As a photographer, I’m always looking for a new perspective. I dive, climb, ski, mush, sail, but had yet to explore flight, until recently when I ventured to Colombia to learn how to paraglide.
Paragliding isn’t a sport of strength, but one of finesse and essentialism. There is little between you and the sky. The freedom of running off a mountain and leaving the earth to its own devices is nothing short of extraordinary.
The Colombia Paragliding School is designed to give you three weeks of instruction to build your piloting skills. The school lies on the Valle del Cauca, Colombia. Colombia's climate is perfect for paragliding, with warm temperatures and consistent winds year-round. It is near the equator, which means that there is little seasonal change, so paragliding is possible at any time of the year. It’s an internationally known area of paraglide competitions. Being from Alaska, it’s known in our community of risk-takers and adrenaline athletes as a place for having some of the best instructors but also exploring in the winter to escape the dark and cold.
One of these instructors was a woman by the name of Sanne Schouwenburg. She had her first flight three years ago and had been traveling the world since dedicating her life to the art and athleticism of traveling in the sky. We quickly realized each other as kindred spirits, in my initial days of ground handling, she would often say…”I can’t wait to kick you off the mountain.”
After only four days of instruction our crew climbed into the back of a truck bed and accelerated up through the jungle in the Andes to the launch site. While calming my nerves, I focused on the pre-flight check, controlling position, maintaining a run on take-off and transitioning into the air.
Once in flight instinct seemed to take over. Paragliding combines freedom, serenity, adrenaline, and a connection to nature all in one. To travel cross-country, paragliders have to gain enough altitude to reach the starting point of their journey. This can be achieved by finding thermals - upward currents of warm air that rise from the ground due to temperature differences. Once in a thermal the pilot can circle upward, gaining altitude as they go. The soaring birds are the masters of this, and in Colombia there are many.
They also served as some of the best instructors, indicating the location of the thermals and currents. Much of my time in the sky I focused on emulating their flight patterns and movements to make my wing just as natural as an extension of my body and mind.
As our weeks continued we progressed to piloting our wings to higher altitudes and in cloud base - accessing risk and flying longer. The following Beyond pieces were an essential part of my daily wear, providing comfort, mobility and protection to fly with confidence.
Women's Ventum Ultralight L4 Jacket - This jacket is lightweight, packable enough to shove into a backpack with your wing, and also provides incredible warmth. The spandex blend of fabric allows for maneuverability for your upper body in the air and on the ground.
Women’s Sojourn Ultralight L4 Jogger - The athletic fit of these pants was perfect for take off and landings, and just what I needed to stay warm while flying high, and keeping cool while I was on the ground. The zip pocket allowed for quick storage of my phone, gps and other small items I needed access to in the air.
Guide Lite Glove - Gloves help protect your hands when handling the risers and lines and in higher winds. In spiraling you may need to wrap your hands several times around the line to prevent a caveat. The Guide Lite Glove was an excellent addition to my everyday wear. The leather palms and fingers ensured ultimate protection but its sleek design still allowed me to feel the tensions of lines.
Being grounded in the winter of the north, my study is reduced to numbers, map locations while determining how to travel higher, and farther. With our thermals returning and days growing I’m eagerly looking up to flying from our mountains with the eagles, over glaciers, through passes and beyond our Alaska horizon.
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