Interview of Jonas and Wolfi about their project.
“You, your glider and the wind”
The Austrian Wolfgang Siess and the New Zealander Jonas Lobitz both have one thing in common; a complete hang gliding obsession. Both have been traveling the globe with their gliders since teenagers, reaching nerve wracking heights, soaring with birds in the clouds and chasing that feeling of ultimate freedom. In late March 2015 the two hanggliders embark on their adventure together through the United States and parts of Canada. What will they experience on this trip? What makes this trip so unique and how did the two come to flying hang gliders in the first place? The answers lie here below.
How did you two get into hang gliding?
Jonas Lobitz: Like most people flying has always been a childhood dream. Finally at the age of thirteen I was big and strong enough to lift a hangglider so my dad (an instructor and also hangglider) taught me how to fly.
Wolfgang Siess: Hanggliding just kind of fell into place for m. My dad has been flying hanggliders since the late 70’s. Evidently I spent the majority of my childhood at the take off and landing zone in Tirol, Austria gazing upwards, longing to be one of those hanggliders in the sky.
You both seem very passionate about hanggliding. When was it that you realized you were going to make hanggliding your life and was there a “magic moment” as such that sparked this?
JL: My first solo high flight from a 1000m mountain back in New Zealand. Haha I was so nervous on take-off I went through a whole roll of toilet paper in about half an hour. But I took off with my dad yelling at me on the radio in harsh German accent “run,run,run,run“. I remember all the nerves evaporated as I took off and I knew this was probably the best thing I’d ever done.
WS: It was always engrained in me that when I was big enough I would fly a hangglider. After my dad took me for a tandem at the age of ten I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would define my “magic moment” as the time I did my first solo. Standing alone at the top of the mountain for the first time and I started to run until finally my feet left the ground. That was it.
What does flying mean to you two?
JL: Haha well that depends on the day. Sometimes you don’t find lift and are forced to land in minutes while you watch your mates having the time of their lives high up in the clouds and it can be the most frustrating thing. Then other times you’re accelerating upward in the smoothest lift with an eagle on your wingtip and it can be the most profound, surreal experience. Then afterwards you land and have a beer with your mates and just go f**k, what a day.
WS: Flying isn’t just a hobby for me it’s my life. For me flying means feeling that sensation of ultimate freedom. Life without it is almost unimaginable for me.
What’s special too you about flying?
JL: The detachment from normal day life the only thing that matters up there are you, your glider and the winds.
WS: The cool thing about hang gliding is that you can fly hundreds of kilometres for hours on end using only the power of the sun (thermals) in complete silence. In this meditative like state you are then left to freely appreciate the world and all its beauty below you from a birds eye view.
What tittles have you taken out so far?
JL: #1 FAI ranked New Zealander and National team member for the past four years. Current world ranking 14th.
WS: Two times Austrian National champion, multiple Tirol state champion and I managed to take out first place at the 2009 world air games. As part of the Austrian team we’ve placed second at the European champs and third at the world champs.
What tittles are you two still after?
JL: haha that’s an easy one. World Champion would be pretty sweet.
WS: (laughing) We have the same goal in that respect. A world champion crown is of course something I would love to achieve as well. Besides that a European tittle would also be a fine feat! And then there are world records going for bigger distances then anyone else in the world.
What are you goals in terms of hanggliding over the next few years?
WS: After a year off flying due to an injury I’m super motivated to get back into it! I’m really excited for my first comp of the season in Columbia at the end of January. Then from there I’m off to Mexico for the World Champs and I plan on giving it a good crack. Who knows maybe I’ll bring back the bacon to Austria. (laughing) That would be a dream comeback! Otherwise during our US trip I want to crack the big 500km and break the 760km world record.
JL: I’m definitely very hungry to win the Australian nationals this year. A top ten placing at the Mexico Worlds is in the back of my head and then take out a world tittle in 2017. Yeah and like Wolfi I would also love to get that 500km milestone! (laughing) I think one of us will definitely get it during this trip.
You guys spend hours up there at great heights. After years of experience are there any situations that still give you the shivers, If so what are they?
JL: (laughing) Not really but I don’t recommend you go flying when you’re to hangover it can get messy up there!
WS: Not really either I’m always pretty comfortable up there.
Still, hanggliding doesn’t go without risk how do you deal with the thought of potentially having a bad accident?
JL: Over the years the safety of hanggliding has improved exponentially due to better glider design in terms of stability and structural strength and also due to better teaching methods. It’s like driving a car you can take risks on the road and that increases chances of an accident or you can be conservative. I try and stay within my limits as much as i can when I’m up there.
WS: As long as you stick to the rules hanggliding is actually a safe sport. Like any other sport hanggliding too has its limits. But with the right training and preparation you can learn to master those hairy situations.
Between the end of March and early November 2015 the two of you will be on route through the US and parts of Canada on your flying road trip. How would you describe your trip in three sentences?
JL: Two mates traveling across the states, promoting hanggliding by photographing and documenting flying adventures in a green environmentally friendly way and having the best time doing it.
WS: Yep that sounds about right! It’s a trip with a really close buddy. As Jonas mentioned protecting our environment is a big concern for us on this trip. For this reason we are converting our truck to run on filtered cooking oil. The power we need to charge our instruments and camera gear will be generated by solar panels mounted to our truck.
How did you come up with the Idea?
WS: A flying trip through the US has been lingering in my mind for a long time. At the Pre-world Champs in Mexico last year I spoke with Jonas about my idea. Several Skype sessions later we had it on paper set and ready to go!
Why did you choose the US as your location for the big adventure?
JL: America has hundreds of different flying sights in various states with amazing landscapes from mountains to dessert. (laughing) Not to mention cheap alcohol.
WS: Yeah it’s truly amazing the diversity in landscape that the US offers, more than any country I can think of. In addition to this the US boasts a lot of hang gliding history previously being somewhat of a mecca to the flying community.
What spots do you think will be the major highlights of your trip?
WS: hmm… that’s a tricky one there are so many. But at this point I can give you little sneak peak of what’s on the cards. Yosemite National park, Grand Canyon, Moab Utah will be pretty up there then there are Chelan, Washington and Owens Valley, California as well.
Which place are you looking forward to most?
JL: That’s also a hard one! I’m pretty excited about most of the stops on the trip! But if I had to pick probably Chelan, Washington it’s renowned as one of the best spots in the world for hanggliding and paragliding.
WS: I think Moab, Utah with its vast red rock pillars will be amazing to fly next to so I’d have to choose that. But I’m also particularly looking forward to Chelan in Washington State as well.
When you think about your trip beginning in March next year what do you feel?
JL: Excitement, passion and excitement. Did I mention excitement? (he laughs)
WS: Yep excitement rushes through me pretty quick when I start thinking about it. To tell you the truth I wish our adventure was starting tomorrow!
Be honest, are there any aspects of this trip that you are anxious about?
WS: There are a few things. Much of the trip is obviously pre planned before we begin but we’ll have to work out a few things as we go as well! For example take-off locations and weather preparation are essential for this to be successful. Local knowledge comes into play here. Then there’s the financial side of things! The crucial question is, can we inspire enough sponsors to make this hanggliding adventure affordable!
What excites you two the most when you think about the project?
JL: Excitement to get on the road experience new things, meet new people and fly some of the most beautiful places on earth with my best mates!
WS: I think this is going to be one of those things you do in life that you’ll always reflect on and go, wow that was epic! I’m really excited to get to know the people and country of US and Canada and to document the whole trip with photos and video so that our adventures are preserved for ever!