I was afraid to do this, but somewhere along the way when my hands were clenched to the side of the aircraft, I teared up out of pure amazment because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing from above.
I knew in that moment this was one of the best things I had ever done.
Our powered hang gliding excursion came together on a whim. My cousin, Zach, is interested in flying so this idea had his name all over it. If he wasn’t on this trip, I never would have done this. Oh and another thing…if we hadn’t stopped at the visitor’s center in Halleiwa to use the bathroom the day before, we never would’ve met Tom Sanders.
You see, Tom doesn’t advertise his business. Recently, employees at the visitor’s center asked if Tom wanted to exchange a flight for an advertisement in their island brochure. He agreed. That single advertisement is what my aunt noticed — and within minutes Zach was calling for reservations.
Tom Sanders made his living in Hollywood as a man who jumped out of planes with a camera on his head. Seriously. He’s that badass. He skydives with 25 lbs. of camera equipment on his helmet so that he can get the shots only a handful of others in the world can get. He’s worked on numerous commercial shoots, movies and scenes for Hawaii Five-0.
Sanders has skydived with celebrities like Patrick Swayze and Nicole Kidman. Most notably, he jumped with former President George H.W. Bush when Bush celebrated his birthday with a skydive.
Below is the iconic photo you’ve probably seen…but you didn’t know that Tom is the photographer. This framed and autographed image hangs on the wall in Tom’s hanger.
Sanders is an FAA Certified Flight Instructor. His powered hang gliding business is a combination of his two passions, photography/film and flying.
PARADISE AIR HAWAII
Paradise Air Hawaii is the company Tom and his wife Denise run out of Oahu. It’s located at Dillingham Airfield in Waialua, HI. If you didn’t know it was there (either from word of mouth or maybe this post!) then you wouldn’t see it. The state of Hawaii doesn’t allow companies to display large signs for their business. So when we went for our sunrise flights, we drove up to a pitch black hanger which had us second-guessing where we were. Thankfully, Denise provided great directions that helped us soon confirm we were in the right spot.
During the flight, you’ll have on a helmet, headphones and a suit that Paradise Air Hawaii provides to keep you warm and comfortable. The headset allows you to talk to Tom the entire time. He (or his other 2 pilots) will be in the front, while you sit behind them during the flight.
We each paid $180 for our 30 minute flight (although Tom gave us 10 more minutes in the air since he didn’t have clients after us). He has a camera with a fish-eye lens on one wing and a video camera on the other. We paid $95 for the photos and video (and got a free t-shirt for buying both!) You can buy just the photos or just the video for $65. We found the video to be worth it because it has audio recording, so you’ll get to hear the instruction Tom gave you for flying.
During the course of the flight, he gives you history of the island and everything in sight. He tells you personal stories and stories about President Obama’s visits. He gives you the science behind the tradewinds, the ocean and the mountain climates. It’s truly an experience unlike anything else.
The hanger itself is super cool too. Tom’s award-winning photos are on display, the walls are painted a beautiful blue and there is a TV and couches for you to comfortably wait and enjoy a snack while your partner is on their flight. I enjoyed a DVD about Maui while I waited for Zach to return, because Maui was the island we were headed to next!
IS IT SCARY?
Yeah. Duh. You’re above the mountain tops at times. But don’t let fear hold you back. Please hear me when I say, it is so worth it! I had more fear as we went higher, and I hung on for dear life. But the higher we went, the better the view.
When he brought us lower to the water, I was definitely more comfortable. Tom communicates with you the entire time and says if at any point you want to stop, he will land the aircraft. Even though I was fearful at times, I was equally in awe. I trusted Tom’s experience (of more than 8,000 flights) and I soaked in God’s artwork.
Conquering my fear was so satisfying. Seeing Oahu from above, in the open air, was even better.
SLIDESHOW OF TOM’S PHOTOS DURING THE FLIGHT