Paragliding is an adventure activity that is now available as a day-trip from Kota Kinabalu.
The Rustic Borneo team set out early one morning recently to explore Sabah’s paragliding options, hoping to discover what it’s like to soar above the clouds.
Our chosen site was the area just outside the town of Ranau, famous for Poring Hot Springs and Rafflesia blooms. It’s in the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu about 108km from Kota Kinabalu, roughly 45 minutes drive from Kinabalu Park.
The terrain is rich in hills and valleys, greenery and picturesque streams dotting the landscape. This topography is ideal for paragliding, being prone to the type of upwards wind required for a good flight.
We arrived on schedule at the Ranau Sports Complex and met the paragliding crew’s 4×4 transport. The paragliding takeoff-site is perched on the top of a hill and the road leading there is too rough for normal cars.
Paragliding in Ranau
After a short off-road journey we reached a bald patch where a little hut and a huge, limp wind-sock greeted us. The breeze was steady, but according to the pilots not strong enough for flight yet.
While waiting for the wind a briefing on the procedure and the equipment was conducted. We also signed indemnity forms after hearing about the inherit risks involved in paragliding. It is, after all, an adventure activity.
As if the wind waited for it’s indemnity, the wind-sock billowed and our pilots laid out their paragliding rigs.
The take-off zone is a large, grass square that slopes down and into a cleared dirt patch, which in turn ends in dense shrubs dropping away with the side of the hill.
The first of our intrepid explorers got strapped into the harness. A snug fit, the harness is a bulky affair. Not only does it perform the obvious function of securing you to the pilot and paragliding rig, but it also doubles as a comfortable seat during the flight, and has extra padding for a soft landing. A helmet on the noggin completes the safety gear.
Paragliding Takeoff into the Wind
Our paragliding passenger was lead to where the paragliding rig spread out on the grass, pointing into the wind, the direction of take-off. They were secured to the paragliding pilot, who gave final instructions to run when told and not stop until airborne.
In one swift, smooth motion the pilot pivoted to face the paragliding rig, tugged on the strings which made the canopy rise up into the air, and turned around, canopy overhead, passenger in front.
A quick ‘go’ and the pair started running forward, down the grass verge. Just as they were about to reach the dirt patch, they lifted off the ground ever so slightly, but kept running, feet churning in the air.
Moments later as they gained more height, first passenger then pilot shifted back into a sitting position and off they went soaring above the hills and valleys of the Ranau district, the paraglider solid as an airplane’s wing.
Soaring above Ranau
The takeoff seemed a little harrowing, but once airborne a sense of serenity set in. The whole experience hinges on the silence, the weightlessness and the unusual perspective of your surroundings.
You might feel as if you could stay up there forever, casually observing the planet from high up, where it’s quiet and clear.
Depending on the prevailing wind conditions, the paragliding session involves either hanging high above and near the takeoff zone, or flying down into the valley, or perhaps out towards the sports complex.
Whatever the case may be, it will always feel too short.
And so it was that our team from Rustic Borneo experienced the gift of flight with our paragliding adventure in Ranau. High on adrenaline we packed into our van, settling down for the journey back to Kota Kinabalu.
Some took a nap, the excitement of it all perhaps a little overwhelming. Everyone had smiles on their faces, perhaps dreaming of being back up there among the birds and the clouds.