Paragliding the cliffs of Santa Pola

The Cabo de Santa Pola is the unmissable headland that juts out into the sea near Alicante airport. At its tip is the lighthouse, sitting on top of some spectacular cliffs. And it’s the favourite haunt of parapentes – paragliders – aiming to ride the updrafts along the cliff edge.  

The paragliders are here for la ola de aire – the wave of air – created when the wind off the sea strikes the vertical cliffs of el Cabo de Santa Pola. The onrushing air is forced upwards, giving the canopies the lift they need to stay airborne, for hours at a time if conditions are right. They ride the invisible ola de aire the way a surfer rides a wave at the beach.  

I’d seen them soaring over the lighthouse plenty of times from the ground. But now was the time to give it a go myself. Not flying solo, you understand. I’d be in a tandem harness – a parapente biplaza – with an experienced pilot pulling the strings. In this case, quite literally! 

So I booked my flight and headed for a dirt strip about the size of a football pitch at the end of a stony track, a few hundred metres away from the lighthouse. This is paraglider central – a take-off and landing zone for experienced fliers, novices and newbie passengers like me.  

Take-off time!

I’m buckled into my harness, my pilot Ariel from Parapente Santa Pola stands behind me. He says; “walk forward when I tell you, step back if you feel me pulling you backwards”  

I walk unsteadily forward, the canopy inflates unseen behind my head. Ariel tells me to try to run a few paces, I give it my best shot…and then suddenly we’re in the air.

We have lift-off! The island of Tabarca is in the background.

The canopy sinks downwards initially but then we catch the updraft and soar upwards.   I wriggle around in the harness straps to get comfortable and look around. Below my dangling feet, there’s nothing but air. Amazing!

The view straight down – nothing but air below my feet!

We ride the wind towards the lighthouse; other canopies are in the air around us too, all surfing the same updraft that keeps our canopy effortlessly aloft.   We soar over the aerial walkway that takes sightseers out over the cliff edge, but we’re far higher than them. We’re even looking down on seagulls, 280 metres or so above sea level.

Riding the updrafts over the Santa Pola lighthouse
Relaxed in the tandem harness and enjoying the views! You can see another canopy in the air behind us.

Above the roar of the wind in my ears is the beep and growl of Ariel’s GPS that tells him whether we’re climbing or descending.  

Below us a cruise ship steams slowly out of Alicante harbour. Across a narrow strip of sea lies Tabarca, Spain’s smallest permanently inhabited island, basking in the early evening sunshine.

As our canopy swings around, I can see northwards up the coast beyond Alicante to the Aitana mountains in the far distance. I can just about make out the distinctive cleft peak of Puig Campana overlooking our town of Villajoyosa.  

Passing over the lighthouse looking north towards Alicante
Looking up the coast towards Alicante and beyond to the Sierra Aitana

Further up the coast there’s the Sierra Helada near Benidorm and the huge massif of the Peñon d’Ifach near Calpe, all of 70 kilometres away.  From up here, you can see the lot!

Take a look at some video highlights here.

Taking control!

Would I like to try steering the canopy myself? Absolutely – I gingerly try a downward tug on the left hand riser and we turn gently to the left. A similar gentle pressure on the right riser, above us the canopy shape changes and we turn gently to the right. Exhilarating.  

Would I like to try some aerobatic manoeuvres? Why not? Suddenly we swing violently to the right as Ariel hauls down on the riser in his right hand. Then he hauls down on the left and we lurch in the opposite direction.  It’s dramatically different from the rather chilled moves we’ve been doing up till now – I can really feel the G-force!

Pulling an aerobatic move! The horizon is suddenly vertical!

I thank my stars it’s been a long time since lunch as my stomach protests the aerial indignity. After a minute or so, I’ve had enough of this…’no mas!’  

We’ve been aloft for more than half an hour, but it’s impossible to get tired of the views. Now though, it’s time to land.

The landing

Approaching the dirt strip where we took off, Ariel turns our canopy into the wind. We’re almost motionless in the air, hovering above the tiny landing strip like a bird about to drop onto a nest.

I shift forward in my straps so my feet are dangling ready to hit the ground. ‘Start running’’ says Ariel as we approach touch down.  

Coming in to land…almost motionless in the air above the touchdown zone

Seconds later, feet touch solid ground, I take a few steps forward, and we’re down. The canopy collapses behind us and it’s over.  It’s difficult to lose the grin on my face; the evidence is below! Believe me, this is the most fun you’ll ever have sitting down!

Thumbs up after the flight! Me and my pilot!

If you fancy giving paragliding at Santa Pola yourself, more here from Parapente Santa Pola.

Included in the parapente biplaza package is a GoPro camera mounted on a selfie stick. You supply the miniSD card and hold the selfie stick during the flight, so you can record the whole experience. And who knows – you may even write a blogpost about it!

Check out these posts

More on exploring the Cabo de Santa Pola and its clifftop skywalk (from the ground this time!)

Try these posts too for cool things to see and do near Santa Pola:

© Guy Pelham

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