Prior to my trip to Réunion I was reading up on different activities on the island. One of the most popular is paragliding. I've never really felt inclined to do any skydiving but paragliding was something I could consider. With the island's geographical features and climate, it's an ideal place for paragliding almost every day of the year. So I had the idea that to finish off my trip on the island I would give it a try.
There are several companies for paragliding on the island but I got booked in with one called Parapente Réunion. They're based on the west side of the island in a place called Saint Leu. A group of us climbed into a van and they drove us up a hill where there's a small plateau at 800 metres. The clouds were a little low today so we were limited to going any higher. My flight ended up being about 17 minutes long. My guide, Philippe, was from France and has been involved with paragliding for 20+ years, half of which has been in the French Alps.
On the plateau you get suited up in the harness, then together run down the hill. Within about 10 seconds the kite has caught the lift of the air and your feet are off the ground. It's a very similar feeling to being on a big swing, being sat there in a kind of seat, feeling the forward movement, and seeing the ground below. It's very quiet, just the noise of wind in your ears.
Once we had passed over the town and were approaching the beach, Philippe let me take control and steer us around. It was easy—pull on whichever side you want to turn. The hardest part for me was the running at the start. I could barely hobble up and down stairs, and getting in an out of the van was really "uncomfortable", but I could bear the pain for a few metres of running to get us going. Landing was pretty simple, it was actually very similar to landing a helicopter in an autorotation procedure—come in with some speed, flare a safe distance above ground, then run on the landing. Before you know it you're standing there on the beach thinking "It's already over? That was short!" My tour was actually supposed to be about 10 minutes longer but due to the lack of winds we couldn't get enough lift to keep us going longer.