fter Yosemite last year, I felt the need to take a break from rock climbing. Training for big walls has been an exhaustive process and I reached a point where it has become too obsessive. I was beginning to experience the first glance of overtraining… being permanently tired, having no motivation to climb and seeing no visible progress. That was the time to try something new and recharge batteries. We mainly talk about rock climbing on this blog and all the funny epics around our weekend warrior trips. But, as stated in our funky name, we also enjoy different types of adventure… I recently turned myself to paragliding and headed to New Zealand last February to take on my pilot licence. The idea of being able to carry my own “airplane” and takeoff from almost anywhere was very appealing. And I also remembered Ueli Steck’s vision on paragliding in one of his video. Since then this sport has been added on my radar list.
Not to mention the sexy hand glider ramp at the top of the gorges in Mt Buffalo (I’m obsessed with the Australian Alps, I know). But, just imagine, climbing Angels or Ozy and then flying away to Bright ? I will let Dave handle the shit load of gears down with the car 😉
For sure my life insurer will not be glad about this new hobby; they were already not thrilled last time after I had to disclosed my rock climbing habit… It would have been easier to insure me if I was staying lazily on my couch, watching TV, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes.
Anyway, I was determined to do this and was also looking forward to discover a new country. February is not the flying season for first timers in Nepal and New Zealand appeared quickly as the best learning possibility. Queenstown, here I come! Reviewing paragliding schools in the region, I finally came across ExtremeAir who was offering the possibly to take the NZ PG 2 certification within two weeks.
Queenstown is a wonderful city and it is considered the adventure capital of New Zealand. Well, I guess this is true, when you can find offerings such as the 12D Motion Theater or the Hydro Scuba Shark Attack, you know that sky diving, paragliding or bungee jumping are pretty much “vanilla” activities.
It sure is a small heaven, but it is still better to stay away from the hordes of backpackers, job seekers and other party timers. Coronet Peak offers a mind blowing view of the valley and all the tranquility needed to enjoy a true retreat. It also has the advantage to be the main launch site for paragliding and where my paragliding school, ExtremeAir, was. The ski lodge offers the best value for money in term of accommodation. Just rent a car, that will allow you to get back in town for beers or visit the lovely Arrowtown next by.
A quick word on ExtremeAir: this school has been created by Lisa Bradley and John Smith. Let me kill the suspense, I will spare you the headache of comparing schools: this is the place to be and the best thing money can buy. Lisa and John will make sure that you gain enough confidence and knowledge to fly safely. You can feel their love for teaching and they genuinely care about their students. You are in good hands. I have been seeing other schools around, and they weren’t having as much fun as we were having. They operate half of the year in Queenstown, the other half in Australia (Canungra, Beechmont and Mount Tamborine).
But first, every trip has to begin with an epic and this one would be no exceptions… JetStar lost my Metrolius hauling bag (how on earth is that possible to lose track of such a massive stuff?). And while my bag was happily travelling to Christchurch and other places in NZ, I was left with a free trip to the Warehouse in Frankton in order to buy a pant and some under wears. I will not see my bag for the next 5 days.
Well, paragliding shares a lot of common things with climbing. It deals with nature, freedom, big exposure, holding your life on a thread. It also offers the possibility to buy a lot of expensive gears and there always a good potential for fuck ups and mess unless you have well established procedures.
Talking about a massive cluster fucks… (in fact, it does not look as bad as it seems. We have experienced more serious problems with double ropes than that)
Better get back to training because the requirements to be certified are quite massive. I began with ground handling. It’s very similar to learning how to tie properly a knot, belay your partner and place draw on lead. Everything has to be dialed before expecting a real launch and fly with peace of mind. You first learn about your material, then how to inflate the glider, do a forward launch then a reverse one, etc…
Once more familiar with the basic techniques, you quickly move to a real slope, and do your first real launches. The slope is still gentle but it gives you a very good idea of what to expect on your first high flight. Basically, the idea behind is that everything lies in your ability to launch and land securely. Once in the air, things are going smoothly (as far as a beginner is concerned). The training slope is called Mont Pain, and, as the name suggests, it is good a description of what’s awaiting for you… Hiking up the hill 10 times a day with 15 kgs of gears… Not that it is very different from taking a hauling bag up the face of a mountain. But most people were struggling with this… I was actually very good at it.
And then comes the first high flight. There is nothing to describe this sensation of freedom, flying peacefully in the air and just enjoying life. As Ueli Steck would put it, paragliding is the simplest way to fly (after taking a whipper). And I was hooked.
After two weeks of courses, I passed my paragliding licence. This experience was a blast and I’m so thankful to Lisa and John for everything they have taught me and the time they spent with me. Paragliding is now part of my life, and it gave me a better balance in my climbing activities, allowing me to switch from one activity to the other and keep my motivation intact.
I could not leave New Zealand without giving a try to rock climbing there as well. This country is just fantastic for outdoor lovers. I will be back, for sure.