Special Reports

SPECIAL REPORT: Inside look at the paragliding community in the Borderland

Borderland Paragliders

EL PASO - Thousands of feet in the air, gliding across the Borderland sky.

That's where Had Robinson is most comfortable.

"It's basically euphoric," the paragliding instructor said. "You get off the ground and you become a bird."

Robinson is one of the most experienced paragliders in the Borderland, logging hundreds of hours of flight time. He created Southwest Air Sports in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

"The paragliding community here is relatively young. For a place where conditions are often ideal, we have a pretty small crowd here of active pilots," Robinson said.

Robinson estimates there's about five active pilots. The pilots here either use a powered paraglider which has a motor, or they launch from the mountains, using only their gliders.

"I get off work, hike up and fly down with a paraglider," pilot Mitchell Graham said. "It's a quick flight after work and it's really convenient and really fun."


Graham and fellow pilot Buzz Nelson often hike up to Agave Hill in the Franklin Mountains. They launch from the hill and can be up in the sky for hours, reaching an elevation of more than 10,000 feet.


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"There's nobody up there but you and your friends," Graham said.


Pilots recognize there's an inherent danger when it comes to paragliding, but it's the freedom of flying that keeps them going.



"It's about, statistically, as risky as riding a motorcycle. To do this sport without thorough training is crazy," Robinson said. "It's extremely dangerous."


Tucker Davis severely injured himself in a paragliding accident while he was flying in Albuquerque.


His glider collapsed from a sudden gust. He fell more than 60 feet, and suffered two compression fractures in his spine.


"I was nervous. I didn't know how bad it was. it's the worst I've ever injured my body," Davis said.


Doctors told Davis it could take him three years to get back to normal. But the thrill of flying didn't keep Davis on the ground for too long. He began flying once again, just a year and a half after his injury.


"Once you experience flight you spend the rest of the time on the ground looking up, wishing you were up there," Davis said.


A sudden gust can mean the difference between life and death. That's why the pilots keep a close eye on the forecast.



Meteorologist Tom Bird also happens to be a pilot. He understands the conditions better than most.


"You can fly up until the winds are 12 miles per hour or so, maybe 15 if you know what you're doing. But beyond that, the winds start pushing you around. Instead of you using the winds to your advantage, they become a disadvantage to you," Bird said.


Paragliding relies entirely on wind conditions, and that often means that pilots have to be patient in order to launch.


"I want to do this again tomorrow, so there's no part of me that wants to die doing it today," Bird said. "I take every precaution to make sure I do it safely."


Purchasing a glider, and a motor, and paying for lessons could cost more than $10,000. But for these Borderland Birds, the views are priceless.


"When you get up there, you forget about everything in life," Robinson said.

For more information on how to get involved in paragliding you can visit: www.southwestairsports.com

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