By Laura Ferreira
January 11, 2016

On the western end of the beach city of Santos, there is a hill that rises sharply, one hundred and eighty one meters above the sea. A paved but neglected road winds up the hill, through a small favela, ending abruptly at what is arguably the most gratifying vista for miles around. There – surrounded by views of white sand beaches and high rises – is a small restaurant, a flight center, and a grass field used for takeoff by paragliding and hang gliding pilots.

That is where I met with Prem Basir and Maria A. Petit, the international paragliding experts behind Basir Up in the AIR. We had all left São Paulo early that morning and made the hour and a half drive to Santos with hope that it would be a good day for flying. When we convened at the top of Morro do Itarar, the sky was clear with gentle tufts of clouds, and a soft wind was beginning to pick up. I had never paraglided before, but the day seemed too perfect not to amount to something.

Prem Basir and Maria explained to me that we would need to wait for the wind to pick up to ensure a longer flight, but that it did, indeed, look like a good day for flying. They suggested that we have a coconut water and chat at the restaurant next to the field while we waited for the perfect wind.

While we took in the view and had our drinks, Basir told me his history with Paragliding. He began paragliding years ago with a tandem flight and lessons at a site called Fuyang in China. His first experience was very positive. Basirs piqued interest led him to continue training on the Wasserkuppe – the birthplace for various types of flying (located in Germany). He then spent four years working for Papillon – the largest paragliding school in the world, and moved on to instruct and conduct guided paragliding trips across Europe and Latin America. Basir explained that he is a DHV certified paragliding instructor and tandem pilot.

All this information worked to calm my first-time nerves. Maria – who met Basir in Brazil, and spent time paragliding with him in Europe as well as Brazil – helped Basir to explain the physics of paragliding to me. They talked me through the weather conditions that create an enjoyable and lengthy flight, and the basics of preparation, flight, and landing. By the time the windsock was full, coming from the right direction, I felt confident and excited for the flight.

We walked to the flight club and registered, and Maria walked me through the process of checking equipment and practicing for our takeoff while Basir got set up. In just a few minutes, I was hooked to Basir, Basir was hooked to our parachute, and we were ready to run. The takeoff was an adrenaline rush, but so momentary that it didnt define the experience. It was being in the air that left a lasting impression.

We soared on thermal air pockets, high and low, back and forth. It was serene and beautiful – something you can only have an inkling of in a small plane. Birds glided past on the same wind that we used – giving me the impression that we were part of their private club. Moreover, there were many other paragliders around us, snapping selfies and waving to each other as they passed – engaging in a culture that is friendly and thrilling – cultivated through brief shared moments, high over the beaches and hills of Santos.

Basir encouraged me to loosen my white-knuckle grasp on my harness and enjoy the flight, and after a few minutes, I was taking photos of the city and sea, and marveling at the feeling of quietly floating through the air. After we had seen the sights, and I felt I hadnt missed a thing, we headed down towards the beach. Basir pointed out the landing field and asked me to identify the windsock and the direction of the wind. For the final act, we passed over the ocean, and turned to fly along the line of buildings on the beach. Basir explained landing one more time, and we came down towards the field. In a split second, we touched the ground – smoothly and relatively gracefully.

I highly recommend the experience of paragliding. Particularly to those who, like me, want to enthusiastically explore, but arent interested in adrenaline overload. It is an unexpected experience that will push you just far enough out of your comfort zone that you gain new knowledge and incredible perspective without feeling over the proverbial edge. And, if youre in or headed to Brazil, Basir Up in the AIR is exactly who you should look up to get you started.

A video of Laura landing at Basir Up in the Air’s Facebook page.

Basir Up in the Air’s website:

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