On a Saturday morning in late March, the Wolf Pack from New Jersey rolled into Torrey Pines Gliderport in their 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe loaded up with the gear they'd need for an afternoon at the renowned paragliding launch site just north of San Diego.
SATURDAY, 11:30 A.M.: PARAGLIDING
It was 63 degrees and sunny, and the wind was blowing in off the ocean at exactly 270 degrees, due west. In other words, a perfect spring day in Southern California, and an epic day to learn to paraglide.
There was only one problem. Earlier that morning, seven-year-old Garret had tumbled off the bed while wrestling with his brother, E.J., 12, and broken a rib. No baseball or soccer for six weeks. But even worse, no paragliding. For a kid with as much energy as Garret, missing out on adventure would be torture.
But his mom, Karen, didn't miss a beat. "Oh, Garret, you couldn't have broken
two?" she joked, trying to smile. Humor is always the right touch for the Wolfs, and by the time they arrived at the Gliderport, Garret had his game face on. He cheered as Jeremy, a veteran pilot, strapped E.J. into his helmet and harness and said, "You ready, little man?" And with that, they ran straight off the 300-foot sea cliff, the wind caught the nylon wing, and they were flying. Moments later, ten-year-old Camryn, her face plastered with a grin, soared off in her tandem glider with her instructor.
Soon everyone was airborne, the gliders' colorful canopies swaying north and south along the rocky cliff face. Five hundred feet below, tiny surfers bobbed in the water at Black's Beach. As they approached La Jolla, the pilots instructed their students how to steer by tugging on the handles, and bare legs dangling in midair, the Wolfs drifted silently along, suspended in that sweet spot between terror and euphoria.
Half an hour later, one by one, they landed gently on the grassy field, with shouts and high fives. "That was awesome!" raved E.J. "It felt like there was no gravity, like I was just floating!" cried Camryn. Karen just laughed and said, "Are you guys pilots now? Do you want to take me up?" All afternoon they flew, the kids even more fearless than their parents. "It's a little nervewracking putting control of your child's life in someone else's hands," Ed admitted. "But it's another amazing adventure they get to go home and talk about. There's so much more to life than going to school and playing video games."
SUNDAY, 10:30 A.M.: SAILING
Like hanging out to watch the sunset on the beach at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and setting sail on an 82-foot historic schooner. On Sunday, the Wolfs piled into the Santa Fe to drive to Dana Point Harbor for the launch of Curlew, a teak sailboat built in Maine in 1926. "I hope you're ready to work," Captain Bob told the Wolfs with a smile. "We old guys need all the help we can get." Motoring out of the harbor, past a jetty draped with sea lions, he gave the command to raise the sails. "When I say heave, you say ho!" called Roger, the first mate. "You're lifting 65 feet of sail, and it gets heavy toward the end."
Soon the Curlew was sailing steadily across turquoise water through six-knot winds. Captain Bob showed Cammy, E.J., and Garret how to steer the ship's wheel and put it on autopilot so that the wheel pulled gently left and right on its own, an invisible hand keeping it on course. "The boat's driving itself!" Garret cried. "There's magic on this ship!"
After a picnic lunch on the teak deck, Captain Bob tacked and set a course for home. That's when the real magic began. Dolphins. Far to port, they arced out of the water as seagulls swooped overhead. Then they zoomed closer, keeping pace with the Curlew's bow, glinting grey backs breaking an inky sea. Soon they were all around, the kids shouting and pointing as the playful cetaceans breached and dove.
It was the perfect way to cap an unforgettable weekend of firsts: the family's first time paragliding, their first tall-ship sailing adventure, their first trip to California, and, yes, their first broken bone. "This is a dream come true," Garret said, as Bob steered the grand old Curlew into her slip in the harbor, wrapping up another epic Wolf Pack adventure.
If You Go:
- The Lodge at Torrey Pines: lodgetorreypines.com
- Torrey Pines Gliderport: sandiegofreeflight.com
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: torreypine.org
- Curlew Charters: sailcurlew.com