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Flying Under Fabric

If you have ever wondered what Paragliding is, what it feels like, or perhaps why people like us pursue it with unrelenting passion, I present Flying Under Fabric.  A short film explaining why we do it, and what draws us to fly with nothing but some fabric and string.  I hope you enjoy:

Latest video project “Flying Under Fabric” now complete.

In the making of this project I am extremely thankful to all those who have participated.  Thankful to Clark for helping make some of these unique shots “possible” with all his inventions and talents.  Some of these shots have been years in the making and development of the “right way” to capture the moment.  It just wouldn’t be possible without Clark’s dedication to finding ways of “capturing the shot.”  Thanks to all those who were willing to sit down and share their thoughts about paragliding.  Also, thanks to everyone who was willing to get out and fly with us, as it is always a pleasure rubbing shoulders with so many great, friendly, and fun to be around pilots.

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Searching for Summer

So there we were in our brand new 2015 black SUV driving along a typical California interstate listening to the low din of the radio. Night had fallen and the cars were clipping along in bumper to bumper rhythm. I look over and notice the speedometer reading 71 mph as Clark launches into another story, casually maintaining pace with the surrounding traffic. Suddenly the dark sky ignites with bright red tail lights and I see the traffic come to a sliding and metal shattering halt.

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As we slide at 71 mph towards the ensuing disaster time seems to stop. I start questioning our judgement in declining that additional rental car insurance. Then like a scene out of The Matrix, time slows as Clark slams the gas, and finds that narrowing gap between the concrete bridge columns and the swerving and twisting cars. We slide through the closing gap whilst breaking tail lights, bumpers, and debris explode all around us. We come out the other end without a scratch and remarkably unscathed. Time quickly returns to normal pace, everyone is okay, the adrenaline drains, and a call from the backseat “Anyone up for Mexican Food?”

Southern California from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

Searching for that never ending summer of flyable weather, and apparently a good mexican food dinner is always an adventure. That is just how it goes sometimes….well, most of the time really, but that is what keeps me searching (at least for the flyable weather). I left Salt Lake City, not only with three of my good friends, but an unwelcome and terrible cold. We land in Long Beach and with offshore winds, and a fever, nobody is too optimistic. “We head to Elsinore. It will be fine, and flyable…trust me” I say. “We stick to the plan”, which is a lesson I have learned many times now. Several hours later my feet dangle thousands of feet above Lake Elsinore as I watch the sun dip below the surrounding peaks. With over three hours in the air soaring and thermal flying across the mountains I just have to smile, regardless of my raging fever, because I think we just found summer.

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Myself, Clark and Keenan flying along the ridges of Elsinore
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Sick, but still smiling after hours of flying.

I cannot speak much about last night, as I was deliriously sick, but the sun is bright and I find myself in the beautiful land of Santa Barbara. I always love it here. Not only is the atmosphere comfortably welcoming, but the flying is always good. Hooking up with Fly Above All, we get a ride to the top of the mountains. The air is warm, welcoming and bubbling. Keenan and I are the first in the air over the VOR and together we quickly lock into a thermal that allows us to climb a thousand feet over the top of the mountains. We wait for some of the others to launch, but enough is enough and we start heading east across the range. Several peaks, and an hour or so later the lift begins to dwindle and we start fighting our way back towards Santa Barbara. Paul, Clark, Keenan, and I all group together against the cliffs in a small thermal just long enough to get us the necessary altitude to get out of the mountains and into the valley. Paul holds on a little too long and ends up in a small vineyard in the foothills. The rest of us make it out safely. Santa Barbara Magic!

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Clark and myself heading to the valley
The daily fuel stop....Clark style.
The daily fuel stop….Clark style.

The day ends with the group attempting some beach flying with several near mishaps including a tangle with a flag pole and some very prickly bare feet. I choose to forego the beach flight attempt and spend the evening behind the lens filming my friends.

Keenan deciding where to land.
Keenan deciding where to land.
Jeff S.....enjoying the view.
Jeff S…..enjoying the view.
Gary headed out to sea.
Gary headed out to sea.

