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Paragliders soar over Fort Ebey

Coupeville resident Jim Martyn soars above the bluff near the gun batteries at Fort Ebey State Park. The open area near the gun emplacement is a popular spot from which paraglider pilots take off and land.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville resident Jim Martyn soars above the bluff near the gun batteries at Fort Ebey State Park. The open area near the gun emplacement is a popular spot from which paraglider pilots take off and land.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Fort Ebey State Park is a popular destination for hikers, campers and horseback riders, but the popular Central Whidbey park also attracts a high-flying breed of visitor.

On a sunny, slightly breezy afternoon, paraglider pilots often take off from the flat, grassy area beneath the historic gun batteries.

Coupeville resident Jim Martyn has been a paraglider pilot for 17 years and was gliding from Fort Ebey one recent Wednesday afternoon. He flies from the gun emplacement to the beach and back.

“For living so close to Fort Ebey, it makes perfect sense,” Martyn said after he landed. He has lived on Whidbey Island for 15 years and has taught many of the paragliders flying in the area.

“We’ve got probably the best wind tunnel in North America,” Martyn said of the conditions at Fort Ebey State Park, situated above breezy Admiralty Inlet.

In addition to his equipment, he also carries handfuls of lollipops. If he glides over children and they yell out, it will soon be raining lollipops.

The bluff at the state park has been a popular paragliding spot for years. Pilots from around the region and from Canada will visit Whidbey Island to glide off the park’s bluff.

“It’s one of our favorite spots,” said Jared Lyman, president of the Northwest Paragliding Club, which has approximately 175 members.

He said the conditions at Fort Ebey State Park are favorable for “ridge soaring.”

“It’s extremely smooth air,” he said. Once the winds lift the wing, a pilot is treated to views of Puget Sound, the surrounding mountains, the historic town of Coupeville and the prairies of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Lyman said a mild, 10 mph wind is the perfect breeze for paragliding.

He estimates there are approximately 300 paragliding pilots in the Puget Sound area. In addition to the Issaquah-based group, whose pilots are often gliding at Tiger Mountain, there are clubs on the Olympic Peninsula and Eastern Washington.

There is quite an investment involved with learning how to paraglide. Lessons can cost about $1,800 and equipment such as a harness, reserve chute and the wing can cost between $3,000 and $6,000.

He said it takes 25 flights and a successful skills demonstration to complete training. Depending on how fast someone wants to earn certification, it could take several weeks or an entire summer to complete the training.

For more information about paragliding, visit www.nwparagliding.com.

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