It’s extremely satisfying to see others achieve their dreams. We’re all fortunate to have popped out in a place and time when such fulfillment is possible. I suspect that many humans around the globe would love to pursue theirs as this goes to show.

South Africa is a bastion of civility in a continent of calamity but there are nowhere near the opportunities that exists elsewhere, especially for those in relative poverty. They have to work harder, as this story shows, to realize their dreams. So it was uplifting to read of this boy’s success. My hat is also off to those who saw his determination and didn’t put him down, but rather helped him along. I’m sure some scoffed—they’re the losers. Welcome Cyril, to the ranks of flyers.

Cyril’s store from Wired

Cyril Mazibuko grew up in the shadows of the mountains. Born in a small kraal at the foot of the Drakensberg range in the southern part of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, Cyril would often look up at the 3,000-meter basalt peaks, a playground for African paragliders. Enthralled, Cyril made a decision: He would build his own glider and join them in the sky.

Now 26, Cyril is the only black South African currently registered with the sport’s ruling body. And it all started with a glider he made from plastic bags, purloined rope and baling wire, a glider that flew — sort of — though it both amazed and horrified the professional paragliders who saw it.

Like many “extreme” sports, paragliding is relatively new. In the early 1950s British sportsman Walter Neumark was one of the first to advocate the possibilities of ultra-light gliders that could be launched by foot power alone.

A decade later the sport received a big boost when American Domina Jalbert invented what came to be the template for the modern glider. His vision for a wing consisted of cells that were soft and supple on the ground, but became rigid when inflated by the wind. Dalbert’s invention would eventually allow pilots to go farther than ever before, and it provided them with significantly more control in the air.

Today the average glider is a marvel of engineering. It has more than 300 meters of steering lines, as well as between 25 to 35 square meters of ultra-light, ultra-strong porous fabrics.

And despite the gentle image of a pilot floating softly to earth, wings can move — fast. A low-end glider can hit 50 kilometers per hour, high-end gliders top out at 65 km/h.

Paragliding is also a sport for the well-heeled. A brand-new glider and harness can easily cost upwards of $4,500. In short, these aren’t the sort of machines amateurs are supposed to build, especially not 12-year-old boys with little formal schooling.

Cyril started small, using plastic bread bags for the wing, with lines made from orange-bag strings. He would add weights to these early prototypes and let them go. “Throw it into the air and it would fly,” he says proudly.

But for his glider to carry a person, Cyril needed better materials, so he improvised. At night he and his friends would raid a local farm and make off with fertilizer bags, rope and baling wire. He chuckles at the memory: “He (the farmer) never knew what was happening.”

Cyril stitched together the fertilizer bags to make his wing, using the wire for a needle and the rope as thread. He also built himself a harness, and even added basic safety features.

“We used to see paragliders all the time, (and I realized), ‘Oh, there is an airbag to stop somebody from hurting his back if he crashed,'” he remembers, “so we used to put wine bags, inflated ones, in (our) harness.”

And after more than a dozen attempts Cyril had a working glider. It could carry 45 kilograms, and it flew, albeit backward and uphill. In a strong breeze the glider could be inflated and would take its “pilot” to the top of a small hill, while he faced downhill. With soft wind the glider served as a sort of parachute allowing the boys to jump off the top and float down gently to terra firma.

Cyril’s efforts soon drew the attention of more experienced pilots.

“It was so well imaged on what we were flying,” Jonathan “JJ” Bass says as he sips a coffee. The 40-year old has the easy grace of an athlete. Bass now runs his own IT consulting company, but for several years he was a full-time paragliding instructor. It was his students Cyril watched fly from the teeth of the uKhahlamba. Bass remembers Cyril showing off his creations at the bottom of the hill.

“The way that it was put together was very impressive,” he says. “There were the right number of lines, they were even in the right place.… (The glider) was very cleverly done.”

Cyril’s work so impressed Bass he decided to get involved. Within a few weeks he was teaching Cyril the finer points of piloting. And a few months later Bass scrounged up a real glider for his new friend

Cyril Mazibuko, now an accomplished paraglider pilot and instructor had humble beginnings. Photos by Conor McCreery