Paragliding on Kaua’i

I’ve always been interested in paragliding, where you soar on wind currents or thermals under a special parachute wing. I’ve done two tandem flights in Europe, where it’s much more popular, and seen a few near San Jose, in California. The exhilirating feeling I got from those flights can best be summed up as “Man can fly!”

So I’ve always wondered if there were any paragliders on Kaua’i, and whether they found the right conditions to fly. Now I have my answer:


I was driving by the Wailua golf course on Thursday (Feb 16) and saw this paraglider over Kalepa Ridge. I pulled over right away to snap a picture, but he (or she) was staying aloft on the lift generated from the ridge (slope soaring). I drove on to the golf course parking lot and watched him for a while, looking at the ridge over the county jail. The weather was overcast, and then a rain shower blew by, so it couldn’t have been that much fun up there–and probably a little scary too.


The ridge is only 500-700 feet high here (150-210 m), but I suppose that even with the light trade winds we were having, that it creates enough lift to keep the paraglider aloft. It takes a lot of skill to find the updrafts, stay in them as long as possible, and then fly back down to do it again. Maybe the bowl shape of the ridge in this area helps–now that I look at a topo map, I doubt that is a coincidence.

Click map to enlarge. View source at

What I really wanted to know, however, was where and how did this paraglider take off. There are no roads here, so he had to hike to the top of the ridge (or ride a trail bike). Then you need a large enough area to lay out the wing and clear of trees to run downhill–unless there’s enough wind to do a standing reverse launch. I’m not sure there’s such a place on Kalepa ridge, but maybe he found one. Sometimes, you can launch from a higher place, but the only one nearby is the Sleeping Giant summit at 1240′ (380m), but it’s too far away and across the Wailua river (no updrafts there).

I also wondered where the pilot was going to land, since there is no place on the windward side with the detention center, road, and tall powerlines between the ridge and the golf course and beach. In end, he drifted out of the updraft and flew down behind the ridge on the inland side, so I lost sight of him. There is the road to Wailua falls back there, as well as pastures and dirt roads, so that seemed like the safest place to land. Perhaps he had even parked back there and hiked up to the ridge on some of the dirt bike trails.


Mystery pilot, if you’re reading this, do you have any answers for me?

More About Paragliding in Hawaii

There are tandem and solo instruction flights by Gravity Hawaii on O’ahu and Proflyght on Maui. O’ahu must have more than a few pilots, because the Hawaii Paragliding Association seems to be based there, and their Wind Lines blog is full of beautiful pictures of O’ahu from the air. Maybe one of those pilots was visiting Kaua’i with his equipment–I’ll have to ask them.

I’ve always confused the words paragliding and parasailing, but Wikipedia says the latter is for towed rides, like you find behind boats on Maui. I believe parasailing is actually forbidden commercially on Kaua’i, and I don’t think anyone bothers with the equipment for their own use–plus the waters are too choppy. I don’t know of any restrictions to commercial paragliding on Kaua’i, but maybe the regulations are so vague as to make it illegal too. More likely is that there just aren’t enough visitors to sustain an expensive extreme sport activity.

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  1. Nevil Hulett says:

    Hi, I am staying in Hanalei and would love to get a flight with my girlfiend Penny. Please let us know who what and where :-)

  2. Andy says:

    Hi Nevil, I am posting your comment not because I think someone will reply, but to show anyone researching paragliding as a business idea that there are potential customers. I have seen more paragliding on Anahola mountain, so I suspect there is a local pilot. But there is no one advertizing this as an activity that I’m aware of.

    In any case, I removed your phone number because it’s never wise to post that around the internet. If someone replies to your comment with an offer, I’ll forward it to them.

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