<editorsnote> Nerds, meet my buddy Eric. He is a MAASSTTEERRR social dynamics expert that will be talking about his experiences in the field from both an expert, and experience perspective. He’s not just saying “this is how to get the girl” he’s here to share his actual life stories and lessons learned from them. I only have one more thing left to say … HIT IT ERIC !!</editorsnote>
Ever since I found out that my roommate Jonny was a paragliding instructor I had been trying to get my ass in the air. I always wanted to be a pilot when I was a child and flying fascinates me. Finally our schedules aligned and my fly day had arrived. I woke up early and snuck in a work out that morning before we headed out. We gathered three of these gigantic backpacks …
… that contained our “wing”, which is the parachute looking thing, and our harnesses. Then, we headed downstairs to find this kooky Romanian lady on roller blades ready for her lesson with my roommate. We stuffed the back of my roommates Subaru station wagon with the over-sized backpacks we hopped in the car and headed for Andrew Jackson Airpark in San Bernardino. After about a 90 minute drive from the beach we pulled into a gravel parking lot. As the dust settled I got my first look at the mountainous folk that comprised the small paragliding community. Unkempt, slightly odorous, and bucket hats seemed to be common themes for the small group. Except for this guy who made my day before we even took off…
As my roommate headed to the landing zone to find another student who had met him there I grabbed our gear and stuffed it in the back of the dirt sprinkled 15 passenger van. After finally getting all the bags to fit I headed around to the double doors and went to look for a seat. I was awestruck when I saw a familiar face sun burnt face sitting on the bench directly in front of me. There was Jean-Paul …
… a Frenchman that I had met while working/living at the hostel. Of all the people that I had met while at the hostel, this dude intrigued me the most. His english is horrible and my french is worse so we never had much of a conversation but this is what I know about Jean-Paul. He is a french science-fiction writer who has spent the last 9 years of his life sailing around the world. His boat currently resides in Guatemala and he has been living in an RV at Andrew Jackson Airpark for the last four months. On days when the weather is nice he flies and on days when it’s shit he writes. It takes me almost the entire ride up the mountain to get this much information from him. We arrive at the sloping mountain top and all the paragliders get ready to wait around the launch area. Everyone starts laying their gear out and waits. Paragliding is a lot like surfing but with wind and mountains. As the wind blows against a mountain it’s pushed upward and makes a shape similar to a wave. Paragliders ride along the windward side of a mountain on this wind. The goal of the pilot is to find pockets of rising hot air called thermals that propel the glider upward. The reason these guys sit and wait at the top of the hill is because you can’t see the wave that you are riding and wind can be more unpredictable than water. Number one rule of paragliding is don’t be the first guy off the mountain. You sit and wait for someone else dumber or more impatient than you to fly so you can see how the wind moving that day.
We get to the top of the mountain and Jonny starts working with the guy who we met at the airpark. He’s a Chinese man in his 40’s who claims to nearly have his flying license in Taiwan. After a couple people launch the three of us move into the launch zone. I knew I was buying a GoPro this month so I was stoked to have my friends Hero 2 to play with. The asian man gets strapped in and they lay out his wing. The wind picks up a little and the count down begins. The wind takes the wing and flings the man 20 feet before they both fall over. Then again, he fails, and Jonny starts walking toward me. As he passes he says to me, “This guy is going to fucking kill himself, it’s like he’s never done this before.” For the first time I realize that this isn’t a roller coaster. This is some fancy fabric, the wind, the mountain and a whole lot of space between you and the ground. And I think to myself, I am going to watch this guy die through the screen of my iPhone. After some persuasion, the Chinese man convinces Jonny to give him a third try and again he’s flung half way across the mountain top. Jonny calls it and sends me to the top of the mountain to alert the driver that someone will be riding in the car down. As I arrive back to the launch area the chinese man is pleading with him to try a different style of launch that he is more comfortable with. After a long long conversation Jonny, extremely reluctant, allows him try once more. I pull up my camera and the count down begins. The wind grabs the wind and for the fourth time the man is unable to control his paraglider. He’s officially done done and starts packing up his gear.
Now the harness is on my shoulders, my helmet is on, I have a GoPro attached to a walking stick and Jonny is attaching his harness to the back of mine. He explains to me that he is going to tell me when to lean forward and that there is going to be a very strong pull when the paraglider catches the wind. Camera rolling and crouched forward the wind grabs the paragliders and I’m yanked back. I shuffle my feet backwards trying to keep upright and a couple seconds later that drag turns into lift and the glider rises above our heads and we start to leave the ground. I feel the last blades of weed graze my shoe as we sail off. 10 feet… 20… feet, 100 feet… We catch a thermal and begin to rise higher and higher. The launch zone becomes tiny area in the breadth of my view. The wind is humming through my ears as we rise to 5,000 feet over the ground.
I sat in a moment of zen like bliss and my breaths slowed from the initial adrenaline rush of launching. As I looked at the sky speckled with 30-or-so pilots enjoying a perfect day in the air, I had an “A-ha!” moment. There was a reason that I saw the Frenchman again. It was because I was exactly where I should be. I was pursuing adventure and that’s why I ran into this man again. Far off outside of LA, and miles from where we originally met, I found the man who was living his dream. A dream so similar to mine. This is my “small world” exactly as it should be, I thought. No networking events or conferences, but the off-the-beaten-path adventure havens that attract others like me. I had planned to write that day but I didn’t. After we landed I sat with my euro-spread and watched as one paraglider after the other came in to land. I enjoyed the serenity and embraced this unique sense of belonging that I found in the Frenchman. I hope to see him on some distant corner of the earth doing something else awesome one day.
PS. My roommate Jonny is an over-all awesome dude, a great instructor, and the owner of Oxygen Paragliding. Check out his Yelp page here. It was SUPER fun and I’d totally recommend it. I mean look at this guy… Who doesn’t want to strap in with this good lookin lad.