Just west of Minneapolis, SDI Paragliding Academy offers intro flights and classes. Here’s what it feels like to become a prairie flyer.

By Photographer: Blaine Moats; As Told To: Timothy Meinch
June 23, 2017
Taking flight with SDI Paragliding Academy
Taking flight with SDI Paragliding Academy

In theory, it's like launching a kite. Prop up the glider, wait for a gust, then sprint "like you're running from the cops," Steve Sirrine says. When I was shooting his paragliding flight, the steps seemed clear enough. But now it's my turn, with Steve strapped to my back like a shell on a bumbling tortoise. A truck trundles ahead, attached to a towline that's clipped to us. That's all the motivation I need to heed the words coming from behind me.

"Run. Run! Run!" Steve shouts in my ear.

"I can't. My feet aren't on the ground," I snap back, then hold my breath until my stomach catches up.

Taking flight with SDI Paragliding Academy
Taking flight with SDI Paragliding Academy

Forget theory. You don't fly this kite-it flies you. We release the cable, and all goes quiet, except for the sound of wind buffeting nylon. Barns shrink to matchbooks, and I swear I can see the globe's curve on the horizon. The view reminds me of a balloon ride, but we have the agility of a bird. Steve, who has 1,000-plus hours of gliding under his harness, says skilled pilots can reach 18,000 feet and stay up all day if they find the right thermals.

We climb to 4,000 feet and start our descent after 15 minutes. A sea of green turns to stalks, then ears of corn. A brown path becomes a road with potholes, and I desperately hope we reach the grass nearby. We do, and we run again, feet flailing until they find solid earth below.

Take flight From $150. sdiparagliding.com

Steve Sirrine
Steve Sirrine of SDI Paragliding Academy