2017-01-03 / Sports

Local Batman sighted: Powered paragliding

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Assistant Sports Editor

WELLS — Be careful what you wish for, especially if you are looking for an adventure on Wells Beach. The first sign, a flock of Canadian geese flying in a honking V like an aerial traffic warning before the second sign, the noise of a biplane or a go-cart, heralded the arrival of Johnson Qu, not a bird or a plane, but a powered paraglider. 

More like an empowered paraglider, this extreme sport is a highly-skilled recreational thrill for pilots and visually striking for ground spectators.

“We’re highly entertained,” said a local woman who observed Qu’s impressive aerial maneuvers while walking with her husband.

Powered paragliding is a mostly unregulated form of short-range, solo flying. A pilot wears a paramotor on their back, similar to wings, and trails a parachute behind them. The pilot sprints a short distance, trailing the parachute behind them like a kite, until the combination of the paramotor and parachute create lift with the momentum. 

Sightings of Qu and his flying brethren are apparently a rather common occurrence. Locals refer to Qu as “our local Batman.” 

Qu said,“we actually fly out of here all the time. We’re very lucky we have a turf farm that lets us train on their site. They’ve been amazing to us and they let us fly off their two thousand acres of weed-free Bermuda grass… I actually flew out of what we call the VIP field, we call it that because of the VIP Autoparts store next door.”

For Local Batman, Alfred is one of the towns he flies out of, rather than the name of his butler. Qu has been practicing paramotoring for about four years and is a paramotor instructor. 

When asked to reveal the secret of learning to fly, Qu said, “we highly recommend you go through the United States Powered Paragliding Association. We have a good set of instructors all across the country. We walk you through it ... we get you to what is called your novice license and from there you’re allowed to go out, fly solo from whatever launch sites suit your skill level, and explore whatever’s out there.”

If there are any aspiring flying Robins out there, Qu has availability for 2017 classes. Qu said, “I take about two students a year, that’s how I ensure that there’s quality in the training. That way I can say ‘we’re going to work together, we’re going to fly together, and then we’re actually going to become flying buddies afterwards too’. We get to fly everywhere that’s good. We say ‘Oh, the weather looks great today we’ve got this big sheet of clouds rolling in, that’s going to make a for a beautiful sunset. And it’s going to mean the air is going to be really smooth and you get to see all the snow in the landscape’... We basically share the sky together.”

Watching this visually striking and extreme activity, it appears that control and concentration to athletes in this extreme sport can mean the difference between a crash and a glorious ride on the wind. 

Qu, just returned fresh from a training clinic in California, says, “I compare it to the exertion of about a 20-yard sprint. You’ll see me launch in a few minutes, after that you’re basically sitting in a lazy boy in the sky... This is one of the few sports where you have to learn through success. Since you want to focus on every single good habit on your flights and minimize risk and with that you can have such rewarding flights and you have to keep that ticking in your mind, but otherwise it’s perfectly safe and it’s such a blessing to fly.”

Like any other activity, practice means looking for places where improvements can be made, and paramotoring is no exception to the rule. Qu plans to improve his cold weather skills, the contrast in returning from California having brought some items to his attention. Qu said, “I’m working on my control with gloves.. It is colder higher up, plus you’ve got about thirty miles wind chill at all times.”

With those words and a stern handshake, the level-headed flight instructor Johnson Qu started his engine and flew off into the sunset.

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