One of the many fine perks of being an expat is the constant state of excitement and willingness to try new things, knowing that your time in that country will eventually run out. My mind is always seeking for an adventure, any outlet to try something new. Korea has given me the opportunity to try snowboarding, taekwondo, rock climbing, and travel to the Philippines where I did ziplining and wakeboarding. With the exception of ziplining, Koreans who speak little English have kindly aided me in learning all of these activities. Yes, there were even Koreans at the Philippine wakeboarding center who gave me some tips using body language. Whoever said Koreans are terrible and rude probably are either unlucky or assholes themselves and deserved the treatment. The Koreans I’ve encountered are so empathic and willing to inconvenience themselves to help others, even strangers.
Anyway, my most recent endeavor was paragliding. To be frank, I decided I wanted to go paragliding before I even knew exactly what it was. Flying in the air somewhere in Korea was enough for me.
A couple of friends took advantage of our first three-day weekend of the school year. We rented two cars and ventured off to one of the biggest cities in Korea, Daegu. We met at the Big Bird Paragliding and relaxed on some couches with the experts who we’d be flying with. The people were easy going and pleasant to be around. They reminded me of the people at the climbing gym. It’s always nice to meet some “alternative” Koreans. You know, boys who don’t have feathery permed hair and purses and girls who don’t wear heels while hiking.
After some time, we piled into our cars to follow a truck and van bursting with people and equipment. Lee hopped in our car for an entertaining conversation. He lived in France for a while and it showed. He learned English from a French person, so some of his phrases (e.g., “as you wish”) and accent in general sound like a combination of French and Korean. It’s quite an interesting sound. Lee also was bad ass enough to paraglide for ten hours straight in Europe. Have to pee? You’re going to just have to wet yourself.
We abruptly encountered some holiday traffic, but once we got to the countryside of Hapcheon, the roads belonged to us. The scenery was lovely and the air fresh. Could it be more perfect?
After parking our car in front of a randomly placed soccer field, we looked up to find people flying above us. It was soon our turn. The guides directed us to pile into their filthy van loaded with makeshift seats (from transporting too many Koreans) and snack crumbs. I didn’t mind at all though; it felt comfortable to be around laid back Koreans who aren’t hyper clean.
The twenty minute ride up the mountains was bumpy. Our anticipation increased as we inched further and further up the curvy dirt path. When we finally parked and did a sketchy k-turn, we scooched out of the van like some circus clowns and equipped ourselves with heavy paragliding gear. Thus, short ten minute hike to the peak seemed a bit longer than that.
As soon as I could, I threw off the heavy gear and admired the view of the various greens of the geometrical farms. Korean “paragliding pilots” soon began to claim individual foreigners to ride with them. Luckily, I got paired up with Lee.
I watched Liz and Jason get strapped into the awkward seats and casually run off the mountain. We were taught to run with all of our might to the edge and just jump, still pumping your legs while you’re in the air. The others take care of your parachute by flinging it high into the air to catch the wind.
Running and jumping off of the tall mountain was the most invigorating portion of the ride. Once you’re floating, it’s a smooth and peaceful excursion from there. You have 360 views of the mountains and surrounding area with little noise but the wind under your chute. As your feet dangle, you can’t help but think about how your life is dependent on some fabric and the breeze. Lee let me control the movements by pulling down on whichever side you choose to turn. After a few minutes of peace, Lee asked me if I wanted to do a “spider dive”. Sure, why not? Minutes later, Lee pulled down on the strings tightly and we began spiraling and diving in forceful circles. My sight began to blur as I felt the twists in my stomach. It’s nothing I’m not used to; I was a gymnast after all.
I am so glad I was able to experience the “spiral dive” as I now understand. Because of that endeavor, we had to take an early landing into a farm. I was told to keep my feet up and land on my butt, but I instinctively put my feet down while we landed.
If you’re searching for an adrenaline rush, paragliding might not be the sport to undertake, but I’d say it’s a worthwhile experience. You get a sense of what it is like to fly unlike bungee jumping, where you’re falling so fast that it is not easy to enjoy the scenery.
The company we went through was Big Bird Paragliding. I can’t compare it to others, but we had a wonderful experience with them. http://www.bigbirdpara.co.kr/