For the past two weeks I’ve been learning to paraglide in the hills outside Brasov, Romania. Little did I know when I signed up for this instructional course that after no more than eight days of training I would be entering my first paragliding competition!
This weekend (the weekend of my 29th birthday), I drove with my paragliding instructor, Robert, to the city of Targu Mures, Romania where I joined about fifty other paragliders from all around Romania for a friendly spot-landing competition on a large hill just outside the city. The goal of the competition was simple: launch yourself off the top of this hill and land on a small circular target placed in the field below. The pilot who could hit the target the most times over the course of the day would be the winner.
After only eight days of training, I was by far the least experienced paraglider in the group (some of the pilots had been flying for 15 years or more). Nevertheless, I did participate in the competition and after I got my first flight out of the way I had a real blast!
After loading our paragliders into a Land Rover Defender and jumping in the back of the vehicle ourselves , my competitors and I were driven up a steep dirt road to the top of the hill and unloaded the car near the launch platform (One time I actually rode up the hill while sitting on the hood of the vehicle).
Over the course of the day I got in a total of five flights. I nearly crashed into the judges table on the first flight, overshot the target on the following two flights, hit the target (but was about 5 meters out from the center) on the fourth flight, and massively undershot the target on my final flight of the day. Even though I didn’t win the competition (or come anywhere close to even placing) I did have a lot of fun. I met a lot of really nice people, felt good about my paragliding skills, and now I know that with just a bit more practice I really seriously compete in a competition of this sort in the future.
While the paragliding was epic, the most memorable part of the day was my interaction with the Romani people (or “gypsies” as the locals refer to them) who came from their nearby homes to watch the paragliding competition.
Each time I would land my paraglider a small group of Romani childern would run over to me, ask me questions (which I couldn’t understand), offer to help me pack up my glider, ask me to take their photo and give them money, and mock my strange California accent. Some of the boys wanted me to take them up in the glider with me, but I wasn’t able to communicate to them the fact that 1) I was just a beginner and incapable of flying with a passenger and 2) my paraglider was not equipped to carry two people. My answer, therefore, was “nu.”