Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Xtreme Skyflyer, and learning new and unusual sports

Once you’re in the harness, they attach you to the cable, and a minute or two later, up you go, to about 150 feet above the ground. The sensation of having nothing between you and the ground is pretty… something. Impressive. Cool. Possibly terrifying if you think about it.

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The other really interesting thing about it is that once you get to the top, you control the release: there’s a ripcord that you pull that releases the tow cable. As a result, you’re more in charge, but you can also wimp out and be lowered down (with no refund, of course).

However, I was determined not to chicken out. So I heard, “Alpha, 3… 2… 1!” and pulled the sucker.

It was terrific. The couple seconds where you’re in freefall are, needless to say, pretty invigorating, then after that the swinging back and forth is what you imagine flying is like.

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I’m not sure I would have done this when I was seven, but my son has proved to be a serious thrill-seeker. He was holding onto me pretty tight, but the fact that he went with me is pretty impressive.

The whole thing lasts about two minutes.

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I’ve been thinking a little more about extreme sports these couple days, especially after spending yesterday in San Francisco and discovering kiteboarding, a sport involving a kite, a wakeboard, and an immense amount of upper body and thigh strength. It looks like a tremendous amount of fun, and after checking into it, the short course– three lessons of two hours each– is about $500.

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Is it worth it, I wondered? It seems to me that there are a bunch of unusual sports, or just elite ones– kiteboarding or paragliding in the first category, horseback riding in the second– that cost a non-trivial amount of money to find out if you’re any good at them, but offer the potential for being really great experiences. How do you calculate the value of such things? Or, if you have a budget that allows you to try, say, one or two a year, how do you select them?

It’s an interesting question in part because there are parts of the equation that you can figure fairly precisely: the cost of lessons, the cost of equipment if you really like the sport, the amount of time it could take up in your life. But the intangibles loom just as large: how much one sport versus another would improve your physical condition, how your sense of self would be altered by the quest for big air on San Francisco Bay (or over Santa Clara) and whether it would be cheaper than psychiatry, etc..

I hope to figure it out. And be in a position to act on whatever I figure out.

[To the tune of Frank Sinatra with Count Basie & the Orchestra, “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” from the album Sinatra At The Sands (I give it 3 stars).]

This week the children are between Peninsula summer school and their respective camps, so we’re doing things with them. Today we took the kids to Great America. I’ve been tempted on my last couple visits by something called the Xtreme Skyrider, a ride that basically involves being suspended from a cable, dragged 150 feet up into the air, and then released. You free fall for a couple second, then you swing.

I decided I finally wanted to do it, and Daniel immediately said he wanted to try it too. So he came along.

The first thing they do is put you in this thing that’s a combination of a harness and one of those long bibs that, say, radiologists wear. Not the most fetching outfit– it doesn’t allow a flight suit-like swagger– but since there’s nothing else attaching you to the cable, I was all right with that.

IMG_4552.JPG

Once you’re in the harness, they attach you to the cable, and a minute or two later, up you go, to about 150 feet above the ground. The sensation of having nothing between you and the ground is pretty… something. Impressive. Cool. Possibly terrifying if you think about it.

IMG_4557.JPG

The other really interesting thing about it is that once you get to the top, you control the release: there’s a ripcord that you pull that releases the tow cable. As a result, you’re more in charge, but you can also wimp out and be lowered down (with no refund, of course).

However, I was determined not to chicken out. So I heard, “Alpha, 3… 2… 1!” and pulled the sucker.

It was terrific. The couple seconds where you’re in freefall are, needless to say, pretty invigorating, then after that the swinging back and forth is what you imagine flying is like.

IMG_4562.JPG

I’m not sure I would have done this when I was seven, but my son has proved to be a serious thrill-seeker. He was holding onto me pretty tight, but the fact that he went with me is pretty impressive.

The whole thing lasts about two minutes.

IMG_4589.JPG

I’ve been thinking a little more about extreme sports these couple days, especially after spending yesterday in San Francisco and discovering kiteboarding, a sport involving a kite, a wakeboard, and an immense amount of upper body and thigh strength. It looks like a tremendous amount of fun, and after checking into it, the short course– three lessons of two hours each– is about $500.

IMG_4417.JPG

Is it worth it, I wondered? It seems to me that there are a bunch of unusual sports, or just elite ones– kiteboarding or paragliding in the first category, horseback riding in the second– that cost a non-trivial amount of money to find out if you’re any good at them, but offer the potential for being really great experiences. How do you calculate the value of such things? Or, if you have a budget that allows you to try, say, one or two a year, how do you select them?

It’s an interesting question in part because there are parts of the equation that you can figure fairly precisely: the cost of lessons, the cost of equipment if you really like the sport, the amount of time it could take up in your life. But the intangibles loom just as large: how much one sport versus another would improve your physical condition, how your sense of self would be altered by the quest for big air on San Francisco Bay (or over Santa Clara) and whether it would be cheaper than psychiatry, etc..

I hope to figure it out. And be in a position to act on whatever I figure out.

[To the tune of Frank Sinatra with Count Basie & the Orchestra, “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” from the album Sinatra At The Sands (I give it 3 stars).]

2 Comments

  1. I love the video! And can’t believe Daniel did it with you. You know, thrill-seeking is supposedly genetically coded (Why do I find myself saying things like that so often these days?!).

    I’ve got a kid who is decidedly NOT in that category, just like his dad.

    I’d say yes, definitely more extreme sports.

  2. I can’t really believe he did it either. He’s a brave little kid, doing a
    150 foot free fall, even WITH his increasingly crazed dad.

    I hear that thrill-seeking is genetically coded. I just didn’t realize I had
    the code until I started seeing it in him.

    Which, I suppose, suggests that I don’t really believe that merely having
    the code guarantees a certain kind of behavior. I tend to think of genetics
    as creating doors that you still have to open.

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