Fly Away

Article Published: Jul. 29, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Fly Away

Nearly 60 hang/paragliding pilots from around the country, glide with the raptors themselves this week as the 5th Annual Tater Hill Open 'takes off' Saturday. File photo

"It's a very free experience," Bubba Goodman said.

Think lush greenery, clear skies, the blues of Watauga Lake trailing in the background.

"You float around. It's not violent ... you're just floating around, enjoying the scenery," he said.
And from up here, you can see it all, fresh air framed by clouds and mountains and, as you float, you become a part of it, a part of the breeze.

"You can't really describe it," Goodman said.

He, along with nearly 60 hang/paragliding pilots from around the country, glide with the raptors themselves this week as the 5th Annual Tater Hill Open 'takes off' Saturday.

"It looks like it's going to be our biggest, most popular year yet," he said.

The friendly competition helps pilots learn from their peers. Some of them, Goodman, for example, have been gliding for decades. He started 30 years ago when an instructor worked out of Tater Hill. Now, the closest places to learn are in Atlanta or Chattanooga.

That hasn't stopped him from organizing the tournament here on Tater Hill now that he owns the land.

"It's a bald top, so it offers a really good place for launching, especially for paragliders. They need a little more of a top," he said.

The mountain faces the predominant wind direction, the west, and is 5,000 above sea level and 2,000 feet above the valley floor.

"It makes for some really nice flying," Goodman said.

And he's not the only one who thinks so. Pilots from as far away as California and Utah have signed on for the competition.

The competition has hanggliders and paragliders, but mostly paragliders, which utilize a softy canopy, similar to a parachute, as opposed to the rigid frame of a hangglider.

"Paragliders are a little more desirable to a lot of people because they're a little bit easier to fly," he said.

And, while he still considers gliding to be an extreme sport, it has been given an unfair reputation.

"It's not necessarily a dangerous extreme sport. You have pretty much control over what you do when you fly," he said.

The only thing you can't control? The weather.

"As you fly, you learn about the weather and you get better at predicting what the weather is going to do," he said.

So far, there have been no competition injuries.

For the most part, it's about enjoying the scenery.

"You can get a ride, we call it the roller coaster ride, where people can do some tricks to make it real exciting, but in general, you're just floating around," he said.

Sound intriguing? Come to the competition. While lessons will not be offered, ("2,000 feet isn't something you want to learn on," he said) tandem flights will be.

"You can kind of get a feel for what's going on," he said.

Tandem flights pair you with a seasoned pilot, so you can fly stress-free.

"If you have an interest in it, definitely come up the week of the competition and arrange a tandem flight with one of the guys and make sure you want to do it," he said, before you buy the equipment.

Gliding can be an expensive hobby. If, after gliding in tandem, you're hooked, he suggests including lessons on your next vacation.

"Take a vacation out to Utah or California ... just spend a week out there and learn," he said.
And, when you get back, maybe you'll be ready to take on Tater Hill.

"The view is just incredible," he said.

Tandem flights generally cost around $120 and can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the conditions.

Pilots get started with the free flying day Saturday and the tournament starts Sunday and lasts through August 7. For more information, visit

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