I'm wondering who out there has actually participated in this sport. It seems so scary to me - you're like a teradactyl (I mean, how DO you spell that word???) but the wings aren't a part of your body so you can fly into anything at anytime, right? To me it just seems very dangerous even though it looks like it would be amazing. Can someone tell us mere mortals what it's like?
OK, so I've been flying hang gliders for over 20 years, and have watched the sport grow from infancy to the mature (and much safer) state that it is today. You are right, it does seem scary. It is particularly scary if you have a fear of falling, or of heights. But it is not scary to get started, as long as you get guidance from an experienced instructor. You just run into the wind, down a very gentle and grassy slope. You get a foot or so off the ground, and glide along next to the ground. It is magical. After you acquire basic skills, you discover it is a bit like riding a bicycle -- you completely forget that you might fall off as you are riding. Modern gliders are much more aerodynamically sound than the equipment that generated all the early accidents (in the '70s). Hang glider pilots fly with protective helmets, a parachute, radios, GPS with moving map displays, and computerized flight instruments. They stay up all day, climb over ten thousand feet high, and fly hundreds of miles. The statistics tell the story of the safety record -- the actual risk of death from hang gliding is less than that for scuba, parachuting, and motorcycling, and much less than that for owning a small airplane!
It sounds like so much fun. I have to say, one of the best ways to conquer your fears is just in and doing what scares you. I am a bit scared of heights, so I think it would be really good to be in a situation where the odds of anything bad happening are minimal but you get to experience what you thought you were afraid of (free falling). One of these days I will give it a try. We only get one life, right?
It's funny, because hanggliding used to be on my list of things to do at least once in my life when I was younger and a daredevil. :) I'm still fascinated by the idea, because flying is, in many ways, this perennial ultimate dream for most people, and this seems like the closest you can get to it. I think it's important to research it, take classes, figure out the safest way to do it, then go for it! It's definitely something I am adding back onto my list!