Kaplan, 55, who lives in Germantown and is vice president of a firm that makes frozen juice drinks, called the instructor in the article and drove out for a weekend of lessons near the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
The lessons with Dwayne McCourt of FlyWV began with running on flat ground to pull the paraglider canopy overhead. A paraglider resembles a parachute but flies like a hang glider. After a few practice runs, Kaplan hiked 25 feet up a hill for his first flight. “I flew a few seconds at most, ten feet off the hill,” he says. He repeated this several times before venturing higher up.
After Kaplan took a few flights at 50 feet, McCourt asked if he wanted to try a 200-foot hill. Following a short drive, they arrived at the bottom of an abandoned, grass-covered strip mine. “As I looked up to the top, my heart started pounding and my palms got sweaty, ” Kaplan says.
At the top they waited for perfect conditions. “I went off, and, man, that was awesome,” says Kaplan. “I had time to hear the wind, feel the glider, and listen to Dwayne on the radio offering encouragement. Once down, I had a huge smile.”
Kaplan has since flown at sites all over the world and become a part-time instructor. He’s had flights that lasted for hours, he’s soared with eagles, and he’s glided thousands of feet above mountains
Before paragliding, Kaplan says that the outdoors held little interest for him.
“I look at everything differently now,” he says. “I love the breeze and flickering leaves before sunset. I’m more in touch with nature.”
To learn to paraglide, contact FlyWV (firstname.lastname@example.org) or East Windss Paragliding in Arlington (703-772-2039; eastwindss.com). A full-day lesson is $150.