A View From Above
Remember wanting to fly like a bird? Paragliding is making that experience more possible than ever. In fact, paragliders are an increasingly common sight. And it’s not as scary as you might think!
Justin Booher, paragliding instructor in Edmond, describes his time in the sky like this: “There’s freedom to look around. You feel, see and smell everything around you because you’re flying low and slow.”
According to Justin, many of his students are pilots who want the thrill of flying from outside a cockpit. The sport, however, is growing among non-pilots. “Not everyone can afford an airplane, hangar and fuel costs, so this is less expensive. The equipment fits into the back of your car, your garage is your hangar, and you can go whenever,” Justin said.
The equipment consists of an engine for thrust, much like one used in a weed eater, and a parachute-type balloon for gliding. “The motor gets you up, but if it breaks or runs out of gas, you glide down–no big deal,” Justin said. “The landing is pretty soft and easy, like stepping off a stepstool. Paragliding is one of the safest aviation sports, but it’s as safe as you make it. Studies place paragliding as safer than riding a motorcycle. Just like driving a car, if you make wrong decisions, you can get hurt. I’ve flown over 300 times without an incident.”
The convenience of paragliding is what lured Justin to the sport. As a skydiver for 25 years, he had to drive an hour to the nearest drop zone. With paragliding, “you find a field and launch. It takes about 15 minutes.”
Justin and his paragliding buddies and students often fly out of Mitch Park. It’s their tradition to land behind a breakfast diner, eat, and fly back to the park. “One time, two workers were eating when we landed. They thought we were filming a movie. They couldn’t believe it when we said, ‘No, just flying in for breakfast.’”
Justin’s first encounter with paragliding happened ten years ago when he kept seeing paragliding equipment mounted to a vehicle near his office. “When I finally encountered the driver walking downtown, I introduced myself to Aaron Butler.” Aaron became Justin’s friend and paragliding instructor. Justin became a trainer as well, and now, each of the men own paragliding businesses—but they aren’t competitors. In fact, they often conduct trainings together. For paragliding, there is no age limit or license required, but students are required to have six months of training and follow FAA regulations. Much like scuba-diving, a national non-profit is dedicated to overseeing regulations and instructor training.
Although cheaper than owning an airplane, the sport still comes with a price tag of $12,000 to $15,000 for the equipment. For Justin, who has done nearly every sport where his feet can leave the ground, the price is worth it. Flying is in his genes. His father was an aviator who flew helicopters in Vietnam and was also a skydiver. Like his father, Justin enjoys seeing the world from above.
“I have a student who describes paragliding as being a superhero flying around. For me, I enjoy seeing all the wildlife and buildings tucked into places you can’t see from the road. My favorite is flying at sunset when all the lights start to pop up around the city. Paragliding is a hobby, but it’s totally unique. Having the freedom of flight is very different than driving a vehicle. You feel like a bird.”