Posted by: powellpjc | January 31, 2009

The Paragliding World



The sport is fringe and strange. Can you imagine hanging under a nylon sail, suspended by tiny strings steering your way (sort of) into the airy void? Always hoping for rising air and never really knowing where to find it. After all, the air is invisible. With good conditions and good luck it is possible to remain airborne for hours. The world record has recently been broken with a new distance of over 500km. We’re talking about a flight of over 10 hours. It may be strange and difficult to understand in a similar sense that rock and mountain climbing is hard to figure but it does attract interesting individuals.

Almost all glider pilots are men. Maybe one in ten is a women. The women that are involved in the sport are so because of a relationship with a male pilot and I know little about women and less about women pilots. The men are difficult enough.

They are neither poor nor fabulously wealthy. They can afford to travel and they can afford the time to travel. Most seem to be self-employed—contractor types—or own their own businesses. These situations provide the means and the time for the sport, but which came first—the self-employed individual who likes to fly or the flying addict who cannot work for another? Eggs of the chicken.

There are few under the age of 30 and few over the age of 50 and the general body type is athletic and slim (author excluded).

Most of the visiting pilots in Chile are from Europe and northern Europe at that. Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Austria. A scattered few from North America. None from Great Britain. The Brits seem to be satisfied with France and the Canary Islands for their flying holidays and it is expensive to get here from other parts of the world.

This crowd does not seem to be overly health conscious which is a bit of a surprise. Whenever we gather there is booze and often cigarettes and sometimes soft drugs. The flyers will eat anything put in front of them. I think the laissez-faire attitude has something to do with being in South America where one feels, rightly or wrongly, that most things are possible.

I spoke to a 50-year old tandem pilot the other day. He said he and his passenger, an 18-year old beauty, flew high onto the dunes in the smooth evening air. He landed and she gave him a blowjob. He launched again and they flew down to the cars. A younger man I know enjoys a couple of beers and a joint or two before his evening flight. Perhaps this is common the world over. Perhaps I am a prude. Perhaps this is South America.

The flying crowd is a friendly and helpful crowd. It is an individual sport with substantial risk every flight. There is little room for gamesmanship and no need for secretive or competitive behaviour. You get a handshake or a kiss (from the one woman) on launch every day and often on landing as well. This may be because of the acknowledged but unspoken risk attendant to every flight—i.e. you might not show up for the next takeoff—or it might just be South America again. In any case it is a good crowd and I enjoy the camaraderie before and after flights almost as much as the flights themselves.

The paragliding world is a small one. No mystery there. When three or four pilots get together not much time passes before common friends or flying sites are the subject of the conversation. Every year here in Chile the sky is dotted with gliders of every colour—and one needs a new glider every 2 or 3 years—but the faces are familiar.

Friendly faces and fun. I am lucky to be a part of it.



  1. Okay Pete, I can’t stand my own jealousy, you lucky bastard! Good to see what you’re up to and yes -25 to -30 at Cape Fear is rather prohibitive. Enjoying your epistles. They’re an oasis of sanity in an otherwise frozen desert of earth-boundness. Cheers!

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