Dave Turner: Record-breaking Paraglider Pilot

When Dave Turner landed in Verdi, Nevada last spring, he became the first paraglider to complete a full crossing of the state of California—and he did it solo and unsupported. Thirty days earlier he set out from Ventura, California hiking his wing to the coastal mountains in Ojai, and flew north over the Mojave Range and the Sierra Nevada mountains, hiking and flying until he completed the record-breaking vol-biv journey.

A former professional big-wall solo-climber, Turner, 32, has turned his attention to paragliding. Four years ago he moved from Yosemite Valley, where paragliding is illegal, to Mammoth Lakes to pursue the flying full-time and he’s been breaking records ever since.

Turner completed the first crossing of the Sierra Nevada and has the California distance record of 176 miles, a 7 ½ hour flight. He also completed the longest vol-biv flight in the world last summer—a 60-day round-trip crossing of the Alps.

We caught up with Dave to chat about his adventures in paragliding.

Dave Turner ON learning to Paraglide in the Sierra

I took the unconventional and unrecommended approach—I taught myself out here in the Owens Valley. I bought a paraglider online, hiked it up peaks and just started flying by myself, alone. It wasn’t the smart way to learn and I definitely don’t recommend it to anyone. I had one bad crash that changed everything. I could have been killed or seriously injured, but luckily I just broke a couple ribs and got a concussion.

ON flying in the Eastern Sierra

Out here on the East Side, all the flying sites are wild and free. There’s no membership, no insurance, no license, no certifications— everything is cowboy out here. The Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra are world famous for turbulence, extreme flying conditions, extremely high altitudes achieved with the paraglider, and strong winds. If you can handle it, it’s an amazing place to fly.

ON flying Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain is a private ski resort on leased forest service land, so to fly off Mammoth you have to have site clearance from me and you have to go through health and safety to show them your credentials.

ON Breaking Records

Paragliding today is like where rock climbing was in the 1950s and 1960s— Everything was a first accent because no one was doing it. Just now we are breaking into what’s possible with paragliding. In the next five years, the elite pilots will be able to fly new routes over ridges, and break records that were never possible before. It’s a huge game.

ON Technology and Design

Paragliding was wildly dangerous in the 1980s and 1990s, but design materials have improved. In the last 15 years, it has become quite safe with modern equipment, training, and safety gear.

ON Vol-Biv (flight camping)

My main thing is not only long distance flying, but also vol-biv (flight camping.) I put all my camping gear in my harness, hike up the mountain, and take off and fly for however long I can stay up. I fly to the north taking thermals, and when the thermals are starting to decrease because the sun’s going down, I land on the next summit and campout. The next morning take off right from where I landed the day before. With luck, you don’t even have to hike because hopefully there are snow patches to melt water from and it’s pretty amazing. Vol-biv is basically taking long distance cross-country flying, mountain topography, meteorology, camping, and alpinism, and combining it all.

ON Solo Adventures

I’ve spent months alone in the Arctic, on big walls, pulling my sled with kites, and I lived down in Patagonia for years. I was a professional big-wall solo-climber, so I have a highly extensive background in doing dangerous things alone. I kind of transferred some of that mental awareness, risk assessment, and extreme nature, straight over into my flying.

ON Climbing vs. Paragliding

You definitely get a freedom while flying that’s unparalleled even with climbing. Climbing is three-dimensional, but it’s quite slow and confined. You can only travel on one mountain, one face at a time. Even on the biggest ridge traverses through the Sierra you climb for a week and traverse maybe 15 peaks. On a paraglider, I can traverse 50 peaks in two hours. The mobility and what it opens up, and the feeling it gives you is pretty amazing. https://youtu.be/3lPY7kymspY

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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