I took my boyfriend hang gliding for his birthday even though I was terrified — here's what happened
The things we do for love.
I’ve heard the expression many times before, but only after launching off the top of a mountain, 4,000 feet above ground, did I truly get it. I went hang gliding because I’m in love.
Going hang gliding had been on the top of my boyfriend’s bucket list, according to him, “forever.” Me? Not so much. My list involves more laid-back experiences, like relaxing under the Mediterranean sun at a resort in Greece (so if you’re reading this, boyfriend, hint, hint). His birthday was approaching, the first one we would be celebrating together, and I wanted to get him something special. Not very well-versed in shopping for a boyfriend, since he’s the first, I was slightly anxious. What do boys like? He already told me not to buy him clothing, because that’s what his mom gets him. So there went that idea…
Personally, I prefer experiences as gifts, rather than material items. I can’t say I still love any bag, outfit, or piece of jewelry that I was given a few years ago, but I can certainly say that my 30th birthday trip to a spa in Arizona was one that I’ll never forget. Would he feel the same way?
It would have to be something he really wanted to do — and I knew that thing was hang gliding.
Over the summer, we were in San Diego and had visited a gliderport (a place where people hang glide, who knew?) and he was in awe. He had that same sense of wonderment you see in a little boy watching planes go by. I knew that would be the perfect gift.
I found a place in Los Angeles, not too far from where we live, that gave tandem hang gliding lessons. I booked lessons for the two of us, without really considering what that meant for me. I was just thrilled to give him this experience.
I kept it a secret up until the day before our lessons. I gave him a picture frame with a Photoshopped image of us hang gliding, and he was so excited that he said he literally wanted to go to sleep (it was only 7 p.m.) so that it could be tomorrow already.
But then the realization of what I had done hit me.
I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone hang gliding, which made me a bit uneasy about the whole prospect. Was this even safe? Literally the week before, my uncle told me about an “amazing movie that I had to see” about a man who gets paralyzed while hang gliding — a weird coincidence, since my uncle had no idea I was planning to hang glide the following week! But as terrified as I felt, seeing my boyfriend’s sheer elation helped me push forward.
Finally, the big day arrived.
That morning, we arrived at a field where we met our hang gliding instructors. While my boyfriend’s instructor was a bit more jovial, mine was all business — which was not helping ease my nerves. He was taking this seriously because, as he told me, there are inherent dangers in hang gliding.
We got into a van that took us on a 45-minute drive up to the top of the mountain, and that’s where the anxiety really got me. I had almost an hour to think about all the things that could go wrong while we drove on an unpaved, steep, and unprotected road. The good thing? After that ride, I knew I had no choice but to go for it, because there was no way I would drive back down.
Once we arrived to the top of the mountain (which was absolutely freezing, btw), our instructors got us suited up in our harnesses and the rest of the gear — a helmet, knee pads, and a giant pack containing a parachute. While I nodded along with everything my instructor said, I wasn’t quite sure I understood what I was actually supposed to do. The only thing steadying my nerves was my boyfriend’s facial expressions — he was all smiles; I knew he was so happy to see me partaking in what he thought was “so fun and not scary at all.”
The lesson wasn’t very long, and then it was go time! I stood alongside my instructor, under the hang glider. I grabbed his harness with both hands, and on the count of three, we were off, running together, straight off a mountain.
It. Was. Awesome.
The giant drop that I was expecting never came. The second our feet left the ground, we were lifted up, and it was smooth sailing. All I could think was man, birds are lucky. The view over the valley stretched for miles. We soared, and the instructor told me to move my body in order to move the glider (I told him, I’m good, you steer).
But for 10 glorious minutes, I felt like I could do anything.
I touched down first. Then came my boyfriend. After that, we both were running on a high for the rest of the day.
I’ve read many times, even seen studies, that say that couples who do new things together regularly have happier relationships. I totally believe it. Doing something that scared me with my boyfriend made me feel even closer to him.
Furthermore, seeing how much joy it brought him truly did make me feel joyful, too (even if I was more scared than Ellen Degeneres’s producer Andy at a haunted house). When you’re in love, facing your fears seems way more plausible. Let’s just hope the boyfriend has no desire to visit a place filled with snakes…or clowns…or watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — what can I say, I’m a wimp.
But he makes me less of one.