It's freedom that attracts Bubba Goodman to flying.
"When you're in the air, you're basically free to do whatever you'd like," he said.
As director of the sixth annual Tater Hill Open Paragliding and Hang Gliding Competition, Goodman would know.
From Sunday, July 31, through Saturday, Aug. 6, fliers will take to the High Country skies in what Goodman calls a "learning competition."
"It's still a race ... but most of the people coming here just want to learn, want to get into it," he said. "We still offer some fairly challenging tasks."
Experienced pilots are tasked with taking off and racing toward the North Wilkesboro/Deep Gap area, "just trying to get them anywhere from 25 to 30 miles away from Tater Hill," Goodman said, while novice gliders will complete half of the course.
As such, the open includes two competitions. All pilots, be they paragliders or hang gliders, are equipped with GPS systems, with the course's waypoints downloaded accordingly. "We have select waypoints in valleys and along ridges on Tater Hill, and as conditions get better, we'll spread the waypoints out ... making it a little more challenging," Goodman said.
It's a challenge that's welcomed by the event's regular participants, many returning year after year from the world over.
"I've made some great friends all over the country," Goodman said. "It's like a mini-reunion and, over the past six years, we've had a lot of the same people coming back. We've had a good group from Brazil, some Argentinians have come, and in the past we've had people from Chile, France, Russia ... if they happen to be in the States and they see our event, they'll usually try to make it."
Some flying luminaries include Mike Barber of Florida, who holds an unofficial distance record of 438 miles, and Kari Castle, a women's gliding champion.
"And a lot of new people, some from the Ohio, Virginia area," Goodman said. "It just seems like a lot more northerners are coming down and up to fly."
The Tater Hill Open started six years ago as what Goodman called a "hardcore racing competition." Since then, it's developed into the fun-based learning competition that attracts novices, pros and all fliers in between.
"Flying is great, and being able to see the scenery is pretty spectacular," he said. "These days, it's probably 10 to 15 degrees cooler on top of the mountain and another 10 to 15 degrees cooler when we get up near the clouds."
It's a freeing experience, he said, provided the weather holds. Ideally, Goodman's hoping for a nice west wind, anywhere between 5 to 10 mph, clouds at about 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the mountain - putting them at 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level - and no thunderstorms.
With prime conditions, the course should run for two to three hours for professionals and three to four for novice and intermediate levels.
The Tater Hill Open is located on private property, 8 miles north of Boone, meaning attendance is limited to participants.
"But people can see it from the valley with no problem," Goodman said, " and there are places to watch along (U.S.) 421. Our website has a map to where we land, and people are welcome to park there, as long as they stay away from the 'no parking' signs."
Registration costs $175, which goes toward award money for the top three pilots. Interested parties may register by visiting http://www.flytaterhill.com or calling Goodman at (828) 773-9433.
For more information, including pilot and equipment requirements, visit http://www.flytaterhill.com.