Ever since the popular advent of bungee jumping, many who inquire about gliders seem to equate these entirely unrelated activities as similar ways to fling themselves into space and take their chances. Some also needlessly fear both games, exposing fundamental misunderstanding of each. Hair-raising as bungee jumping might be, it’s safe enough provided certain conditions are met. After the jumper decides to GO, little more is required but some degree of, shall we say, personal fortitude. Soaring demands fortitude as well, and can reward it royally, yet involves so much more! It’s a process where seas of challenge and dilemma open out in every dimension, expanding beyond your personal event horizon – potentially all day long – until quickly narrowing to zero just before the end. Like life itself.
Soaring pilots set our own agendas, choosing what to do and where and how to do it, consciously accepting or rejecting various kinds of risk, and defining for ourselves the meanings of failure and success. Each tick of the wristwatch renews an intensely mental creative venture, all outcomes affected by deliberate yet tentative decision making, or a lack of it, in evolving circumstances which are never entirely understood. And never knowing quite how any of this will work out — that’s much of why we love it.
Every moment of every flight is unique, and in many ways self-determined. With thermals, we float in unseen bubbles of gas that only try to eject us (always resist). Running a ridge can be like cruise control on the freeway (stay in your lane), or depending where your are, scrambling through the woods naked (watch for snakes). Riding shearline is like following a foot trail that’s not always marked (don’t get lost). Soaring in wave? It’s surfing in heaven, slo-mo, on breakers ten thousand times larger than those at the beach (do remember Icarus). And the most important part of any flight, landing, can never happen until all other options are exhausted. (In the sweetest of finales, you feel grass drag your wheel into motion two heartbeats before touchdown, but now I’m getting unnecessarily personal.)
All of soaring’s many forms bear a deep vein of Zen. In this sense it’s more akin to rock climbing than the bungee thing. Scaling stone barriers, whether with fingers and toes or prosthetic wings, can be unspeakably satisfying, and perfectly safe if sound choices are made – then executed. In either of these two proactive sports, you should be always able to withdraw from even the most imposing difficulty to the safety of level ground, but that part will be up to you.
Otherwise, one infinitesimal moment of human stoopitude can lead abruptly to grave consequences. Those prone to getting trapped where they can neither go safely back nor forward may jeopardize more than just themselves… They should stick to bungee jumping.