When you drive by Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, you can’t miss the hang gliders perched on top of the landmark sand dunes. Like giant colorful birds, they coast down over the sandy slope to land gracefully at the bottom. While some of us had more graceful landings than others, our Outer Banks hang gliding experience was the highlight of our stay in the area. Thank you to Kitty Hawk Kites for the media rate to experience this adventure.
Hang Gliding Outer Banks, NC
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is the perfect place to learn to hang glide. After all, the Wright Brothers chose this place to test their airplanes because of the strong ocean breezes that flow through the area. Now we can learn to hang glide using the same principles, just down the road from the place the brothers took their own first flight.
What goes down must first go up, so we needed to get to the top of the Jockey’s Ridge Dunes. Unfortunately, there’s no escalator for this part, just good old-fashioned foot power. After the initial introduction video, we were outfitted with helmets and flight harnesses, then hiked our way up the sandy dunes. The class was split into small 4-5 person groups, each with a hang gliding school instructor.
Jockey’s Ridge Hang Gliding Lessons
Once hooked to the glider, each of us had a chance to practice the shifting body motions used to steer right and left, along with the hard overhead push (called a flare) needed to land upright on our feet. Then it was time to practice all we had learned. I watched each of my children run and take off, the wind catching the wings and effortlessly lifting and carrying them downhill. The man behind me tumbled down the hill instead of flying. I held my breath as I clipped my harness in place, not knowing which of those experiences I was about to have.
After my “hang check”, where I demonstrated my ability to theoretically steer and land my hang glider, it was time to run. I ran (And I don’t run, so you know I wanted it to work!) and lifted off!
Yes, I was flying! Hooray for the laws of aerodynamics!
In fact, I was so excited that I didn’t hear our instructor Ryan say “flare”, and I awkwardly crashed into the sand with all the grace of a trout on a riverbank. Luckily, I got more chances!
Outer Banks Hang Gliding Video
Each of us took five flights during our 2 hours on Jockey’s Ridge. One had 5 perfect flights (and can’t wait to sign up for advanced hang gliding lessons). The other kids had three. Parents? Well, we each had one. But luckily the sand makes a soft landing! We all agree, though, an Outer Banks hang gliding lesson should definitely be at the top of your vacation must-do list!
Our GoPro captured some “bird’s eye” video of our flights, and we turned it into a video of our lessons on Jockey’s Ridge Dunes. Take a look!
Hang Gliding School Tips:
- Bring Water. – The sun reflects off the sand and makes it hot, and you’re climbing the dune after each flight. Bring more than you think you need, and we recommend a small portable cooler if you’d like it to stay cold.
- Wear decent footwear. – I wore Merrill water shoes. Many people wore regular trainers. Two of our kids purchased sand socks, which are neoprene with thick bottoms. Good shoes will protect your feet from the heat of the sand and make it easier to walk. Those who wore flip flops ended up abandoning them quickly.
- Comfortable clothing. – You will get sand in your clothes. Especially if you don’t stick the landing. Dress accordingly.
- Sunscreen. – There is no shade or sun protection on the dunes, and the sand reflects the rays. Wear your sunscreen and sunglasses to safeguard your skin and eyes.
- Relax and Enjoy! – Everyone is new. Lots of people belly flopped like I did. Some had perfect landings. A couple people tumbled. But we all eventually got the hang of hang gliding Jockey’s Ridge and cheered each other on in the process.
If you’re staying near Kitty Hawk, hang gliding is an amazing way to experience flight the same way it began. Join the action, take the (literal) leap and experience hang gliding for yourself in one of the best launch spots on the East Coast.
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