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Costa Rican Skies Filling with Paragliders

FIVE years ago, it would have been a shock to see a person paragliding in Costa Rica. While the sport had caught on and grown in dozens of other countries such as Colombia, the United States, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and other parts of Europe, the sport remained relatively unknown here.

However, in the last few years the number of paragliders in Costa Rica has boomed with new flight spots constantly emerging. Now, on any given weekend beneath the skies of Caldera, Jacó or a number of other places, you can look up and see little dots gliding and circling up high above.

Playing a key role in introducing the sport to Costa Rica has been Rubén Montoya. In 2000, Montoya moved to the country and set up Paraflight, the only school in the country that certifies pilots.

“When I first came here there were only six pilots in the entire country,” he said.

SINCE he’s been here, Montoya has personally more than quintupled that number, certifying 33 pilots at Paraflight. He has also seen the number of flight sites surge from three to 17, adding that plenty more sites remain undiscovered.

The Association of Free Flight (ASOVUELI), an organization of paragliding pilots in Costa Rica, is also playing a large role not only in the promotion, but also regulation and safety of paragliding in Costa Rica. With more than 50 members, the organization’s pilots discuss flight sites, safety measures and other issues related to the sport.

Recently, ASOVUELI held its first-ever paragliding safety workshop. Together, pilots discussed ways they could make the sport safer, including an alert system to other paragliders about problems and how to deal with them and by communicating with local airports to find out about air traffic in an area and to alert them of the presence of paragliders.

MOST people don’t want to think about accidents,” said Miki Hassid, 51, at the workshop. “This is new for a lot of people, but it’s very important.”

Tatiana Mora, 29, a founding member of ASOVUELI said that even though she’s been paragliding for years the workshop was helpful.

“You always learn something,” she said.

In a further effort to promote the sport, the First Costa Rican Air Festival will take place April 23-25 in Parrita and Playa Palo Seco, on the CentralPacificCoast, and will bring together dozens of paragliders from Costa Rica and around the world.

“It’s important that this is recognized as a sport,” Mora said.

THE festival’s directors, Aura Cristina Bedoya and Esperanza Gallego, also paragliders, hope the festival will not only attract people to the sport, but also to the area of Parrita and nearby Playa Palo Seco as ideal locations for paragliding and other extreme sports.

Montoya thinks the festival may be just what Costa Rican paragliding needs.

“The festival is going to show the world that here in Costa Rica there are beautiful places to do this sport,” he said.

The event hopes to bring the sport to the public and greater paragliding community’s attention. The festival will be taking place at the Restaurante Oso in Parrita, located about 30 km south of Quepos.

JACÓ is known by surfers and Manuel Antonio brings in a lot of tourists, but in between there isn’t much,” Bedoya said. “We hope to change that and establish [this area] as a location for these activities.”

Part of what will help establish the area as an ideal paragliding destination is the development of Timari.

Currently under construction at Playa Palo Seco, the hotel will be dedicated to extreme sports such as paragliding, kite surfing and more. With the first cabins opening at the end of the month, it is expected that Timari (which stands for tierra, mar y aire –land, sea and air) will be fully opened in June.

TIMARI has also helped to bring some of the best paragliders in the world- Raul Rodriguez, fourtime World Acrobatic Champion, Basilio Silva, Spanish Cross Country Champion, Peter Brinkeby, former Swedish Cross Country Champion and a second place finisher in the Paragliding World Cup standings –are all involved with the project and will be taking part in the upcoming festival.

The air festival will involve all sports of air sports and activities, including paragliding, kite surfing, remote control airplanes and sky diving exhibitions.

For more information on the festival, contact Gallego or Bedoya at 779-9426 or 837-5990.



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