Tandem Paragliding: A Worthy Addition To Your Bucket List?

Many of us maintain a bucket list of places to visit and activities to accomplish before we, well,… “go”. Usually consisting of travels to exotic locales, or exciting activities that we’d never do in our otherwise “normal” life. So how many of us listed jumping out of a perfectly working aeroplane as one of the entries?… Not too many, I’d reckon. Besides, skydiving is a pretty expensive hobby, and it takes too much time and effort to prepare for the jump… The next closest thing to skydiving?… Paragliding. You get strapped in similar harnesses, and dangle under a similar canopy. You even experience the same rush of wind in your face too. The only major difference is that you don’t need to jump out of a perfectly working aeroplane… You take off from the ground. And to make things even more achievable, there’s even an amateur version – tandem paragliding.

Tandem paragliding and a solo paraglider in the air
The black parachute is doing tandem paragliding whilst the yellow parachute is flying solo.
Source: Image by Malaysia Paragliding Team

What Exactly Is Tandem Paragliding?

Paragliding is essentially the same as skydiving with one main difference. The latter requires you to jump from an aeroplane at cruising altitude, and eventually glide and land on the ground. As for the former, you launch from the ground, glide into the air, and land back on the ground. Pretty good bargain for those who fear flying. As to the controls, well, whether skydiving or paragliding, they’re essentially the same.

Okay, I know now what’s paragliding, but what’s “tandem” paragliding? A quick search for the word “tandem” yields “different work done at the same time”. It also means two units positioned “front and back”, as in tandem horse carriage – one horse in front of another. Both of these pretty much describe what tandem paragliding really is. Two persons harnessed together under the same canopy as a single unit – usually one guest and one instructor. And these two persons are joint “in tandem”, with the guest at the front and the instructor at the back.

The instructor assumes control of the whole flight, while the guest, well, enjoy the view and the adrenaline rush!… Also positioned in tandem, the instructor can easily scream into the guest’s ear to convey any messages across if necessary. Very useful, considering the fact that wind noise is pretty loud up there in the sky. That and the fact that the guest is probably busy screaming in excitement to be paying attention to any instructions.

Tandem paragliding from the top view looking below
A typical tandem paragliding, with the instructor at the controls in the back, and the guest enjoying the view from the front.
Source: Image by Malaysian Paragliding Team

How’d A Nice Girl Like Me Get Involved In A Dangerous Activity Like Tandem Paragliding?

Alright, I’ll admit… I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie actually. Having experienced white water rafting previously, I was totally hooked, and looking forward to similarly exciting activities… So when I realised that tandem paragliding was available here in my home country Malaysia, I jumped at the opportunity. Extreme sports aren’t exactly staple in a conservative Asian culture like ours. So I’ll jump at any extreme sports opportunity that presents itself.

Enough Explanation… Let’s Get Into The Action!

I arrived at the location, a sloping plateau right next to the famous Bukit Jugra Lighthouse. Instead of guiding boats up and down the mouth of Langat River, it now marks the spot for paragliding takeoff. The morning breeze gently billows across my face, whilst the sun rises behind us, partially hidden by the lighthouse itself. The warm sunlight creeps across the horizon, slowly lighting up the town at the foot of the hill.

“That’s where we’re gonna land,” says Captain Ikhwan, as he points at the open field over the horizon, just short of the riverbank. My eyes darted between seeing where the voice came from, and where it was pointing me to look at… It was a relatively flat field of grass. Shouldn’t be much of a challenge, I thought. But why am I preoccupied with the landing when I haven’t even taken off yet? And that brought by gaze back to where I was, back to the sloping plateau.

Not Quite A Male-Dominated Sport After All

For the first time, I noticed we weren’t alone up there, right next to the lighthouse. More people were starting to gather there. Pockets of people started to form, noticeably getting themselves ready for their flight too, when I noticed something rather interesting. There were quite a number of women there too. And from the looks of it, they were gearing themselves up for their flight, not tandem like mine, but solo.

It might have been a flush of dopamine, as I could feel the goosebumps rise on my skin. I was proud of my fellow sisters, bravely taking on what could be described as a masculine activity. So if petite ladies like them can take to the sky all alone, I sure can too. Plus, I have an additional support in the form of an instructor in tandem with me.

