Written by: Sabrina Krewin, Chuck Smith & Ed Stein
The following article was printed in the February 2010 issue of Hang Gliding & Paragliding Magazine
When you step off of the plane in Accra, the capital of Ghana, the equatorial air hits you like a steamy, sultry cloud, full of unfamiliar aromas and promises of exciting adventures. Loud music, hot food, gorgeous views and friendly faces begin to warm your soul and spread a huge smile across your face! And that’s not all that you have to be happy about, because every year, one of the most unique paragliding festivals on the African continent is hosted in Ghana.
In just a few short years, the Ghana Paragliding Festival has become an integral part of the annual Easter celebrations, which is one of the most popular holidays in many regions throughout the country. The festival attracts both Ghanaians and foreigners alike for more than 3 days of spectacular aerial fun, ceremony and music. For the last 5 years, tandem pilots have gathered from around the world to fly local Ghanaian spectators and foreign visitors. The festival is open to solo pilots as well; and boasts consistent flying conditions, that begin around mid morning and remain soarable until late in the day. The thermals are consistently large and mild, and offer a fantastic opportunity for both newer pilots to gain valuable experience and airtime as well as for seasoned pilots who want to fly for hours “stress free”.
There are many reasons to attend the Annual Ghana Paragliding Festival, as either a participating tandem pilot, a solo pilot or a non-flying guest:
1) The Festival exposes hundreds of Ghanaians, as well as a large number of tourists, to the magic of free fight. Remember how beautiful and mind-altering your first flight was? Well, the festival is a remarkable opportunity for many Africans, who struggle on a daily basis just to secure consistent meals, to experience something that otherwise they would never have access to.
2) The Festival brings together the international flying community, by providing a well-organized opportunity to visit Africa. It can be a challenge to travel in Africa; especially flying sites, which are usually off of the beaten tourist paths. But the superb organization of the festival makes it fun and easy for tandem and solo pilots to show-up and enjoy a fully catered trip; complete with arranged hotel accommodation, transportation, meals and cultural immersion via local daytrips.
3) The festival strengthens the local economy by creating opportunities for local business proprietors (such as taxi drivers, hotel owners, food vendors and souvenir sellers) to earn much needed income. Furthermore, this year the festival’s ambition is to give back more to the local communities by matching donations with charitable efforts. Such as in 2007, when attending pilots Matt Gerdes and Sabrina Krewin coordinated with Ozone to donate $1000 dollars towards a computer lab project at Savelugu School for the Deaf, in Northern Ghana. Likewise, this year the festival is reaching out to anyone interested in making a donation of $50 to sponsor a free-flight for a local spectator. By gathering donations for sponsored flights, more money can be made available to off-set the costs of participating tandem pilots, which means that more participants can have the chance to fly. Another example of how the festival is giving back to the local community is the efforts of a tandem pilot attending from Norway, who is hoping to contact corporations to raise money for supporting local school children.
To those who are not familiar with Ghana, it is on the central west coast of Africa bordered by Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to the West, Togo to the East. Situated just 5 degrees from the equator and directly on the Greenwich Meridian, it’s fun just to see your GPS reading nearly all zeros. Furthermore, The Republic of Ghana is one of the politically safest African countries, being the first African State to achieve democratic independence in 1957. Entering the airport terminal, “Akwaaba,” meaning welcome in the Twi language, is painted on the wall in giant letters. Previous festival guests will attest that the kind and hospitable people of Ghana are among the friendliest people in the world. Amazingly, Ghana is home to more than a hundred different ethnic groups; and while most Ghanaians also speak at least one local language, the official language in Ghana is English.
The festival kicks-off after the local chiefs give their royal authorization for the ceremonies, and government officials complete their formal proclamations. The history of the festival goes back to March 2003 when, as the new Minister of Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City, Mr. Jake Tonka Obetsebi-Lamptey visited the Kwahu ridge as part of his familiarization tour of the country, and by chance crossed paths with the festival’s organizer, Walter Neser. The first Ghana Paragliding Festival, in 2005, was launched by H.E.Alhaji Aliu Mahama, Vice President of the Republic of Ghana.
As soon as the giant speakers that are set-up on launch began to play local hit songs, the crowd starts to cheer and dance and the pilots prepare for take-off. Everything in Ghana involves music. It’s an essential staple of the country and prerequisite for any event; appropriate since Ghana is the seminal home to Highlife music, Blues, Reggae, and Rock n’ Roll. Now it’s finally time for the ‘flying people’ to start doing their stuff, as many locals call the paragliding pilots. The humid, tropical air offers tranquil flying and fat, silky edged thermals upon take-off the launch site, which can be a little bit tricky for novices. The local vultures are perfect thermal markers and are totally comfortable with the presence of airborne humans, as they soar just inches away from your glider.
Cloud base is usually about 2000ft over launch and getting there offers a perfect respite. Approximately 1400 feet below launch, the LZ is a spacious and grassy soccer field, only moments away from the best hotel in the area. These relaxed flying conditions juxtapose with the energized atmosphere at launch. The dedicated percussion band plays non-stop all day as hundreds of spectators shout with excitement as each glider leaves the ground. The animated M.C. also entertains the crowd with humorous announcements called over a crackling PA system. Television and radio crews conduct interviews with pilots and passengers, alike, capturing overall enthusiasm. Buses and cars crawl along bumper to bumper, searching for the last remaining parking spot. Women dressed in their finest Easter attire parade by, creating a wonderful display of vibrant colors. Eager tandem passengers wait anxiously to be matched up with a pilot to make their first flight.
The festival is not only the perfect introduction to flying and traveling in Africa, but also a phenomenal insight into West African culture. One festival spectator, from Germany, said about her tandem flight, “My experience of flying tandem in Nkawkaw was one of the most overwhelming one in my life. I had been volunteering in Ghana for half a year when I first heard about the possibility of paragliding. I saw Eastern Regions beautiful landscape and the mountain passing below me and felt freer and happier than I could have imagined before. It was one of the most interesting and stunning experiences of my life!”
Moreover, attending the Ghana Paragliding Festival offers the perfect chance to fill that window of time while the ski season is coming to an end and the summer thermals are still weeks away. Just don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes!
For more information on how to attend the festival visit the official website at http://www.ghanaparagliding.com Hyperlink is also posted to the right.