Hang Gliding Spectacular at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks, NC

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With its tall sand dunes, strong, steady winds and soft sand landings, Jockey’s Ridge remains a Mecca for hang gliding enthusiasts. Those conditions are the same reasons the Wright Brothers picked the Outer Banks for their experimental first flights in their famous flying machine in the early 1900s.

Hang Gliding Over Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head

Up, Up and Away

Hang-gliding pilots found them selves flocking to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head to experience these excellent conditions during the 38th Annual Hang Gliding Spectacular held May 14-16.

It was a soaring success according to all accounts.

Area merchants and businesses welcomed the hang gliders and their families to the Outer Banks as this annual event brings in visitors to the area at a time that would otherwise be slow, said Jeannie Maynard of Village Realty OBX.

Village Realty OBX manages 500 plus homes on the beach; with many homes in or near Nags Head and reported a bump in vacation rentals for both full weeks and short stays due to the event, she added.

“One reason is that many people prefer to stay in a home rather than a hotel and Village Realty is one of the few vacation rental companies on the Outer Banks that permits short stays" (less than a week), Maynard said.

The spectacular event featured 51 hang-gliding pilots who competed in two divisions, novice and advanced, during the three days of competition.

And everyone involved was quick to point out that the spectacular is the longest, continuously-run, hang-gliding competition in the world.

John Harris, owner of Kite Hawk Kites, who sponsors the event, said the event draws people back in Nags Head year after year.

“Jockey’s Ridge is a special, special place,” he said. “People who compete in the mountains come back and enjoy flying in the competition. It takes a lot of skill.”

After a dune top takeoff, competitors must maneuver their glider around pillions below on the ground. And then, they aim to land in a bull’s eye target, delineated in the sand with pool noodles.

Harris said the pilots get points for going around the pillions, for landing on their feet and for landing in the target area.

In addition, late on Saturday afternoon and early on Sunday morning, the conditions allowed some pilots to soar above the sandy ridges just as gulls do along the beaches when the wind is just right.

Soaring can only happen when the winds are strong enough to keep the pilots moving vertically to the ground as opposed to horizontally like when they’re competing. The pilots thrive on soaring.

As for the competition, a Salt Lake City duo took first places in two divisions. Ryan Voight was first in the advanced with 145 points; Desiree Rhinesmith captured first for the novice.

The pair is engaged to be married. They returned to the event because they each love the area.

“My fiancée and I are from the East and we come back as much as we can,” Rhinesmith said while resting on the dune top in between flights at noon on Saturday. “He’s currently in first place.”

Rhinesmith was hanging out with future mother-in-law, Barbara Voight whose husband Paul was also competing in the spectacular. They are from Ellenville, N.Y.

“It’s a family affair,” Rhinesmith said.

Both Ryan and Paul Voight have their own hang gliding schools in other areas, Barbara noted. Ryan’s school is in Salt Lake City, Utah, Paul’s is in Ellenville. When they’re flying in the mountains, Barbara does the shuttle driving, she said.

Another competitor, Billy Vaughan, a native of the Outer Banks who now lives in Charlottesville, Va., was getting ready for his flight nearby.

“Right now, there are very good conditions,” he said.

Vaughan said he returns every year for the flying and fellowship.

“It’s a big reunion,” he said. “It’s the longest continuously held event [of its type] in the world. Nineteen seventy-three was the first year.”

Vaughan and the other 60 some people on the hill all stopped what they were doing and looked to the landing area where competitor Kevin Coletrane landed in the center of the target.

Everyone cheered and he was awarded 45 points for the flight and perfect landing.

Nags Head resident Doug Haber, who has competed every year since 1994, said the 15 to 18 mile an hour winds and bright sunny skies couldn’t be beat.

“The conditions are great,” he said. “It really is a perfect day.”

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