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Mar 16 2012

To Fly, a Sense of Freedom

by Jean Fortin


As long as I can recall, I have wanted to fly. When other young boys dreamed of being  firemen or doctors, I dreamed of being a pilot—so I could fly! Life took me down another path over the years, but I still think about flying every day. Let me try and explain why.

In the late 1980s, in the course of my professional activities, I came across a European  man who started what would become one of the first paraglide schools in Quebec. It took
only a weekend introductory course before I made my first great leap into the universe of free flight.

What is paragliding? It is the sim-plest way to fly. A sail resembling a parachute is folded into a back-pack that also holds a harness and a rescue parachute. The whole thing weighs no more than 40 lb. You unfold the sail at the top of the slope, place it on the ground, dash down the slope as the sail rises over your head, and off you go! Since there is no motor, the paraglide stays aloft on rising air currents, a little like a glider.

Take off

It’s a magical moment, when after finishing a short pre-takeoff preparation, you
launch up into the air to join the birds. It’s a sensation like none other! Suddenly space opens up,  becoming almost infinite, and you find yourself alone with your sail. However,
pre-takeoff preparations are crucial and allow you to fully enjoy what follows. Poor preparation can lead to accidents and all the unfortunate consequences. There were times when conditions were so good that I became overeager to take off, so I skipped the preparations. I subsequently regretted it. A flight that should have been miraculous began with a night-marish takeoff! Those days when I’m overeager and want to rush for no good reason, I remember those takeoff fiascos. And when possible, I try and take a moment to reflect—like an old monk—to be discriminating rather than decisive!


There’s nothing like finding a thermal to lift you at the moment of takeoff, let you fly around, and finally ascend to the clouds. But it doesn’t always work that way. Thermals
are currents of rising warm air that lift you to higher altitudes when you pass through them. They are invisible and of varying size, force, and intensity. For successful thermal flights, you need to be persevering and confident… in your intuition! We often work with the intangible. Why does a thermal usually occur in this spot but not this time? And if not this time, as with other unforeseen opportunities in life—you just take them as they come!

A good dose of humility is also needed. Did you know that most flying accidents are due to pilot error? It’s a great life lesson, knowing that I sometimes want to blame the whole world for my personal mistakes!


The approach and landing are planned before takeoff. From the air, you must ensure
the path is free and take into account all elements before planning your approach (obstructions, enclosures, cars, trees, etc.). Nothing can be taken for granted, because there is no second chance. Isn’t that the brutal reality in our daily lives as well? There are elements I don’t see—or rather, I don’t want to see!—that strike me head-on and spoil my “landing.” And when my feet finally touch earth, I feel happy; my heart is light. There are no bad flights, only different types of flights, when I accept that my decisions don’t always yield the desired results. It’s a new lesson every time.

All said and done, free flight comes down to just a few things: preparation, confidence, letting go, perseverance, and humility.

I no longer fly as often as I’d like but I’ll get back to it. This visceral passion will be with
me my whole life. And I live with the certainty that I will fly again. Meanwhile, in my head—I’m flying!

About the author

Jean has admirable values, especially when it comes to family. He is respectful and passionate about nature, and enjoys escaping to the country for precious moments of relaxation as often as time allows. A day of motorcycling, fishing, or snowboarding also affords him a great opportunity to get away. He will tell you that his greatest achievements to date are his two daughters, whom he adores.

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