Gliders ready to take flight 

It takes years of practice and a 65-pound set of wings, but it’s possible to fly from Fort Funston to Daly City in just two minutes.

Each year, professional hang gliders who are savvy enough to fly the stretch from the southwestern corner of San Francisco south across the county line take part in the Funston Air Races.

On Aug. 28, contestants will soar over the Pacific Ocean at 60 mph just feet from the cliff.

“I scared myself when I was next to the cliff and I thought, ‘Why do I do this again?’” said Enzo Fatica, who won last year’s competition by eight seconds. “I know everyone’s going to try to beat me this year. I just hope that I don’t end up somewhere on the beach.”

The battle starts at the sawdust landing near a parking lot off Skyline Boulevard around noon, wind permitting. If the wind is strong enough to suspend the fliers, about 15 mph, then the race proceeds. Otherwise, they have to wait for it to pick up.

Once the gliders take to the air, the clock starts ticking as contestants fly the 2-mile stretch to Daly City, turn around and fly back.

“It’s about 4 miles and it can be done in about four minutes,” said tandem instructor Steve Rodrigues of the hang gliding group Fellow Feathers, the main organizer of the event. “There’s really nothing like flying at Fort Funston.”

The winner gets inevitable bragging rights and a free membership to the Fellow Feathers, which is normally a $65 suggested donation.

But for the fearless fliers, the prize is not the motivation.

“I think I gave mine away,” said Fatica, who started flying 25 years ago.

The tight-knit group of friends is more excited about sharing the beauty of their haven with a pot-luck barbecue commemorating fellow flier Dan Murphy, who was shot to death in 2006 at Fort Funston for reasons that are still unknown.

“We’ve had this annual memorial for him every year since,” said Rodrigues, who will not be competing because he’s recovering after a hang glider chord sliced his arm. “It’s just a whole lot of fun, and of course everyone is welcome.”

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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