He calls it the "cheapest, safest way to fly."
Mark Belleville was back on the ground, in a field off Roachton Road in Perrysburg Township a few weeks ago, unhooking himself from a the engine and canopy of a paraglider.
He had traveled 800 miles from his home in Hudson, N.H., for a week of training with Bruce Brown, owner of Ohio Powered Paragliding in Bowling Green -- a week that had been a long time in the making.
"I've been dreaming of doing this for 20 years," Mr. Belleville said.
He is used to being up in the air. Mr. Belleville works as a lineman for an electric-power company in Massachusetts, and has been skydiving for 28 years. But paragliding offers both an adrenaline rush and serenity.
"It's like being a bird," he said.
Mr. Brown brings the human birds to a field he leases from a nearby farmer and teaches them how to operate both foot-launched and wheeled paragliders.
"We work mostly on the takeoff, that's the hardest part.... The flying part is the fun," he said.
Instruction ranges from $100 introductory classes one to two hours long to a week-long, $1,000 course for owners of their own equipment. Mr. Brown offers training discounts for folks who buy equipment through his business, including custom-built orders. Paragliders range between $2,000 and $3,500, and paramotors typically cost between $5,400 and $6,700.
Mr. Belleville said the investment is far better than traditional flight lessons because he now owns the paraglider, and can go when and where he pleases, without a runway or the extraordinary expense of his own aircraft.
"All I have to do now is add fuel," he said of the 25 horsepower, 60-pound motor that he straps to his back. The motor takes about 2.5 gallons of two-cycle gasoline, which is good for two to three hours of flight.
Mr. Belleville said that once he traveled from northwest Ohio back to New England, he would fly conservatively until he was experienced enough to handle the terrain obstacles in his area.
"As much as you have corn and soybeans and wheat here, we have trees," he said.
Mr. Brown said that while you certainly could "plunge to your death" or get tangled up in power lines, paragliding still was among the safest sports, especially with improvements in technology over the years.
"We have hand throttles ... in the '80s we had mouth throttles," he said.
Mr. Brown began paragliding in 1985 with wheeled units. Those models today come in three-wheel and four-wheel varieties with four-cylinder, 240-pound motors that take the same kind of fuel an automobile uses.
"I like the foot-launch because it's so much more compact," he said, adding that you can pack that up and take it anywhere.
He has been everywhere. He has flown over badlands near Albuquerque, N.M., and around Pike's Peak in the Rocky Mountains west of Colorado Springs, Colo., as well as areas in Spain and Mexico.
Mr. Brown admits that northwest Ohio is a friendly place to fly, with its flat, open spaces. Wherever the locale though, he said, weather conditions rule the day.
"We become students of the weather," he said. Too windy or too wet, and you'll be staying on the ground.
Jim Debien, a Perrysburg Heights resident, happily stays in the field while others buzz overhead. He can see the paragliders from his home, but he often comes to the Roachton Road site, too.
"I love to watch them fly," he said.
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