It seems that every beach destination has the token parasailing company, but how often do you come across a hang gliding operation on your paradise vacation? In 2011, Conch Air (which used to offer scenic bi-plane rides) switched gears and became the first to introduce the popular mountain sport of hang gliding to the Florida Keys. The new attraction offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the sparkling waters of the Keys from a bird’ eye view – as a bird. Hang Gliding Over the Keys — Photo courtesy of Conch Air
Boat hang gliding is rare in the US, with only a handful of operations nationwide but it offers a safe way to break into the sport. At Conch Air, the instructor and passenger are towed on the glider over the Gulf of Mexico until it reaches altitude and is then released by the instructor. While flying like a bird, passengers can see through the clear blue water and spot sea turtles, manatees, dolphin, and even an occasional shark swimming among the Florida Key’s coral reefs system. Passengers take control of the glider and are able to steer in the direction they'd like to go. View over the Florida Keys — Photo courtesy of Conch Air
The crew consists of the Paul, a US Coast Guard Certified boat captain, Chris, one of the flight instructors who has three years of hang gliding experience, and Eric, the main instructor, who has 15 years of experience and averages 4,000 to 5,000 flights per year. Flights vary and can be customized to each passenger, but range from 1,500 to 3,000 feet.
Introductory flights start at $99, and courses are also offered for those interested in becoming a certified hang gliding pilot.
Author's Note: This business has closed and reopened as Hang Glide Miami.