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Glide with the gulls at the beach near LAX

 (Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Why: The 15-foot bluffs of Dockweiler State Beach, in the shadow of LAX, are the launch point for beginner hang-gliding lessons, perhaps the coolest sport you've never tried. The lessons are quick, and the sport as intuitive as flying gets. Stepping off a bluff under a hang glider is almost pneumatic, as if compressors are involved.

What: All you really want to know is how difficult it is, and I'd compare hang-gliding to opening an umbrella or smearing a bagel with cream cheese. Essentially, anybody who is fairly active can hang-glide. You're harnessed into this 40-foot training glider, which wants to fly the way beer barrels want to float.

Once you get comfortable, hang-gliding is playful and exhilarating — a spirited and spiritual escape.

Beginner sessions are offered Wednesdays through Sundays, on bluffs 15 to 30 feet high. There is the training, then four to seven flights, of various lengths, and soft landings. It’s not exactly idiot-proof, but the risks are minimal, and the instructors patient and encouraging.

You start at the lower “bunny bluffs,” then work up to longer flights. As with sailing, winds kick up later in the day, and the most sparkling and sensational rides take place before dusk.   

Once you get comfortable, hang-gliding is playful and exhilarating — a spirited and spiritual escape. For a while, it’s just you and the gulls and the sea breezes, and the roar of L.A. traffic feels 1,000 miles away.

Where: Windsports Soaring Center, Dockweiler State Beach, 12501 Vista del Mar, Los Angeles.

How much: $99 for a lesson and four flights; $160 for a lesson and seven flights

Info: (800) 644-8988; info@windsports.com

 (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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