Gliding High Over Oahu

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If Hawaii is beautiful from ground level, its aerial view is something ethereal.

When you read about what to do on Oahu’s North Shore in magazines, the stories rarely leave out a recommendation to see the island via chopper. We didn’t go up in any helicopter, oh no. We one-upped that helicopter and opted for an even cooler mode of transportation: a glider plane. (It’s cheaper, too, as single rides start at $79, whereas a tandem flight for two begins at $128. Most helicopter tours cost $200+ per rider.)

After booking at Honolulu Soaring, we were told to call one hour before on the day of our scheduled flight to check the weather forecast and make sure we were still going up. As my sister had been in Honolulu the year before and had two foiled attempts at skydiving due to heavy winds, this made me nervous. Luckily, we woke up the morning of our trip to blue skies and mild conditions. It was determined: We would be flying.

We drove the 45 minutes from Turtle Bay to Dillingham Airfield, as my nerves mounted. The odd thing is I’m not afraid of heights and the thought of being launched into orbit by a plane without a motor didn’t faze me. What I am is extremely claustrophobic. In the days leading up to our flight, I was stoked. The fact that I might be crammed into a tiny cockpit with little room to move completely escaped me until two days prior. Then the reality of what I was about to do hit me head on like a ton of bricks. Truth be told: I thought I might show up at the air field and chicken out when I saw the allotted space for the 20-minute flight. But I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and that I was just going to have to swallow my fear (and a Xanax) and (wo)man up. So I did.

(It helped that I matched the plane. Not planned, I promise. That would be too neurotic even for me.)

We checked in at the desk and waited for our pilot to come tell us we were good to go. When I saw the intimate space SVV and I would be sharing I thought, “no way. NO. WAY.” While I appreciated the fact that they clearly thought we were thinner than we are, I didn’t see how there was any way the two of us would fit in what was essentially a bus seat for one. And yet, we adopted Tim Gunn’s mantra and made it work.

Not without some cramped-ness, of course. I had to drape my left arm over SVV’s shoulder so all our limbs fit (PDA, ewwwww!), and despite the fact that we had three cameras on us, we were told to leave our actual bag and other belongings on the ground as there was simply no room or storage. And then, just seconds after boarding and belting ourselves in, it was time to go up.

We were pulled upward by an Army bush plane, as we floated higher and higher into the clouds. A couple minutes later, we’d reached cruising altitude and without warning there was a huge POP! as the rope was released and went flying off ahead of us, and we were left to our own devices.

What followed was possibly the most fun quarter hour of my life.

Despite the incredibly tight quarters, I never felt the onset of anxiety in the slightest. While I have both spatial and psychological claustrophobia, it’s true that the dome-like window helped tremendously: I wasn’t consumed by that trapped sensation I feel in taxis or buses, occasionally planes and sometimes even cars.

The company suggests your first trip last between 10 and 20 minutes—though you can cruise around for as long as an hour—which I suppose is to ward off any potential panic attacks. In my opinion, 20 minutes was the perfect amount of time, as we zoomed around in several loops and got to really soak in the diversity of Hawaii that surrounded us.

And as someone also stricken by motion sickness more often than not—I’m a basket case, I know; as my friend Ajit said last week, “you are the weirdest travel writer I’ve ever known”—my stomach never got a bit queasy.

That could also be due to the fact that my eyes were in visual overload and, thus, my brain was distracted: There was a postcard view from every angle, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape.

Before we knew it, we slowly started to lose altitude and the pilot began to descend upon the airfield. The landing was really smooth; he parked the vessel and popped the hatch, and we were out of the glider, just as quickly as we had gotten in and taken off. All in all, the entire process lasted around 45 minutes from the time we arrived at Dillingham until we drove back out the chain-linked fence.

There really are no words to adequately convey what it was like to be a bird for a short period of time. It was an amazing experience, one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Oahu, and something I really hope I have the chance to do again someday.

Would you ever go up in a glider plane? Or would fear get the best of you, as it almost did me?

A Glider Ride Over Oahu from Camels & Chocolate on Vimeo.

*****

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COMMENTS
  • May 12, 2011
    SVV

    Oh you will be having that opportunity again mama. I’m getting one of those bad boys. Best. Flight. EVER. Serene, simple and best of all, very few things that can break and ruin your day.