Solo paraglider flying solo at Bukit Jugra
Gliding serenely above the scenic Langat River, with a glimpse of the famous Straits of Malacca over the horizon.
Source: Image by Malaysia Paragliding Team

Taking Off Into The Wind

I couldn’t remember getting strapped into the harness and helmet. A sudden rush of adrenaline jolted me awake. It won’t be too long, before I’ll be hanging for dear life from a thin shred of synthetic strap. But also strangely calming too, knowing that Captain Ikhwan will be guiding me throughout the whole flight.

“Are you ready?” Captain Ikhwan gently asked straight into my right ear. I nodded my head, trusting that he can see me, well, my helmet at least, from my back. I held onto the strap with my left hand, and the selfie stick with my right hand. The camera was pointing at me… us… to record the whole flight.

Before I knew what happened… “Run, run… ” I might have squealed like a little girl… I just followed my instincts, and I was already leaping into the air! My feet was already dangling and I struggled to keep my eyes open out of fear. I had no idea I was slightly acrophobic but forced myself to open my eyes. Behold, my heart rose up again when I saw the beautiful view. I could see the sun rays shining on the body of water and the strait! It was amazing!

It Was The Longest Ten Minutes Of My Life

The flight lasted ten minutes, but it was certainly the longest ten minutes of my life. And throughout the whole time, my heart was racing like a racehorse on the racetrack. Out of nowhere, it struck me like a lightning bolt – Lamaze… That’s right, the same Lamaze breathing technique famously practised by mothers when giving birth. If it can help calm the nerves of birthing mothers, I’m pretty sure it can calm mine too.

I took a deep breath and held it… before slowly releasing it out… Again, I inhaled deeply, and I held it. After the second time, I was noticeably less tensed. So yes, Lamaze breathing really helped. I could now relax, while I took in all the picturesque landscape beneath me. It was really serene, before I was rudely interrupted by yet another command, straight into my ear, “PREPARE TO RUN!… ”

My heart must have jumped right out of my chest, as we came in contact with solid ground. I must have tripped with all that excitement, and “crashed” onto the ground. I wasn’t hurt, but the same can’t be said about my pride. Captain Ikhwan grabbed the selfie stick from my now jelly-like hand, and started asking me a string of questions. Good thing that he did. It’s like jump-starting my frozen brain to start to function once again. It took me a good couple of seconds before I actually came out of my trance…

Step by step footage from the GoPro of me tandem paragliding at Bukit Jugra.

Would I Do It Again?… Yes, In A Heartbeat!

Captain Mohd Ikhwan Azirlah, formerly from the Royal Malay Regiment, founded Malaysia Paragliding back in 2000. Introducing paragliding as a sport in an otherwise conservative society may sound counterintuitive, but it’s proven to be a hit with the people. And offering tandem paragliding really opened up the activity to even inexperienced participants like myself.

The cliff of Bukit Jugra where paragliders take off and fly
Bukit Jugra is also the spot for paragliders to practise their solo flights during the weekend.
Source: Image by Malaysia Paragliding Team

But do take note before you jump head-first into the tandem paragliding bandwagon, remember to wear comfortable sport shoes. And make sure that you secure them properly too. Captain Ikhwan was quick to point out that some participants actually lost their shoes up there in the sky. Also don’t forget to wear long sleeves and apply lots of sunscreen too. The sun can get pretty harsh up there.

So Is Tandem Paragliding A Worthy Addition To My Bucket List?

Without a doubt, tandem paragliding is indeed a worthy addition to my bucket list. And the rest of you out there who’re still unsure about it, do check out their Facebook and Instagram profiles. Who knows, if you were to mention my name to them, they might even give you a discount too. *Wink*.

Hazwani CHE DIN

About Hazwani CHE DIN

Spent her childhood spread across several countries, Wani truly understands global cultures. Advocates fine art, and organises artisanal bazaar to promote them. What's next? Well, she plans to continue exploring uncharted areas; and continue immersing in and learning foreign cultures.

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