Located under the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport and adjacent to the Hyperion sewage treatment plant is a peaceful stretch of desolate beachfront that is home to the sport of hang gliding. Snuggled between Manhattan Beach and Venice Beach, Dockweiler State Beach has been the celebrated home to the sport for 14 years.
Recently Guardian Liberty Voice had the opportunity to speak with the director of the U.S. Hang Gliding Association, Joe Greblo. “Dockweiler is for hang gliders what Kitty Hawk, N.C., is for general aviation,” said Greblo. “The Wright brothers took their first flight on sand dunes and we had our first flights at Dockweiler beach.” Greblo is president of Windsports and has been teaching hang gliding at the park for nearly 30 years. “I love teaching the sport and the history of the area. After only about 20 minutes of instruction, you’ll be sitting in a harness looking down from of a two-story building,” said Greblo.
According to Hanggliderhistory.com, the modern sport of hang gliding started in 1881 when German Otto Lilienthal first constructed nearly 20 hang gliders that he used for experimentation, as well as for his personal enjoyment. On the spot, the site of a man hovering high above the ground grew spectator interest. Soon, Otto started commercial production of hang gliders, helping to spread the sport of hang gliding around the world. Newspaper mogul and yellow journalism icon William Randolph Hearst actually purchased one of Otto’s hang gliders and hired an athletic youth to demonstrate it across the country. Today, there are an estimated 10,000 hang gliders nationwide.
Los Angeles Times reporter, Dean Murphy, has explained why Dockweiler Beach provides the perfect spot for the sport. Murphy states that the remote beach has predictable and gentle ocean winds, and sits on top of a 30-foot high bluff. Below, is 300 feet of soft, impact resistant sand. The vast and even softer Pacific Ocean flanks the westerly border of the landing field. Because of these perfect conditions, the beach has been popular among hang gliders “for more than 20 years,” said Murphy. He added that the sport was virtually invented on the same beach back in the 1960s.
Dockweiler State Beach is approximately four square miles and was originally called Venice-Hyperion Beach State Park. However in 1955, the beach was renamed in honor of Isidore B. Dockweiler, an historic figure in Los Angeles history. Today the beach remains one of the best kept secrets in Southern California.
There are several things that make this beach unique. For one thing, it is one of the only empty beaches among the people packed shorelines of nearby Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Venice Beach. In addition, the Dockweiler State Beach hang gliding park is the only government constructed location for the sport in the nation. Constructed 14 years ago, Dockweiler Beach remains the home of hang gliding on the coast of California.
According to Murphy, the City of Los Angeles spent more than $6 million to build the seven acre park in 2000. The park includes a secluded seven acre parking area and a pedestrian bridge that connects the lot and the treatment plant. In addition the city reinforced the bluff that is used as launching pad for the hang gliders.
The fact that the government sanctioned the park is also ironic because the County of Los Angeles once outlawed hang gliding on the beach. It took 13 years before government officials not only approved hang gliding, they helped build a park for the sport.
Livestrong reporter Davy Knoles has reported that Los Angeles County closed Dockweiler Beach to hang gliding in 1986 because of “safety and liability concerns”. Knoles explained that the park has three take-off slopes facing different directions in order to experience varying wind conditions. Each take-off pad is roughly 300 feet wide and almost 30 feet high.
While speaking with Joe Greblo, he reminisced about the beach site saying, “This spot is also historic because the early aviation pioneers in the 1940s used these same sand dunes to test their unique flying machines.” With soft sands, gentle breezes, isolation and even a unique place in history, Dockweiler Beach has been the continuous home to the California hang gliding community for 14 years.
By Vincent Aviani