My name is Jonathan Chuter and I LOVE to fly. I’ve been flying for about two yeas now, on and off. I live in London, England. I’ve wanted to fly something (although I was never sure what, or how, quite) since I was about 10, and my interest was kindled properly when I was given a glider lesson for my 18th birthday. Since I had way too much testosterone and adrenaline and no money at that age. I settled for skiing and biking. I had a certain repeating dream while sleeping about once a month where everything became really light and floaty, and I found myself launch up into the air and flying around…
Visiting Santa Barbara regularly in the last few years to see a certain local lady I became transfixed by the paragliders I saw intermittently in the clear beautiful skies above the town. I signed up for a discover paragliding lesson with some reservations. You see, although I felt my hormones had settled to an acceptable level, and although I could just about afford it, I work as a school teacher in London, and while I value good teaching, I can’t abide mediocre educators and I certainly wasn’t about to pay a bunch of self centered jocks to put my life at risk while they wished they were elsewhere, flying high.
My experience of learning to fly with Eagle Paragliding was very special. Without going in to too much detail about educational theory, different people learn in different ways, and people bring baggage (fear of failure, or of looking stupid!) to the learning environment which usually hampers their progress, their ability to trust the teacher, and their enjoyment of the experience. At Eagle, I learned so much and in such an enjoyable way because my instructors were not only clearly technical experts, but were also able to communicate the right amount of information in the right way, and deliver it at the right pace for me. In addition, they (consciously or subconsciously) were aware, very quickly of what kind of a learner and a personality I was and adapted their teaching accordingly.
What the hell am I talking about? Well basically, I am a serious person who learns very quickly, wants to do well, is very self critical and wants to get the absolute maximum from every experience I have. In response to this, Rob fed me a lot of technical information, but disguised much of it in catchy sayings (A’s away, rears near; cross em n boss em; move to the low side). This meant that my head was not full up with technical stuff (so that I had enough brain free to be aware of and sensitive to my glider and its behavior). When I set up these days I can hear Rob’s measured voice in my head, “yeah, Jonny Pops!” Rob allowed my to push myself on the first couple of days, allowed me to kite even when the wind was pretty strong and I was clearly struggling. He laughed a lot when I fell over, while encouraging me at the same time, to combat my seriousness, and to loosen me up (which I needed to in order to feel the glider). I’m not sure whether his humor, and his insistence on calling me ‘Jonny Pops’ was partly him having a laugh, but it defused my overly serious attitude, and allowed me to laugh at myself which for a slightly uptight brit ; ) was great for my vacation vibe but also helped me fly better.
I remember Marty asking me gently to stop when the wind became too strong for my kiting ability in the middle of the day, and rather than flying with the experts (as an instructor was doing from another company) while the wind was strong (which would have got right up my nose) he sat for maybe three hours and talked about flying and commented on what was going on with the wind and peoples’ gliders and talked about teaching theory and his negative experiences when he learned to fly planes and what an inspiration that was to him to teach really well. Marty stayed till about 7 that day and I got 5 flights that evening as the wind died – just him and me. Every time I took off, he calmed me down, set me a task, and every time I landed, he began by complimenting me on what I had got right, joining me in my excitement and joy, and then analyzed the flight with me, examining it for things to improve.
At all times, I felt safety was paramount and risk assessment a serious undertaking. The emphasis was always on me being responsible for my own flying, not relying on them, making good decisions, etc.
Many lessons culminated in a trip last Easter when I got to stay with Rob in his RV, and was assigned Kev as my personal minder, instructor, and drinking buddy. While I had to wait a few days for good winds, Kev and I had a blast, and when the wind finally got right, he got me my first high mountain flight and my first ridge soaring experience (both on the same day!). The following day I had what can only be described as a religious experience soaring about the Santa Barbara cliffs for over an hour in bright sunshine, butter smooth winds and a solid, stable glider which I was persuaded to purchase ahead of a rather spicy alternative that I had my eye on (thanks Rob!). Kev was an excellent instructor and facilitated my transition from student to pilot. His easy manner, many flying stories, childishness when it didn’t matter, and moments of utter, grownup seriousness when it did, earned my respect and confidence, things I do not offer easily.
As someone who respects excellent teaching and knows it when he sees it, I can honestly say that Eagle Paragliding lead in their field of education. And as someone who values his own life EXTREMELY highly, I am pleased to report that these guys can really be trusted.
Returning to Europe, I bided my time until summer, drove my ‘petit camping car’ (that’s French for small RV, apparently) to France and spent 9 days van camping on the summit of the Puy de Dome, an extinct volcano in the Auvergne region of France on which sits the ruins of a pre-Christian temple dedicated to the god Mercury (him of the winged shoes – they didn’t have paragliders in those days!). After waiting for 48 hours for the fog to clear, I spent 5 days flying in all kinds of conditions, learning many new things, gaining experience, having fun and staying safe. It’s not somewhere many Yanks will have flown, and I can’t recommend it because I haven’t flown enough places to compare, but for me it was like going to the moon and coming back safely. That safe, stable glider and all my instruction allowed me to live my dream – thanks Eagle.
Jonathan Chuter – Jonny Pops : )