As morning crests I am feeling better, but the weather is not the best. We find ourselves back in the mountains eager to fly, but conflicted with very mixed weather data. Many of the locals decide to stand down due to the swirling Santa Anna Winds, and we all decide to follow their lead. Except for Paul of course, as he decides to launch and has a bumpy, but otherwise successful and safe flight. I am a little conflicted over the day and wish I would have flown, but not flying when things do not ‘feel’ right is never a bad thing I guess.

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Friends enjoying the last sunset in the grass lined cliffs

We continue to chase the wind around the valley and eventually end up atop a cliff area stretching above the Pacific. The wind is light, but good enough for me to play around along the cliff face. The flights are short, but worth every step back up to the top of the cliffs. The day, and our trip ends relaxing along the grassy ledges watching the sun dip into the Pacific Ocean surrounded by new and old friends alike. Summer? Yes, I think we found it and I look forward to coming back again soon.

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The Winter Bond

The cold winter air has set in along the Wasatch Front, including the strong inversions that we are infamous for. With the cold air setting in, the two most common questions emerge. The first is from my non-pilot friends who always ask with a concerned voice “isn’t it cold up there?” The next question is from my pilot friends, one that is never actually asked, but one I hear in the whisper of each excuse. “Is the hike really worth it….I mean it is just a sled run, right?”

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The answers to each of these questions rattle around inside my head as I continue hiking upwards through the thickening sky. “No it is not that cold, we have an inversion, that means it gets warmer the higher up you go.” “Is this hike really worth it?” Well…..it is to me. I find myself hiking more and more these days….well, actually most every day. Most of the time is spent in quiet solitude with just my breath, thoughts, and the crunch of ice under my feet. In order to touch the clear blue skies these days, walking is the required cost. One that I am more than willing to pay. As I step higher and higher up into the mountains, my thoughts turn from the dirty air filling my lungs to the reasons and rewards of why I am doing it.

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Winter is often a time when many paraglider pilots put their wings away for a season. The pilot chatter all around seems to dull to a whisper, like the evening ripples of a high mountain lake. It is a refreshing change to put all ambitions aside and just fly with no ulterior motives other than the pure joy of flight. As I continue upward with burning lungs I am briefly reminded of a scene from the movie Avatar released several years ago. It is a moment when the main character “bonds” with his banshee or bird. As our hero “connects” to his bird, feels its thoughts, its heart, its breath, he is granted the ability to partake in the absolute magic of flight. The feelings of flight that is portrayed in this scene is intensely real, yet extremely difficult to explain to those who have never truly experienced free flight. I can attest that flying at such an intimate level with no distractions, no machines, is indeed a magical experience.

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Winter is a time of calmness, a time when the air can almost stand still. This is not a cold wind rolling over a ridge, or swirling air of different temperatures, but literally motionless air. A type of air that offers some amazing rewards, like creating or re-creating that magical “bond” with ones glider. It is a type of air that allows me to “feel” each and every one of my lines as they connect to my body. I can feel the micro movements, shifts, flutters, tension, pressure and energy all around my wing. I can actually feel the tips of my wing, like feathers at my fingertips. It is a pretty cool feeling.  To me winter flying is a time to reconnect that “bond” with my wing where we become as one. This is the very reason why I do what I do. For I know when that still air around me starts to slightly swirl I can feel it resonate and begin to use its power to climb, to soar, to fly. I have learned that any ol’ dummy (including me) can go up in a thermal come spring thru autumn. However, I have learned that the ability to feel and really understand those micro movements is near impossible outside the still air of winter. When the air gets violent come springtime, will you be “at one” with your set of wings, or will you merely be a passenger? This is the conversation I have with myself with each passing step through this lung burning air.

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I will continue the walk up each day into the blue winter sky searching for those moments of stillness. Moments that will continue to solidify that ever crucial bond between man and wing and offer up the true magic of free flight. Despite the short flights and bad air below, the rewards found in the sky are worth each and every step. Is it worth it? It is to me.