Paragliding pilots set off from Coronet Peak at the
weekend. Photo by Quentin Smith.
Paragliding pilots joke their sport is often referred to
as ''parawaiting'' - because the weather is often unsuitable
And in the steady rain in Wanaka yesterday - midway through
the national paragliding open - parawaiters were clogging the
One of them was veteran Grant Middendorf, of Lake Hawea, who
is among the leading bunch of pilots in the field of 65.
Middendorf, who was brought up in Queenstown, took up
paragliding 25 years ago just a year or two after the sport
arrived in New Zealand.
''I'd always been quite keen on flying but never really had
the funds to do it.''
He took a couple of flights off the Crown Terrace, liked it,
bought his own paraglider and taught himself how to fly.
Now, as one of the most experienced paragliding pilots in New
Zealand still flying, Middendorf holds the national distance
record - 142km from the Waiorau Snow Farm in the Cardrona
Valley to just short of Burkes Pass in Canterbury.
''I managed to get into a sea breeze convergence past Omarama
that took me up to about 12,500ft [3810m] and I just managed
to stay in the convergence and travel for about 30km without
having to turn.''
Middendorf says the sport is perceived as one of ''those
adrenaline sports'', but he thinks of it more as a
three-dimensional chess game in which he is trying to reach a
''For me it's the challenge of just using the natural air
currents and environment to see how far you can fly.
''It's a real mental and physical challenge to get up there
and use nature to travel long distances.''
At 46, and recently married to Lucy, another paragliding
pilot, Middendorf is not about to retire - hoping to regain
the national title.
This week's competition is a chance for pilots to gain points
towards the title. It began at Coronet Peak on Saturday and
the task pilots are waiting to attempt, from Treble Cone, is
to fly a course of about 70km.
The event is being run by the Southern Hang Gliding and
Paragliding Club. Organiser Derek Divers said the
frontrunners, besides Middendorf, were Jeff Ripley and Evan
Lamberton, of Auckland, and Dongsul Kim, of South Korea.