite smooth unless
you have an adventurous pilot bent on giving you a thrilling ride.
By maneuvering to catch wind drifts, it’s possible to achieve a
roller-coaster effect (or not, if your stomach rebels). If you’re
truly gutsy, take a spin in one of the company’s specialty
machines, designed to perform a series of aerobatic maneuvers at
Eventually the glider began drifting downward. We saw the
horizon approaching and wished the ride could last longer. With a
slight bump, wheels touched the runway, and the glider wobbled
leisurely to a stop. The adventure ended, but the thrill and
“Absolutely fantastic,” said my daughter (who is in her
twenties), and I agree.
Allow enough time, either before your ride or after, to enjoy
the many beaches and pipeline waves of the North Shore. Waimea Bay
is a popular destination for renting scooters or kayaks. Also
factor in a few hours for sightseeing in Haleiwa, a quaint historic
town and surfer mecca with abundant shopping and dining
|GLIDER RIDES: THE DETAILS|
At The Original Glider Rides, gliders fly every day from 10:30
a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weather permitting. Rates listed on the Web site
are $100 for a single and $120 for a double ride, but the company
often runs special promotions. A thrilling 10-minute aerobatic
adventure is $125. “Real time” videos (made with cameras inside and
outside the glider and a microphone for comments) are available for
$35 with advance notice. All ages are welcome, but it might be hard
for very young kids to see out the window and sit still while
belted in. Agents may make advance reservations or work through
local travel agents in Oahu. Commission is 20 percent.
808-677-3404; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;