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Funny experiences about being older paraglider pilots

The first time we were being picked up in Geneva to paraglide in France, Maurice’s instructions to the guide were: “Look for Snow White and Grumpy, the bald dwarf.” The guide had no trouble finding us. It also worked when being picked up in Mexico by Jim Reich.

On that same trip to France, we were sitting waiting in Heathrow for our flight to be called for Geneva and an airline employee came over and asked if we needed wheelchairs.

During the Delta Plane competition all paragliders had to walk from the mid-point restaurant to the launch rather than drive up. We were in the backseat of the car when stopped by a guard at the gate. The driver said in French: “But the old people in the backseat won’t be able to make it.” We were let through.

Bev was in the LZ in Doussard and a young French pilot came over and spoke in rapid French. She apologized for not speaking the language. His girlfriend joined us and said in English: “He wants to know how old you are.” I told him “70” and drew it in the dirt. She looked horrified and said “Does your husband let you do this?”

On another occasion two young French pilots were heard to comment (in French) “What is that old lady doing on launch?” not thinking that I could understand them. Whereupon Bev. laid out and calmly flew, off to the chagrin of the young pilots.

Maurice’s response to a French pilot (who couldn’t speak English) and wanted to know why he was flying at 79: “Je préfère faire les choses en l'air car il n'y a rien à faire sous le terre.” Which roughly translated means “I prefer to do things in the sky because there isn’t anything to do when you are under the ground” (or words to that effect).

Paragliding has been a great adventure for Bev and me – from moments of abject terror, suspended from one riser and spiraling down for a few seconds after a 70% collapse in France; not to mention crashing into bushes and cracking a rib or two in Manzanillo or being hung up in a tree on Prevost - to sheer bliss, boating around in the restitution on an evening flight in Algodonales. Remarkably we have escaped so far with just a few bruises and scrapes and a lot of wonderful memories.

“…it may remind you of some things you used to know – that life is in the moment, joy matters more than money, the world is a beautiful place, and that dreams really, truly are possible… (Lane Wallace, ‘Eyes of a Child,’ Flying Magazine, February 2000.

Here is our flying history:

  • New Zealand 2008 first introduction to paragliding on tandem flights.
  • 2009 both had “Day Tasters” and decided to undertake training starting in April 2009. Maurice was a triathlete but Bev had not done any sports, except skiing, since childhood – obviously there was going to be challenges.
  • Maurice earned his Novice certification in 2010
  • Bev, with Maurice’s help continued to practice on the training hill and finally did her first solo flight in May 2010
  • Sept 2011 Bev passed the written exam and after 52 flights was finally released by the instructor (pity the instructor!)
  • July 2012 and 2013 travelled to Bassano, Italy. Flew from 4 launches there. All the forward launches on the TH helped Bev as in Europe forward launches are often required. While hanging out with Bev, Maurice had learned to do a low wind reverse launches so he was happy.
  • June 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 travelled to Doussard, France, near Lake Annecy. Flew from 12 sites of the 91 available within l.5 hours of the b&b. In 2015 Maurice flew from Aiguille du Midi on the last day of that year that it was permitted to fly from that site. Launching and landing wearing crampons, it is the highlight of his flying.
  • Jan 2015, 2016 Mexico flew from 5 sites including Tapalpa, San Marcos and Colima
  • Feb 2017 flew from 3 sites in Costa Rica
  • Sept 2017 flew in Algodonales, Spain
  • Feb 2018 flew from 3 sites in Colombia, Piedechinche, Anserma Neuvo, and Roldanillo with Fly Spain

In spite of all this travel, we still have low airtime and flight numbers.

For me, Bev, paragliding is as much about the beauty of the surroundings, the views from the launches and the air, as it is about the actual flying. The Haute Savoie region of France is the most beautiful place I have flown (although Mount Prevost, Mara Lake, and Mount Woodside all have wonderful views). For our trips, when possible, we plan a week of paragliding, a week of travel and hiking, and another week of paragliding. In the French alps, there are endless hikes with stunning views, all served by chairlifts and gondolas.

I am still a coward when it comes to setting off on cross-country flights but Colombia has much potential to do this so we are planning to go back next year to give me another chance.

We always go with a group or a guide – saves the hassle of planning, retrieval, etc.

We were in Bassano, Italy when the world paragliding was on and in Doussard, France when the hanggliding (called delta planes there) championships were held – quite amazing!

My favourite launches are Forclaz and Planfait in France and Piedechinche and Anserma Neuvo in Colombia because they have toilets near launch!

Favourite quote: “For me paragliding is about the freedom of flying and the fresh air, the travel, and company you keep and get to meet. It’s a perfect cocktail, blended with laughs, stories, learning and hangovers. Oh, and there’s rarely, if ever, an early start.” Doug Redpath, Bassano 2012.

Published: Dec. 1, 2019

Jan 12 2020   Top Top