Hang Gliding

I have always been fascinated by hang gliding, and the brave men and women who are hang gliders….I watch them soar and sail overhead, wafted about, riding the air currents like birds as they bank and swoop far overhead, their bodies extended in a flying position, their wings spread out above them as they fly out over the ocean or glide over the beach or the land below until they decide to guide themselves down….

I have talked to many hang gliders and they all say it is a such a peaceful, quiet feeling, and of course a totally different perspective, than being land bound…I will admit it, I have a fear of heights, like many people; this is an understatement in my case, I am just a big chicken at the thought of flying in these flimsy looking devices, they look so fragile and have no motor or mechanical means of support, I don’t know how they ever thought up this sport, the thought of being air bound like that terrifies me! And yet, it is so beautiful to even watch them!



Actually I do know, the concept of flying like a bird has been with us humans for aeons…If you go back in Greek mythology, you can find and read about the legend of Icarus….He was a mortal man who aspired to greatness, and his goal was to fly to the sun to prove he could….According to the legend, he and his father constructed two great sets of wings from giant bird feathers and leapt off the top of some high mountain….

And the wings worked! He was able to fly like a bird, but Icarus had a fatal flaw, and that was his pride, because he flew too close to the sun and the heat of the sun melted the wax holding the wings together and he plunged to his death which led to his downfall…Perhaps this pride, or hubris as the Greeks called it, was the moral of the story, that man should not aspire to be something that he is not, that a man is a man and will never be a bird…


It is like the old saying “Make sure your reach does not exceed your grasp.” But then again, if you don’t try, you will never know, and most of the great inventions conceived and constructed by man, like the airplane by the Wright brothers or the automobile or even the train were all dangerous, and at one time they were all denounced as foolhardy and bound to failure by the more conservative, less inventive, less creative, less visionary type of people….

The myth of Icarus goes like this, according to my Google sources, and it is based on both historical and mythological premises, there are several versions: “While in Crete Daedalus (the father of Icarus) created the plan for the Minoan Palace of Knossos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete and Greece today.” Basically after constructing this amazing labyrinth, a sort of maze, meant to hold prisoners (who would wander endlessly in this maze) and eventually die from being killed by the legendary Minotaur monster who lived there, there was a big falling out between Daedalus and the king, who imprisoned him in his own labyrinth! One of the more official legends goes like this:

“Icarus was the young son of Daedalus and one of King Minos’ servants. Daedalus was way too smart and inventive, thus, he started thinking how he and Icarus would escape the Labyrinth. Knowing that his architectural creation was too complicated, he figured out that they could not come out on foot. He also knew that the shores of Crete were perfectly guarded, thus, they would not be able to escape by sea either.

The only way left was the air. Daedalus managed to create gigantic wings, using branches of osier and connected them with wax. He taught Icarus how to fly, but told him to keep away from the sun because the heat would make the wax melt, destroying the wings. Daedalus and Icarus managed to escape the Labyrinth and flew to the sky, free. The flight of Daedalus and Icarus was the first time that man managed to fight the laws of nature and beat gravity.

Although he was warned, Icarus was too young and too enthusiastic about flying. He got excited by the thrill of flying and carried away by the amazing feeling of freedom and started flying high to salute the sun, diving low to the sea, and then up high again….Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. The Icarian Sea, where he fell, was named after him and there is also a nearby small island called Icaria.”

Another version or amplification of this legend goes like this: “Back in the day, the gods did not like it when humans tried to act like them by overcoming their mortal limits. In ancient Greek culture, acting like a god was called “hubris”, and it was often severely punished. Flying through the air definitely constituted hubris, since flight was supposed to be a strictly gods-only activity.

Of course, Daedalus and Icarus pay a price for overstepping their humanly bounds. Icarus dies and Daedalus loses a child—lose-lose. It’s an important lesson in humility, and the wisdom of living within your limits. The myth seems to be saying that instead of wanting something extraordinary (such as flying, or in Icarus’ case, flying really high), we should learn to be happy with what we already have.”


So like I said, even though I am terrified of hang gliders they also fascinate me…I live in San Francisco, and there is a well known hang gliding spot just a few miles from my house, at Ft. Funston, all you have to do is drive south on the Great Highway until it turns into Skyline Blvd, and there is a turnoff for the Ft. Funston hang gliding area…It is totally free to observe, and there is a large parking lot  and a hiking trail down to the beach far below…Dogs often run freely there too…

I have gone alone often and also taken my daughter, granddaughter and many friends over the years out to this vantage point where you can watch them take off, they have even recently built a bleacher like reviewing stand to watch the hang gliders swoop and sail far overhead…




What I really love is the transition from man to bird they seem to make so effortlessly…I watch them lay out their gear very precisely and then strap on their wings and walk to the very edge of the cliff and wait for an updraft and then POOF! They are carried aloft by a surging up current of air, and they are no longer ordinary people, they are birds! Once they launch themselves, only they decide when to come back down to the ground, to revert back from air bound birds to earth bound humans…


icarus21funstoncoupleonground icarus12ftfunstonlanding

icarus20funstonflyingicarus22funstontaking off

They are like a modern day Icarus, whose flaw was perhaps not so much in the concept of attempting to fly but his mad, doomed decision to fly to the sun to prove his immortality, or just because he thought he could…You can fly like Icarus with only a few lessons and a modest investment in equipment, and without the deadly ending!

Legends, however they are interpreted, are a lesson to us all, but then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained!

For more information on Icarus, see: http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/myth-of-daedalus-and-icarus
OR:www.shmoop.com › Mythology › Daedalus and Icarus › Themes

For more blogs by John Whye, see http://www.johnwhye.com

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