SPORTS THE SCORE
Whistlerites embrace para-motoring PAIR OF LOCALS ENJOY ‘FREEDOM’ SPORT PROVIDES
BY DAN FALLOON WHEN WHISTLER’S Don Eagleton first learned about para-motoring, he went all out. In fact, he went all the way to Southeast Asia to get his start. Chatting about his relatively new pastime on a windy day in Bayly Park last week, Eagleton said he had injured himself while skiing and was searching for a new activity. He initially thought of ultra-light airplanes, given both Pemberton and Squamish have airports, but he soon found para-motoring, in which participants wear a roughly 27-kilogram (60-pound) fan-like device on their backs while floating using a parachute, or wing. “The doctors said I needed to get a prosthetic shoulder. I started by thinking, ‘I can’t ski anymore. I can’t dirt bike. I can’t snowmobile. I can’t do any of these things, so I need a low-impact sport,’” recalled Eagleton, who has lived in Whistler for 34 years. “I saw (a video of) a guy in Thailand running towards the water off a beach and I thought, ‘What is this guy doing?’ … It was like he was on a magic carpet floating across the water. Then he went up and over
WINGING IT Para-motorist Don Eagleton shows off his wing on a windy day at Bayly Park on April 26.
PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON
the water. “It was killing me, the anticipation to see what he was actually using. Then I thought I want to try this. As it panned out,
he was flying a para-motor.” Moments later, Eagleton recalled, his partner walked in and she said they should consider a vacation in Thailand.
“Divine intervention,” Eagleton said. Soon after, he set off to the island of Ko Pha Ngan to track down his guru. “I was like a private investigator. I tracked this guy down through the internet and people who had flown with him,” Eagleton said, noting his Thai instructor trained the military searchand-rescue operators on para-motors, which they used instead of significantly costlier helicopters. Though his instructor had plenty of clout in Thailand, the certification “was (only) worth the piece of paper it was written on” in Canada, and Eagleton could face a $10,000 fine if he flew without a Canadian transport licence. He connected with James Johnson of Armstrong, and with a month of training, earned his papers. In the ensuing five years, Eagleton has had about 60 hours of flight time, split roughly evenly between Squamish, Pemberton and California, taking about 85 flights in that time. Safety is paramount, as Eagleton triplechecks each of his wing’s lines before taking off—one small entanglement could put him off course or otherwise impact his flight. He also checks in with local airports and ensures that they know he’s out there. If he’s itching to go out for a flight,
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44 MAY 2, 2019
Resort Municipality of Whistler whistler.ca/MovingWhistler
Pique Newsmagazine for May 2, 2019