DILIGENT RIVER, N.S. – The annual Festival of Free Flight over the weekend here was another successful one, but Michael Fuller is concerned about the future of the sport in Atlantic Canada.
“We’re still struggling with the ways and means of getting an instructor established here,” he said. “Our big concern is, as we all get older and move to different parts of the country, or just get tired of it, this sport will dwindle.”
Fuller started the Pegasus Paragliding school and operated it locally for many years before deciding it was time to pass the baton. It only survived for a short time under new ownership, however, and the region has been left without a school in recent years.
For that reason, the annual festival, held each year during the May long weekend, has become more of a gathering for pilots than a community event promoted for the public. As Fuller explained, it’s hard to invite spectators to come out and enjoy the action when there is no place closer than Quebec where they can learn the sport and become pilots themselves.
“I can see the cracks already,” he said. “There’s no young blood coming along, no succession.”
One would never guess that from the flying activity witnessed on the Parrsboro over the weekend. Close to three dozen pilots took to the skies, mostly paragliders, but also a stalwart core of hang glider pilots and a few powered paragliders as well.
Coinciding with the flying this weekend were the annual directors meeting of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, and the annual general meeting of the Hang Gliding and Paragiding Association of Atlantic Canada. Pilots were here from British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, England and around the Atlantic region.
Some pilots arrived Thursday and got some flights in, with more great flying on Friday, Saturday and Monday. The only down day was Sunday, which saw uncooperative rainy weather.
“There were some awesome flights,” said Fuller. “Both Friday and Saturday had really good flying early in the morning and then later at night.”
Saturday saw a site record broken at Hidden Falls, where Tom Sliepen of Alberta flew from Hidden Falls to Moose River, a run never been done before because of the lack of a landing place in between. He gained an altitude of about 3,000 feet during the flight.
“It was up there with our most successful weekends,” said Fuller.