Maldives Islands Speedflying

I’ve never been into drugs. But I imagine “coming down” would feel a lot like I do right now. A bit dizzy, a bit confused, a lot tired. The last 15 days played out like an eternity and somehow also disappeared in a flash. When I look back it all seemed to start ages ago because there’s no way you can fit into each day all the things that happened, but it also seems like the clients just stepped on the boat. My body and those of our guests show signs of genuine abuse. I’ve got a serious limp after smacking my calf into a Kiteboard while rescuing a sinking mask; the guests thankfully are unhurt, but they may want to have a skin exam in the near future. The sun has crisped their skin like burnt bacon.

Maldives sailing
The many, many wonders of the Maldives

This is a difficult log to relate on a timeline that makes any sense. 15 days, but two separate 8 day trips. 4 hours in between to clean the boat and prepare for the second group which was really the only part of the whole two weeks that was unpleasant. 5 guests on the first, 6 on the second. Only one owner, which is a total departure from our usual routine. You see? It’s confusing and I was there! Too many numbers to even provide names. Polish, South African, American, English; former world poker championÖ It was all a bit mad. Dozens of chess games; $5 K lost in backgammon (note to clients: never play anything with a pro!); hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Dolphins; Manta rays; SUP paddling on glassy seas over crazy coral reefs; and lots and LOTS of air time. Read onÖ

Maldives diving
Mike Belbas…mind already blown. Image captured by GoPro

Madness was the theme of the trip. It started strange, and just went right off the deep end. The director of the insanity was our good friend Mike Belbas, on board with us to escape the cold and rain of Switzerland, and an aching heart from a recent break-up; and to provide some sky bound entertainment as I knew we’d have little hope for wind.

Maldives water
Mike soars right off the bow of Discovery on a speed wing!

No one has ever paraglided in the Maldives. And for the first time, after a recent dinghy and engine upgrade we were able to take non-pilots for a view from above as well. Mike is a tandem pilot by trade and he was more than willing to share the miraculous sights a couple thousand feet off the deck of this atoll nation for everyone on board. For those of you imagining the resort-style “parasailing”, where geeks get towed behind a boat a hundred feet off the water hollering about how “wild” it is, this is NOT what I’m talking about.

Maldives water
One of the many views we got during the trip

Paragliding is flying a dynamic wing. It’s dangerous and requires a great deal of skill. You can’t just ‘go’ paragliding. You’ve got to take courses and tests; go to school; get hours and hours of practice under your belt to just do the most basic of flights. In the Maldives where the highest point of land is no higher than an outstretched arm, the only way to get up high is by using a tow winch, which we happen to have. On a good tow we can get a pilot more than 3,000 feet off the water. The pilot then releases from the tow and hopefully flies back to someplace other than the ocean so the wing doesn’t get soaked. In the time between when the pilot releases and lands there are inevitable utterances we can often hear from the ground. Things like “HOLY SHIT!” and “OH MY GOD!” Even Bobby, who is a devout Muslim screamed these things. You can’t really not say these things, unless on the common occasion when your breath is just taken away completely and spoken voice is no longer possible. It’s that pretty up there. Mindblowing. People pay $1,000 USD to take a 15 minute seaplane flight to see what we see up there. Ours costs the price of the fuel for the dinghy and you can do it again and again. On more than one occasion on this trip I realized we are charging far, far below what we should!

Discovery in the Maldives
Note the lack of “dry” landing options…

Anyway, I’m judging by Mike’s perma-grin the sights are also easing his heartache. And as we’ve talked him into staying for the next trip (not a wholly unselfish request- Mike has been responsible for many, many shared smiles in the past two weeks) I’m hoping his pain will be nearly gone by the time we will sadly lose him. Eat that, ex girlfriend!

Maldives diving
Nutty yes? Shot with GoPro

In the 15 days we explored 3 atolls, all south of Male. At each of them we found one place better than the last to fly. We buzzed at ridiculous speed inches off the surface with A Gin Nano speed wing, which is kind of like driving your own personal roller coaster. We soared solo thousands of feet off the deck laughing like hyenas at the beauty of it all; and were somehow able to even get the tandem way up high with only a slight breeze, which thrilled the clients.

Maldives paragliding
How about this? Shot with GoPro

It didn’t all happen without problems. Light air made it difficult to get the tandem off the ground and we soaked it more than a few times. And we somewhat foolishly tried to get Konstantin up on the solo wing and quickly realized this is not a sport for fooling around. He locked out right after take off, spun the glider hard and hit the deck from 30 feet. If he’d been over ground and not water we would have had our first very serious injury, or maybe even death. As it was a bit of Ibuprofen was all that was required. But we won’t make the mistake again.

maldives paragliding
The Skipper shares the insanity. Shot with GoPro

Mikey is almost certainly the first Micronesia to paraglide in history and Bobby found something else to pray about before sunrise on the day of his flight! Mike and Jody spent hours one day frolicking with two curious Manta Rays and we swam briefly with a pod of Pilot Whales, a first for everyone.

Maldives scenery
Mike and Bobby post-flight

One morning on the day of the full moon a pod of maybe a 100 dolphins were cruising around Discovery at anchor. Mike, Mikey, Konstantin and I got up early to attempt a speed wing landing on a SUP board at sunrise. By 0800 we’d each had a couple flights (never did manage to land on the board). By 0900 everyone had gotten a nice wakeboard tow on the SUP’s. By 1000 Mike and I had another big solo flight with some action-packed death spirals to the beach.

Maldives fishing
Dog Tooth!

By lunchtime I was exhausted and ready for bed. When everyone left I felt like a day-old balloon at a birthday party. Limp and soft. Battered and bruised. A party favor no longer of any value. It’s been months since I’ve suffered a Staph infection and I’d hoped I’d finally beat the nasty buggers, but as seems to always be the case when I get worn down, I’ve got a nasty one growing on my shin. This will no doubt play into the next log, but for now I just need sleep. A lot of sleep.

Trash in the Maldives
Mike, coming in for a landing

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” — Henry David Thoreau

Discovery cuisine
Skipper, Ditto

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