    Count me in. If you find out the model of that sexy little orange number I want to know it, and own it.

    OooOHoo you forgot the mention the dive just prior to tow release with the bush pilot peeling away like she was going in on a bombing run. And then nothing in the air but wind and motion.

  • May 12, 2011

    Amazing! I would do that in a heart beat. Have always wanted to try a glider plane and hang glider. No fear here. And what an awesome way to see the lay of the land.

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      I think we would travel well together, Gaelyn! We like fellow adventurers over here at our house!

  • May 12, 2011

    See, that to me sounds so much scarier than our helicopter ride! I really have no desire to go up in a plane with no engine. I’m glad you enjoyed it though, and the pictures are great.

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      Really? That’s funny. I actually had no desire to ever go up in a chopper until I read your post! Now, I might be so inclined to do it on my next trip to the islands.

  • May 12, 2011

    Those photos are incredible!! I would be terrified. 🙂

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Hope! It was oddly not scary in the least bit…as long as you focused on the scenery and didn’t let yourself think about what you were *actually* doing =)

  • May 12, 2011
    Ris

    Oh holy cow I don’t know if I could handle that. I get a wee bit claustrophobic and I’m a lot bit of a control freak. Although the views do look pretty amazing…

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      Me too, girlfriend, and I was totally fine! You can do it =)

  • May 12, 2011

    Oh man, I’d *totally* do this! Awesome^100!

    xox

  • May 12, 2011

    This sounds AMAZING. And hi, your photos are GORGEOUS.

    I saw the Big Island via helicopter, and while it was a pretty private tour (just me and two of my closest girlfriends), I think the gilder plane sounds like way more fun.

    (And while I don’t usually struggle with motion sickness, the helicopter take off and landing actually made me a little queasy.)

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      I’m so scared about that–it’s one of the reasons I have no desire to go up in a helicopter! Practically everyone I know gets nauseous, and I have such a weak stomach I practically get motion sickness from swimming, ha.

  • May 12, 2011

    LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES. My god. Also, I think that black & white shot of you and SVV is my favorite picture of you guys yet. STOP BEING SO PRETTY.

    I did something similar over Half Moon Bay and it remains one of the most awesome experiences of my life. HOORAY FOR HUMAN FLIGHT!

  • May 12, 2011

    Oh, I would be so, SO scared to do that! I’m claustrophobic, don’t like heights, AND am afraid of flying. BUT I might get over my fear for those views.

  • May 12, 2011

    We did this while we visited Hawaii too! I was only like 13 at the time though and didn’t fully appreciate how cool it was! We were flying over where they used to film Lost. Apparently, they had to change the filming location because the glider shadows kept on appearing on their sets and it would no longer look like a deserted island…
    So cool! Thanks for sharing!

    • May 12, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes! The beach of the LOST plane crash is right across the street from the airfield. You better believe we went there next!

  • May 12, 2011

    So amazing. After this post, yes I would do it!

  • May 12, 2011

    Ah, more amazing photos that almost made me feel like I was in flight with you. This is now going right near the top of my must-do list. Fabulous!

    • May 13, 2011
      SVV

      If you do nothing else on the North Shore this is the one that needs to happen. Smooth, graceful and oh so quiet while gazing down into coral reefs and jungle shrouded mountains.

  • May 13, 2011

    Cute kids, you two are 🙂

  • May 13, 2011

    Would LOVE to go gliding at some point. Thanks for the report–good stuff!

  • May 13, 2011

    Holy fucking fuck. That looks AMAZING! I’m not sure Kyle and his handicapped equilibrium could handle it without blowing chunks, though.

  • May 15, 2011

    Holy crap! This would scared the poop out of me, but I’d love to try! We took a sea plane over sydney’s coast and it was similar to what you are describing or I guess, what can’t be described! Totally amazing, out of body experience!

    • May 16, 2011
      Kristin

      Ooh I did the seaplane over the Whitsundays. I think that actually might have been scarier than this! Then again, we were in Australia during a cyclone, so there’s that =)

  • May 28, 2011

    This really looks like a blast guys! If we ever make it to Hawaii this is the first adventure we are going to do!

  • May 28, 2011

    Oh wow, that looks incredible! On my to do list some day!

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