PARAGLIDING. When I first read this word in the programme for #STORYBASE2017, I knew one thing straight away: I’ve got to try it out. And so, I find myself standing at the Fly’n Soul Spot in Hinterglemm a few days later in the early hours. My tandem pilot Florian Hasenauer is already there, making some last preparations prior to my first flight during this gorgeous morning. After a quick hello along with an encouraging smile – I’m probably still a little pale – he hands me the gear: helmet and goggles. Besides that, I’m wearing my snowboarding clothes, because we’re going up the mountain and it’s pretty cold up there.
Florian puts on his backpack, gives me a second one and together, we run to the gondola of the cableway that takes us up to the Westgipfel summit. He sure is a fast mover, and I shuffle along behind him with the heavy backpack. Florian is in good form, no question, and I am trying my best not to show any weakness!
Would you trust this man with your life? Definitely!
Depending on the weather, there are three different mountains from which Florian takes off with his paraglider. Today, the Westgipfel is our starting spot. I’ve never made a tandem flight like this before, and of course, I first have to know more about whose hands I’m putting my life in. So, I take advantage of the gondola ride to bombard Florian with all kinds of questions. And also, of course, to calm my nerves a little.
Florian, how long have you been flying with the paraglider?
I’ve been flying with it for the last 25 years or so. I used to fly in competitions, cross country, hike and fly as well as acro flying. But I’m no longer interested in any of that. Privately, I only do free flying now. For example, up America’s West Coast – from Mexico to Seattle and Canada. There, you can get to know people and the area. That doesn’t really happen during competitions. That ended up bothering me. People no longer explore the area, they just want to be number one. I used to think that I had to change, but at 30, you don’t change that much anymore, so I do my own thing now and ultimately I ended up with sponsors that were just right for me. I can do my own thing and they like that. And I don’t need that much anyway.
What are a paragliding pilot’s main tasks?
Training is actually a little like it is for pilots. You have to know aviation law, technique and meteorology, complete many flights and by the end of it all you receive flying license A. But before you can start doing cross country flights, you also need to have a flying permit. Everything has to be official, as you are moving in official airspace. You have to stay in contact with air traffic controllers and of course you’ve got your material with you so you can orientate yourself.
Do you ever take your iPad or your maps out during a flight?
Yeah sure, that’s not a problem. There’s a lot of time up there.
Has flying changed you at all?
Perhaps this is just part of getting older, but I am just very thankful for everything. I thank God for every new day, even though I’m not particularly religious. When you fly from Rio to São Paulo and end up somewhere in a forest, then you’re really happy when you find a cup hanging at a trickle of water which means you can drink it. You get a different perspective on things.
Where do you prefer to be, up in the air or down on the ground?
In the air. I don’t eat anything with wings, out of respect. Except for sweet and sour duck. (I’m not quite sure if I’m supposed to believe that?)
We have arrived at the summit. -12 degrees. It was a frosty night and the ice crystals have transformed everything into a winter wonderland. With a trained grip, Florian places the gear on me and then extends the glide. He checks whether everything is tight one last time and a second later we’re ready for take-off. His routine totally calms me down and I have complete trust in him and don’t hesitate a second when he says: “run!”
3, 4, 5 steps and we take off.
Everything goes so fast, I don’t even have time to get scared. I let myself fall into my seat, lean back and enjoy the weightlessness, the gliding across snowy trees underneath me and the mountains around me. It is quite cold, and for a second I’m annoyed that I forgot my scarf. It would have been useful now to keep my nose from falling off due to the cold, but what’s a nose when you got a view like this! I’m grinning with joy the whole time and I’m amazed by how calm the flight is. No wind jerking us around, nothing shakes, nothing wobbles. It is just beautiful, incredibly calming and surprisingly, I have time. Time to really enjoy the flight, to chat with Florian and to take in the world from above.
After around 20 minutes, it’s time to call it quits, and as the descent approaches I follow Florian’s command: “Legs up!” And already I land on my bottom. I’m quite overwhelmed and even a little bit proud of myself. I spent the rest of the day walking around the area with a big smile on my face and I know one thing for certain, I would do it again in a heartbeat.