Go with the (air) flow in Malaysia
FORGET the ornithopter, and don't even bother following Icarus' failed flight plan.
The real way to fly, really fly, is to strap on a paraglider and shoot straight for the skies. Granted, it's not for the faint-hearted, but sitting in a plane or even a helicopter doesn't quite cut the mustard.
There are no engines and pollution. Paragliding is a non-motorised form of flight that uses a parachute and air flow to get around, so all that's involved are man (or woman), fabric, the elements and sheer grit.
It's a high-stakes form of fun, but so is any adventure sport. By taking the right precautions, flying through the air can be as safe as watering plants.
Husband-and-wife team Ikhwan Azillah and Orkid Jamilah know a thing or two about the thrills and spills of the sport, having indulged in it for the last 15 years.
The couple, who established the Malaysia Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association, got into the adventure sport when Ms Orkid got interested in it while she was in Britain, and introduced her husband to the sport later. When they realised the money-making potential of their hobby, the pair went to New Zealand to earn their international paragliding certification.
So, what stirs someone enough to make them want to take to the skies?
"A lot of people have bucket lists and paragliding tends to be one of the things on the list. Other adventure sports are common, too, like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping," explained Ms Orkid during a recent interview.
And where this sense of adventure is concerned, women rule. According to Ms Orkid, women make up most of their local clientele. "I don't know where the men have gone," admitted Mr Ikhwan sheepishly.
Thrill seekers also include expatriates and tourists from countries near and far, including France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ms Orkid and Mr Ikhwan have based their service in the historic town of Jugra, off Banting in Selangor. The location, aptly named Paragliding Flightpark, is where paragliding enthusiasts take flight.
The most popular form of paragliding is tandem flight, where thrill seekers merely enjoy the ride while a "pilot" steers the glider. For this kind of ride, no prior knowledge of the sport is required, though a basic understanding of physics is beneficial for working with the pilot to steer the glider comfortably.
Weight is also a consideration - for safety reasons, a tandem flier cannot weigh more than 135kg.
The average flight lasts 10 minutes, costing RM200 (S$72). Students pay RM150.
Those with a greater sense of adventure may opt to fly solo. The fundamental introductory course is a two-day affair. Depending on the level of interest, the training spans four tiers, the lowest for those hoping to fly on their own while the highest for those intending to become licensed instructors.
The introductory course teaches would-be fliers the basics of flying, including packing the chute. It may sound like mundane work, but a wrongly packed chute might not deploy, and that can only spell disaster.
Packing the chute, made of tightly woven nylon fabric, also gives fliers a chance to inspect its condition - safety is imperative.
"The gear we use comes with a five-year guarantee. Small repairs are outsourced to former commandos who were (parachute) riggers," Mr Ikhwan said.
No purchase of equipment is required for novice fliers, but serious paragliders can look into getting their own gear.
Sure, paragliding isn't for everyone. And collecting stamps is way safer.
But think of all the times we've envied birds and longed to fly freely like them. Well, paragliding takes a similar trajectory - and wax-coated feathers no longer have to be an option.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK