The First Time I Went Hang-Gliding

(Subtitled – “The LAST Time I Went Hang-Gliding”)

Black’s Beach – San Diego – 1981

Black’s Beach was a nudist beach, and being about 18, that’s where I hung out.  I was in the Navy, stationed at Balboa Naval Hospital.  I worked in the Trauma Research Unit under a Dr. Ben Aaron.  Dr. Aaron ended up doing the Thoracic Surgery on President Ronald Reagan after the failed assassination attempt.

We worked hard, and tended to play too hard as well – so one weekend when I was at Black’s Beach I climbed up the 300 foot cliff and watched the hang-gliders for a while.  Especially I watched one – she was stunning.  Blond hair, a smile to die for, and an easy laugh.

After what seemed like hours she finally spoke to me, asking, “Have you ever tried this”?

My idiotic response was that, “Sure I have” – to which she offered me the load of her kite.  Now I was young, and stupid, and in love with her!  So I took the kite and strapped in (after hours of watching I knew this much).

I stepped off the cliff and into the wind and was immediately nose-down getting pushed quickly towards the rocks by the ocean winds.  Somehow I brought the nose up enough to get some wind under the wings just to be smashed back into the cliff wall at about 250 feet.  The wind was knocked out of me and my head swirled somewhere between “I feel hung-over” and “I am going to die”.

The updraft kept pushing me up the cliff face until I had cleared the top of the cliff wall and continued to climb – much higher that I had hoped or intended to be.  After some minutes of “playing with things” I managed to get the nose down again – WAY down.

In about 30 seconds I was headed straight for the ocean at a dramatic rate.  I hit with enough force that I shattered the frame of the kite and received a nasal douche I will never forget.  I couldn’t breath – the wind was knocked out of me again.  A good thing this time, since I was under water.

Some kind souls pulled me and the kite out of the water and took me back to shore.  Fortunately there were a lot of boats in the area.

I returned the kite to the girl of my dreams in a shattered and broken state (the kite didn’t fare well either).  To this day I wonder how different my life might have been if I would have answered her questions differently:

“No, I’ve never flown one, but I always wanted to learn.  Will you teach me?”

I never saw her again, and she never cashed the blank check I gave her to cover repairs.

Lesson learned?  ASK, ASK, ASK if you do not know something.  Chances are you will look less stupid by asking than you will by blindly trying to do something you have made no preparations for.  And for years after when I managed employees I always looked for the ones that were not afraid to ask questions – those people reminded me of me when I was a stupid, scared, hormone enraged 19 year old.



  1. Actually I learned a LOT of lessons from this, including “Do your homework” and “Don’t rely on assumptions”. One I SHOULD have learned was to have an engagement plan, and to have an exit strategy – or a backup plan. I learned those lessons a couple of years later in a post coming up about catamarans and why you should both know how to sail them before you buy one, and have a way to get it to the water.