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Friday Slide Show: Hang Gliders Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

24 July 2015

We've never much been taken by man's dream of flight, preferring a nap during which we can simply dream. The cost of gear is significantly lower and no instructor is required. And conditions are always favorable.

But some people can never scratch that itch quite enough. And at the end of John Daly Blvd. in Daly City you can watch them doing it.

You can see them all along the Daly City coast into San Francisco, in fact. They launch themselves from Fort Funston, which offers a nice viewing deck. But, as we've pointed out before, Funston is also a big dog park. So if you prefer to look up instead of down, the turnout at John Daly Blvd. above Thornton State Beach is the ticket.

Thornton State Beach. The turnout is the circle just to the left of Highway 1.

We pulled over one bright day and parked the car in the circle of the turnout. It's not much of a walk to the edge and you can't safely go beyond. Bright sun in the middle of the afternoon -- but it was windy.


We had a 35mm prime on the Nikon D200 but immediately realized the situation called for a telephoto, so we shielded the D200 from the wind and made the switch on a bench.

The D200 doesn't have a sensor cleaning mechanism, so we were very careful. And managed the switch without getting anything on the sensor.

Both lenses had polarizers on them and ISO was consequently set to 400. We used f5.6 and f8 shooting into the sky with shutter speeds in the thousandths of a second.

Even at 200mm, which was the limit of our 18-200mm Nikkor zoom, we weren't quite close enough. But we opened it up to 95mm, 62mm and 42mm, too.

It was fun to be able to compose the images with the zoom, changing orientation to include the beach or stretching it out for more sky.


Anticipation helps too. The hang gliders don't race across the sky but they do move along quickly. You won't get the shot if you wait to see it. But the flight patterns are predictable. They are riding the updraft along the cliffs and don't turn back until they get to San Francisco.

It's just a matter of how high they are. And how close together they are flying.

Pilots flying lower have the right of way. At the same level, pilots flying towards each other yield to the pilot with the cliffs on their right. In the same direction, the pilot on the inside has the right of way.

And they're are flying as high as 2,100 feet to the north and 1,600 feet to the south. So you need a telephoto lens.


The beach is named after a Rhode Island blacksmith who set up shop here in 1851. The park, apart from the turnout, is closed to the public. There have been a lot of landslides and erosion of the cliff onto the beach below.

So resist the temptation to wander. You can get to the beach safely from Funston.

But be careful where you step. You may stumble over us trying to nap.

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