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Parahawking | A chance to soar like the birds

The unique experience combines paragliding and falconry to give a unique perspective from the air.

SAN DIEGO — Since the beginning of time, humans have wanted to soar like birds. And now you actually can with Total Raptor Experience in San Diego.

I had the opportunity to try "parahawking," the unique experience that combines paragliding and falconry. 

Dave Metzgar is my paraglider pilot as we soar along the cliffs after taking off from the Torrey Pines Gliderport.  He talks with one of his lanner falcons, Sophie, who would be our co-pilot on this flight.

"What a good girl. You're sticking to me like glue today," David says to  Sophie.

Metzgar is a biologist, a conservation educator, and a paragliding pilot. It was more than 17 years ago when he discovered parahawking on a trip to Nepal, which allowed him to combine all of his passions.

Parahawking was pioneered by British falconer, Scott Mason, in Nepal in 2001, and that's where David met him. "I'd heard about parahawking but had never experienced it," David recalls.

While paragliding with Mason and his birds in Nepal, David knew then that this was something that he wanted to bring to San Diego.  Having spent 20 years paragliding at Torrey Pines, he knew that it would be a great fit.

"To me, this place is nearly as magical [as Nepal], and by bringing the two together, I could share it with a new audience," Mason said.

But if flying with falcons may seem a little too much, you can still experience these amazing creatures while keeping your feet on the ground. 

David offers a ground course of Total Raptor Experience at Torrey Pines Gliderport where you get to interact with the lanner falcons.

Patrick Deason and Kerry Hingey were part of the ground experience. Hingey got the once in a lifetime feeling of a free flight falcon landing on her falconer glove covered hand.

Total Raptor Experience works with 3 lanner falcons. In addition to Sophie, he also brought along Reggie for our experience.

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David tells the group, "He is a ground predator and can easily go 100 mph. Reggie likes to hunt close to the ground and surprise his prey."

The falcons also get a chance to hunt with a lure presentation.

David warns us all how to react as Reggie comes in after the lure, and the one main rule; don't flinch if he comes straight at you, because Reggie can easily be going 100 mph.

After the amazing land experience, I'm finally up in the air with Sophie and it's at this point when the whole experience changes. You suddenly forget that you are soaring hundreds of feet in the air and your total focus is watching the falcon fly, and you feel as though you are flying as well.

After gliding for 10 minutes with Sophie, I asked David about how the experience is for him.

"Oh, this is magic every time. I love taking others flying with my birds and hear how it affects them. And I also love watching them fly from the ground," David said.

Folks that see birds and animals as a window, this gives them that path, it transports them into their world, which is what it does for Metzgar every time he gets a chance to fly. "It transports me into the world of the air. For me, it's like a dream, and they are one with me."

To find out more about Total Raptor Experience and parahawking, visit their website.

Credit: Shawn Styles, KFMB

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