By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Gliding thousands of feet above the earth, Brad Hoese of Winsted watches cars and houses become tiny specks on the vast landscape.
His legs dangle freely, and his arms gently tug on the brake toggles of his parachute. The wide canopy responds to his leading, swaying left and right in the breeze.
Hoese began paragliding a few years ago, and he quickly developed a passion for the sport.
“If you’ve ever looked up and watched an eagle soar that’s what it’s like,” he said.
His first step to become a paraglider was taking a tandem ride with a certified paragliding pilot at SDI Paragliding Academy.
“It’s not scary,” Hoese said, adding that even people who are afraid of heights sometimes go paragliding. “Once you’re up, altitude is your friend because you have more time.”
After his first tandem, Hoese signed up for flight lessons to become a “P1.” Hoese’s 15-year-old son, Branden, is also getting involved, and recently did his first two tandem flights.
“There’s P1, P2, P3, and P4,” Hoese said. “As a P4, you can take others with you, and get into acrobatics.”
Thad Spencer of Minneapolis who holds the distance record in Minnesota for flying about 100 miles in one shot is one of the more advanced paragliders in the area.
Spencer and Hoese were in a group of paragliders on Kale Avenue near Glencoe Memorial Day weekend. Also with them were Terry Lemke of New Brighton, and Steve Sirrine, owner of Airtime Solutions (a business that sells airsport winch systems).
Sirrine’s son, Jonathan, is the owner of SDI Paragliding Academy, which mainly offers flight training in Cosmos, Hayfield, and Apple Valley.
“Jonathan and I are the only certified paragliding instructors in Minnesota,” Sirrine said, explaining that the sport is most common in Europe, but is gaining popularity in the America’s flatlands.
One sought-after location is Utah, which has hills and mountains to use as launch sites. Hoese plans to try paragliding in Utah this year, but also enjoys paragliding close to home.
Watching the wind
Since there aren’t any mountains in Minnesota, Hoese attaches himself to a tow line on a vehicle. When the parachute gets high enough, the tow line is released, and he flies on his own. He has brake toggles in each hand for steering, and glides around to find thermals (upward currents of warm air).
“We watch what the birds are doing,” he said, explaining that birds take off into the wind.
Paragliders tend to become weather experts, as they need to be aware of incoming storms, precipitation, and varying wind conditions.
“The hardest part is the patience to wait for a nice day,” Hoese said. “Once you’ve tasted flight, you’re always looking.”
On the day Hoese’s group flew near Glencoe recently, the wind was light and variable, and pilots had to wait for the wind to pick up a bit before takeoff.
“Some days, you’re waiting for the wind to die down,” Sirrine said. “It’s like a surfer waiting for a wave.”
Hoese paraglides year-round, and he doesn’t let Minnesota winters slow him down.
“On New Year’s Eve, I went out by myself,” he said. “No one else wanted to go because they thought it was too cold.”
That day, it was about 20 degrees on the ground. For every 1,000 feet Hoese went up, the temperature dropped between 3 to 7 degrees.
For new paragliders, it’s easiest to start out in warmer weather.
To learn more or set up a tandem flight, contact SDI Paragliding at (612) 770-7725.
This year, Hoese’s goal is to try powered paragliding, which is offered through Paul Lundquist at Minnesota Paramotor in Alexandria. The sport is similar to traditional paragliding, but uses an engine for takeoff, eliminating the need for a vehicle tow rope. Lundquist can be reached at (320) 815-7580.