Special Feature: Paragliding
Paragliding in â€˜Sky Sports Townâ€™, Aogaki!
Have you ever stared at a bird gliding about in the sky and imagined what that would be like? Have you ever taken it a step further and tried to make it happen? Well, hereâ€™s your chance!
I work part-time in Aogaki, a town near the middle of Hyogo Prefecture, north of Kobe. It is known here as Sky Sports Town. On clear days, I look out my window and I can see paragliders skillfully wafting about over nearby mountains. At first this was merely a spectacle for me, but soon after I wanted to join them. I asked my coworkers and discovered their headquarters, Tak Paragliding, was nearby.
Imagine the look on their faces when after work one day, an office-clad foreigner comes in inquiring about paragliding. Confused by the whole scenario before them, they asked if I wanted to go right then and there! Laughing, I explained that I worked nearby and had seen them, so I wanted to come back with my boyfriend. Delighted, Mr. Tak gave me all the information I needed. In his younger days, he traveled the world as a competitor. It was some time ago, but even now he retains good conversational English â€“ a helpful thing when the time came to understand the procedures involved in this extreme sport. Afterwards, he regaled me with stories about his time as a professional competitor. It turned out that he was once the world record holder for the longest distance flown while hang gliding (which he did on Mt. Everest!). Semi-retired and back in his hometown, providing tandem rides and instructing new paragliders has turned into a family business.
I waited for another clear day and called Mr. Tak to see if the day also met his approval. He enthusiastically said yes, so I changed my clothes and off we went. Anything comfortable can be worn, but a sturdy pair of shoes is required (for a safe landing). Together with some trainees, we met at HQ, packed up a van full of gear and equipment, and headed up the mountain. We stopped near the top and took a short walk to a clearing already mounted with a wooden platform. As they set up, my boyfriend and I snapped some pictures of our surroundings. It was a beautiful day with clear visibility all around. I was permitted to bring my own camera along for the ride, but Mr. Tak also has one that he fits onto an extension pole to get nice shots of the gliders up in the air.
Finally suited up, I volunteered to go first. Would a sane person jump off the side of a mountain? Only when theyâ€™re strapped to a professional and a parachute! And what a thrill it was to do! With that final leap off the edge, I became that bird soaring over the land. I thought I would be cold up there, but the adrenaline had my blood pumping. As one could expect, the scenery was gorgeous. The once towering mountains had become mounds under my feet. I was my own cloud casting a shadow on the town below. The wind would alternate from being motionless, making me feel suspended in the air, to gusting and giving me the giggles as our chute would catch in a spin. Having jumped after me, I eventually saw my boyfriend. We looked over at each other and waved liked two kids on swings at a playground; except our swings were in the sky.
We floated around for about twenty minutes before landing with a thump in a smiley face delineated field. Still giddy, Mr. Tak and I waited for the others to land before heading back to HQ.
The price for this excursion was 11,000å†† total. The service and professionalism were exceptional. I never once felt like I was in danger, and knowing that I was contributing to the legacy of this manâ€™s family and town, I was happy to pay it. I travel to Aogaki by car, but a train can be taken all the way to the next town over, Tamba, and then a local bus can take you the rest of the way (about 35 minutes). More information can be found over on their website, tak.ne.jp (not in English, but some access maps and other things are easy to figure out), so make your way to Aogaki and leap into the sky! You wonâ€™t regret it!