You start with the gannets. You have to start with the gannets. From the moment you arrive at Muriwai Beach and gaze at the rugged west coast, these white, long-winged seabirds fill you with awe.
You admire their streamlined shapes, their pointed, black-tipped wings that span up to two metres, their powerful beats. You watch as they circle high above the Tasman Sea searching for prey and then torpedo into the blue swells at speeds of 145 kilometres an hour. But mostly you muse at the ease and grace of their flight as they wheel on the strong thermals that lift from the hot, black sand.
Then it’s your turn. You lug a heavy bag of cables, tubes and fabric up a 55-metre bluff overlooking a place called Maori Bay. You unravel a large white sail, fasten a bolt to an aluminium frame and step into a hang-glider’s harness. Solemnly, you inspect everything again, face the wind and mark a take-off spot on the lip of the land.
But you’re drawn to the gannets one last time. You glance down at huge rock into a scrum of squawking birds and fluffy chicks and wait for one to fly free. When it does, you watch it soar and glide until the majestic figure disappears over the silent sea. You watch another, then another, until it’s just you and your resolve.
As you run toward the edge of the cliff, where wind and land collide, no one knows the thoughts racing through your mind. Do you think of Daedalus, Leonardo da Vinci and man’s primordial urge to fly? Do you fix your mind on technique or the lift in the wind? Or do you toss everything aside and leap towards the sea – 100 kilos of falling man and machine aching to fly?