There’s something about taking a running jump off a cliff straight into thin air that makes your heart pop into your mouth and your feet go cold; to say it’s scary is an understatement but that’s part of the adrenaline rush when you launch yourself off into space 450 ft above sea level, with nothing to hold you except a strip of thin fabric and a harness.
Suddenly, taking a “leap of faith” bodes a whole new meaning. But that’s the thrill of paragliding. It promises exhilaration like you’ve never felt before. How often do you get to defy gravity, see the world from above treetops and become a swooping bird for a moment in time as you glide among the clouds with the wind in your face?
Out of the many sky sports available in Malaysia, Paragliding is one extreme sport that allows you to take to the skies almost “organically” and on a “manual” basis. You do not use artificial motorization such as a boat to power you up ─ like in parasailing ─ or a rigid structure that you can hang on to, like a hang glider. You simply get yourself to high ground, put on a helmet, strap on a harness that is attached to a lightweight fabric wing and you use brute strength to push your legs to run as fast as you can in the hope that the power of the wind will lift your paraglider up into the air. It’s the simplest form of flying yet!
Wind Beneath Your Wing
The wind, therefore, is of paramount to your level of buoyancy here. No wind, no fly. Not only that, you need wind that’s travelling at a velocity of 20kmh, no more, no less; or you can’t take off or it becomes too dangerous to fly at all.
If the wind condition is suitable, you will stay airborne longer. With “wind beneath your wing”, you can even glide up to 600 ft above sea level and get yourself a never-seen-before perspective of the world below you. If the wind is weak, you will fly for about 10 minutes on average, but it all depends on the site you choose to launch off from as the launch altitude will determine your flight duration. As paragliding depends heavily on wind conditions, the best time to fly is usually from March to September.
Up, Up and Away!
So there I was, standing at the perimeters of a 1976 lighthouse on the hillslope of Bukit Jugra, poised on the launch pad and getting more and more nervous with each passing second. It always looks easy when others are doing it but I was all strapped in already onto my seat harness, and all set to take my first running jump into the skies.
First, a little introduction here about paragliding in Bukit Jugra before we take off: Bukit Jugra, located in Jugra, Kuala Langat, Selangor, is about 60 km from the city centre. The site is also the first, and one of the most popular spots for paragliding in Malaysia ─ which is why I made the choice coming here.
The hilltop where I was standing on, offers a panoramic view of the quaint town of Jugra below ─ mostly green with its endless spread of trees encasing clusters of buildings here and there and flanked on the side by the serene Sungai Langat which flows out to the Straits of Malacca.
On another day, I probably would have appreciated the scenery more but when I was about to paraglide for the first time in my life, I was more focused on the butterflies in my stomach for what I was about to do.
Luckily, I was to paraglide in tandem with a flying instructor who would be sitting behind me and controlling or steering my brightly-designed blue and yellow canopy wings.
All inexperienced paragliders usually fly with an instructor ─ for obvious reasons.
I was told to hold my Go-Pro on a stick to film myself as I flew. How cool is that? You get to record your experience for posterity so that one day, you can tell your grandchildren ─ “Look! Granny was into extreme sports and flew in the air on a paraglider!”
But right then, I was standing on a hilltop, poised to launch off. “When I tell you to run, you run,” my instructor briefed me, pointing his fingers in the direction of the edge of the cliff. I gulped.
“Ok,” I replied, getting my legs into position. He then turned around to ready my 12 m paraglider wing. I couldn’t see what was happening behind me but it felt like tugging and pulling and after a few minutes, he yelled, “Run!”
I ran as fast as I could, towards the dip in the hill and when the ground fell away, I leapt off into space. “Aargh!” I yelled. I was dropping over the edge but just as I began to panic, I was hoisted up, and away I flew. Up and up I went. It was just amazing! I was probably grinning from ear-to-ear, intoxicated by the euphoria of the moment and dazzled by the sun in my eyes as I breathed in the cold, fresh air and admired the vista below me.
How small everything looked, I said to myself as I glided over Jugra, marveling at the roads that looked like snakes and buildings and vehicles that looked like toy models. We whizzed around the lighthouse, soared over hilltops and ravines, and rose above the river in a wide circular sweep. There is quietness and tranquility when you’re so high up in the air.
I was impressed at how stable my harness seat felt, I didn’t swing or topple over in any way although there were some moments of tiny turbulence when my instructor steered the wings to go higher or lower or to maneuver our direction. Throughout it all, my legs were dangling in midair and after a while, when I became acutely aware that there was no support beneath my feet, I started feeling vulnerable.
Back to the Ground
All too soon, it was time to land. Our landing strip was a flat field where again, I was supposed to run upon touchdown. As we descended, the green grass of the field came up closer and closer until I touched the ground. It was a smooth landing. I landed on my feet and didn’t have to run much, thanks to the expert landing technique of my flying instructor. After being aloft for so long, terra firma was where I certainly felt the full brunt of gravity. I was probably still grinning from ear-to-ear when I landed as it was, all in all, an incredible experience. I wouldn’t trade one moment of it for anything else.
Bukit Jugra is known not just for paragliding. You can also do a spot of hiking or drift trike there and when you’ve worked up an appetite, you can eat lunch at one of the many coffee shops located by the tiny fishing village near the river. There’s also a very famous Beggar’s Chicken restaurant in the town centre that serves ─ you guessed it ─ Beggar’s Chicken. For those who don’t know, it is essentially stuffed whole chicken wrapped in lotus leaves and clay and baked in traditional brick kilns.
If you’re not into chicken, there are other types of food such as seafood, Malay food, and foodcourt fare available as well as authentic traditional coffee ala Jugra served by stalls and coffee shops in Jugra.
Getting to Paraglide
There are quite a number of individual companies that offer to take you to the skies at Bukit Jugra. However, you will need to call them up first to make a prior appointment, without which they will be unlikely to accept you. They will instruct you as to what you should bring or wear to have a successful paragliding session.
Apparently there is no age limit to the sport. Even senior citizens can fly. But if you are under the age of 18, you may need parental consent in order to paraglide. There is a weight limit though. It is limited to 90 kg and if you weigh more, then you may incur a surcharge.
Getting to and fro Bukit Jugra is easy. You can use public transport or you could drive. I recommend driving as it is the easiest way. Basically, from the Klang Valley, you take the Federal or KESAS highway, head towards Klang, then head for Banting where you can make a 12.3 km beeline to Jugra via Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad.
When you arrive in Jugra, you will need to get up to the top of the hill to make your jump. The hill is steep but if you’re the type who likes a workout ─ you could park below, then climb the hill and hike up on foot, or you could simply drive all the way up to get to Ground Zero ─ the lighthouse ─ for your once in a lifetime experience at paragliding.