Raglan may be renowned for surfing but local skyrider Sean Oliver reckons our coast’s just as “amazing” for hang gliding – and he’s taken it upon himself to see there’s a resurgence in the wind sport he got hooked on in the mid 70s.
He was a teen surfer then, getting “swooped” from the air while walking back from the Point along a little-known bush track off the top of Earles Place where now there’s a pocketful of million-dollar housing.
Above, it all looked to the young boardrider who didn’t quite fit in with the surfing set like “so much fun” – and Sean vowed he’d give flying a go someday.
Fast forward a few decades and Sean’s up there free as a bird, soaring the coastline from Wainui Reserve to Te Toto Gorge, and encouraging others to come fly with him.
“Too easy,” he said on Raglan Notice Board recently beneath a video clip of his training day at Kopua airfield. “Humans can fly!”
Sean insists hang gliding requires only moderate fitness, a bit of running to get airborne and transference of weight from side to side. There’s no chance of taking off willy-nilly either, he adds, as learners are “tethered” by ropes and manpower.
Sean’s talking specifically free flight powered only by wind, or skyriding as he likes to call it.
“Up in the air … beyond the turbulence … you feel like you’re suspended in a pool of water,” he explains of his love of flying. “The birds come and check you out … You’re on a wave of air and you’re surfing it.”
Armed with his recently acquired instructor rating, Sean’s committed to training up others to enjoy the thrills of skyriding. “Now the resurgence is my responsibility,” he says.
He says his mission is helped by the fact “we’re one of the best (areas) in the country for coastal flying”.
Sean says Raglan’s top landing – where a hang glider can both launch from and return to the same spot – is on private farmland just off Wainui Rd. Early on the 50 to 60 guys in the Waikato hang gliding and paragliding club built up a really good relationship with the farmer, and the “well established” spot remains available to this day.
It’s paramount that any pilot coming into town to go hang gliding first contacts the Waikato branch of the national hang gliding and paragliding association to register, Sean points out. Doing anything “dodgy” could risk a shut-down of this unique landing site.
The 52 year old father of three – who also teaches kitesurfing in town – says learning to become an instructor last year, then helping teenage son Leo get airborne, are all part of his plan to revive skyriding here.
A couple of “classic local characters”, Joe Davenport and Henry Dumbleton, have also begun to fly hang gliders under Sean’s tutelage although both are already accomplished paraglider pilots.
“It’s ideal to get this new blood,” Sean says,
Technically the wings have become better and better over the years, he adds, while ironically fewer people have been getting into the sport. Way back in Waikato’s hang gliding heyday the equipment wasn’t entirely safe.
But since then hang glider design – with aluminium or carbon fibre frames and dacron sails – has been greatly refined. “They’re beautifully made now and have awesome handling and performance…
“That’s just another factor in why I want to teach and help give back to a sport I have enjoyed for 32 years.”