Issue 15.3: June/July 2012

Eye in the Sky

Story by Jon Letman

Photo courtesy Birds in Paradise 


Gerry Charlebois has one of the coolest jobs in Hawai‘i. Over four decades, his hang gliding hobby has evolved into a dual career: flight instruction and aerial photography. As owner of Birds in Paradise flight school, he’s taught thousands the thrill of flying; along the way he’s shot hundreds of hours of spectacular footage of the Garden Isle’s wonders. Charlebois’ school specializes in teaching people to fly motorized hang gliders, which, unlike ultralights, require FAA certification to pilot solo. Powered hang gliding, Charlebois says, can be addicting. “They’re a lot cheaper than an airplane, they’re fun and who doesn’t dream of flying?” Many students are first-timers who have never flown anything more sophisticated than a kite, but about half are licensed pilots looking for a more intimate flying experience. And intimate it is: A hang glider gives its pilot a unique, up-close vantage, allowing access to places where planes can’t safely fly. Charlebois has captured the experience with his new film, Epic Kaua‘i, fifty-five minutes of stunning adventure footage. Charlebois spent more than four years gliding around Kaua‘i taking aerial shots using a high-definition camera mounted on his hang glider. The film features some of Kaua‘i’s most iconic scenery—the Na Pali coast, Wai‘ale‘ale crater and Hanalei bay at sunset—but also places most visitors and many kama‘aina have never seen: the steep, volcanic lip of Lehua islet near Ni‘ihau, Kalalau sea cave waterfalls and low passes over ‘Anini reef. Charlebois also took his camera underwater, strapping himself to the bottom of a boat to capture the sensation of swimming with dolphins. Epic Kaua‘i, shot in HD at a cost of $100,000, was co-produced by Emmy-nominated music and video editor Ashley Revell. The film also answers the perennial question visitors to Kaua‘i ask: “What’s there to do here at night?” Recalling a segment where he filmed a nighttime lobster dive, Charlebois says, “That’s what we do at night on Kaua‘i. You know, a lot of people don’t get to have as much fun as we do.”