Winged Migration

Proflyght Paragliding offers clients a bird’s-eye view

By: Marty Wentzel

The meeting spot for Proflyght Paragliding was so remote that I thought I made a wrong turn somewhere. When the twisting Upcountry Maui road reached an elevation of 3,500 feet, I almost chickened out until I saw the company’s sign. Someone waved; I was committed.

The thought of flying 1,500 feet off the ground had me a little rattled as I climbed into the transport van. But all the way up to the 6,500-foot launch site, company owner Dexter Binder chatted about the experience with a reassuring tone and winning smile. I figured if he planned to strap himself behind me for the flight, he would do all he could to make it safe.

“People mistakenly think of paragliding as parachuting or skydiving, but paragliding is much safer,” said Binder. “We never leave the ground without an aircraft over our head. I’ve flown over 10,000 flights and never needed to use my reserve parachute.”

Each month, Proflyght takes about 100 people on tandem rides. They go first thing in the morning during a two-hour window or so, when the winds are right. We strapped on our gear, including a seven-pound pack.

“It’s mostly for protection in case you fall on your backside,” said Binder, as he spread out the nylon glider.

He snapped himself to me, and we savored the scenery while waiting for the wind to be just right.
“As the glider fills with air, it’s going to pull us back, but just keep running,” he said.

The time had come. I shuffled my feet as hard as I could, and the next thing I knew, I was running on air. As we soared, Binder pointed out landmarks like the West Maui Mountains, Kahoolawe Island and the sunken crater of Molokini. Except for the sound of the wind and my occasional hoop and holler, the world was silent.

“We’re only moving about 20 mph, relatively slow for an extreme sport,” Binder said.

A paraglider is also easy to operate: A tiny tug on the lines turns the craft in one direction or another. Binder demonstrated the simple dynamics by letting go of the handles and stretching his arms out like a bird. I followed suit. As we shifted our weight and arms, the glider followed our lead.

“How do you feel about roller coasters?” he asked.

I nodded. He pulled on the right line and we did a few loop-de-loops, more thrilling than any carnival ride.

Binder got his first taste of paragliding in 1988 after winning some cash on a lotto ticket. He had always wanted to fly and was hooked after one trip. He took over Proflyght Paragliding in 2002.

About twice a week, clients might spot Binder soaring with his pet duck, Chucky, whom he trained how to take off and fly next to him. Man and mallard glide effortlessly above the Upcountry hills, to the amusement of onlookers.

Our flight lasted 15 minutes, but I could have continued all day. As we lowered ourselves to the ground near the original meeting place, we prepared for what was a soft and easy landing.

When all of our gear was stripped off, I felt like jumping for joy, which is precisely the response Binder hopes to hear from each client.

“I want to help people overcome their fears and give them a thrill,” he said.

Looking up, I envied the tandem gliders who soared above. There would be only one cure for that: Go back up and glide again.


Proflyght Paragliding

A 10- to 15-minute tandem ride costs $175 per person. Proflyght offers a three- to five-minute lower tandem ride for $75, for clients who want to see if they like it.
Commission: 10 percent.