Gust Junkies: Wind Sports Take Off

Text by Jake Abrahamson

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  • Three paragliders descend along the curvy flanks of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

    From the icy lakes of Sweden to the cliffs of California, wind athletes move in the space where earth and air converge. They fly. They flip. They zip. They skim. And, like a surfer to the swell or a skier to the snow, they're beholden to nature's mercurial rhythm. Sitting in the cubicle on a weekday afternoon, wind addicts get goose bumps just from seeing the trees in the parking lot shake.

    As dramatically as wind-driven movement has evolved, the ancient sail—that same simple motor the early Egyptians took out on the Nile—remains largely unchanged. With a sheet of cloth and a gust of air, the wind seeker's thrills are always close by.

    Above, three paragliders descend along the curvy flanks of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They cruise down in tight turns, intermittently gaining lift on rising columns of wind called thermals.

    William Moran/Gallery Stock

  • Windsurfing

    Ocean-bound river currents and prevailing summer winds flow against each other in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Oregon-Washington border. The resulting fields of wavelets are perfect for popping tricks. Here, windsurfer Rob Warwick takes advantage by doing a "shove it."

    Richard Hallman

  • Ice Yachting

    An ice yacht skims the frozen waters of Sweden's Trälhavet. These vessels can surpass 60 miles per hour. To get a running start, skippers slip into light, high-traction footwear—which often means golf shoes.

    Henrik Trygg/Corbis

  • Sailing

    This 18-foot sailing skiff is a rarity—fewer than 20 exist in North America, though they're more popular down under. As it planes the surface beneath Australia's darkening skies, three sailors lean off the windward side to keep it balanced. Once you've sailed one of these, aficionados say, you can sail anything.

    Christophe Launay/Aurora Photos

  • Paragliding

    While paragliders are easier to launch and transport, many biwinguals swear by the hang glider's ultrasmooth flight. Its stable wing can traverse great distances (world record: 474 miles), and the prone cocoon makes the pilot feel like a bird—or a speeding bullet.

    William Moran/Gallery Stock