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Slope: Kua Bay

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/11/2013

The most consistent slope I have within decent driving distance of my house is the pu`u (cindercone) just south of Kua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s about a forty minute  drive by car, and is on the way to Costco. So once every two weeks when we do our big Costco buy, I essentially get a free trip to the slope. So long as I can pack some planes in the car along with the coolers we normally take, I’m good to go.

Walking In

There’s no fence to climb, no gate to go through, no nothing. The trail starts just off the access road to Kua Bay and takes you either to the north peak or the south peak, depending on which branch you follow. The north peak is considerably higher, and is the preferred slope, but it’s only good when the wind is coming out of the north. Most of the time the southern peak – or rather the southern ridge – is where you wind up, as I did in that photo.


Launching is dead nuts easy off this slope. There are no obstructions to steer around. Just toss and fly.


And the flying is nice. The lift zone is a little flat, so once you drop below the horizon you really have to work to get back up into it. With a light enough plane and good conditions you can get way up in the lift, almost twice the height of the pu`u. But at that altitude the lift is pretty minimal. Because of the shape of the ridge, the lift falls off rapidly to either side as well. When you’re facing directly into the wind, there’s almost no lift zone on the left side. The wind rolls around the shoulder of the cindercone. On the right, however, because of the other peak, you can still get lift even 45 degrees to the wind. So the flying tends to be a little asymmetric. But it’s all good.

It didn’t happen the last time I was out there, but on occasion tropic birds will fly the lift off this slope as well. It’s pretty neat to be there, flying your plane, and have a bird or two drop in to check you out. It’s humbling, too, when they eventually get bored, twist a wing, and shoot up effortlessly into the sky.

Walk of Shame

The only real problem with this site is the landing zone and the slope itself. It’s all rock. There are some trees, but they all have thorns that like to tear wing covering. All of my ridge-top landings were hand-caught the day these pictures were made, simply to spare the plane from the wear and tear. But because the wind was weak, I had a ton of landings down-slope. The only thing for it is to hike down, grab your plane, and hike back up. On days like this one I find myself wishing for a little grass.

If you decide to go flying from this slope, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat (both of which I forgot this day), and bring plenty of water (which I also forgot). The sun can be punishing, and there’s the hike at the beginning and end to contend with.

I brought two planes this day, but only really wound up flying the Zagi 5C wing. I launched my Le Fish a couple of times, but I’m still not 100% happy with the balance on it, and this just wasn’t the slope to test on. That’ll have to wait for another day and a different slope.

– Tom

P.S. All the photos in this set were done by Rydra. She has way more patience with me than I deserve.


2 Responses to “Slope: Kua Bay”

  1. Tim Cole said

    Wow! It looks like a great site. Challenging, but a great place to fly anyway. Is this the big pu’u just west of the intersection between Hwy 19 and Mamalahoa Hwy? I remember wishing I’d had the chance to get up there and get some photographs.

  2. Tom Benedict said

    It’s the one just north of the airport, maybe four or five miles up Hwy 19 from the airport turnoff. I think it’s right across the highway from the Veteran’s Cemetery.

    I’m still looking for… er… less challenging slopes. At least slopes with more grass. But for now it’s a pretty cool place to fly.


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