Reporter Jack Dolan hitches a ride with veteran flyer Fred Ballard over Sylmar. As the average age of hang glider pilots soars into the 60s and 70s, their sport, which was born in Southern California, teeters on the brink of extinction. Replacing them, a younger breed of pilots who favor a soft wing -- a steerable parachute, really -- pioneered by French alpineists looking for something compact they could stuff in a back pack that would offer suitably stylish descents from rugged peaks. To a layman, they're all gravity-defying daredevils but hang gliders and paragliders often regard each other with surprising contempt.
Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times
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