Local Pine Pienaar is taking paragliding to new levels, competing internationally
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Perched atop a motorcycle and traversing the mountain passes between the Front Range and the Western Slope, Pine Pienaar knew he’d stumbled upon a place he would never leave.
“I knew when I drove over the pass. I saw 12 feet of snow on each side,” he recalled. “I rolled over the hill and I just knew I’d just stick around in this valley. And now it’s been 17 or 18 years.”
Pienaar, a South African native, had come to the Roaring Fork Valley to further a rugby career that had already featured United States stops in Kentucky and Denver. He wound up catching a current that’s carried him to great heights in both his professional life and athletic career.
It didn’t take Pienaar, founder of Glenwood Springs-based Adventure Paragliding, long to gravitate toward the peaks he’s made a living launching off.
“I saw these guys fly in Aspen and I was like, ‘Ahhh! That’s exactly what I want to do,'” he said of his mid-1990s introduction to the sport of paragliding. “So I started learning there.”
That education morphed into a career for Pienaar, who played for the prestigious Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club at the time.
Not long after spotting those like-minded adventure seekers gliding through the Aspen skies, he became a tandem pilot in Aspen, where he’d spend nine years honing his trade before launching his own business downvalley.
After eight years and more than 5,000 tandem flights, Pienaar is as certain as ever he’s found his niche. His business is thriving, as his family life, of which his wife, Shannon, and 4-year-old son, Garret, take center stage.
Also center in Pienaar’s life is the sky, which has always had a magnetic effect on the solidly built South African.
“I flew hang gliders and I skydived before [paragliding],” the 43-year-old shared. “I started flying hang gliders in 1985, but that was just a short stint. I didn’t fly very long, and I was always sorry I gave it up.”
He’s fully committed to the skies now, and to sharing his love for paragliding with thrill-seeking locals and tourists.
“There is absolutely nothing like making a living out of doing something you absolutely love,” Pienaar said. “For me, it’s also fantastic to deal with people at this level. It’s not like being in the service industry where everyone is nasty to you. Everybody comes with a smile and leaves with an even bigger smile.”
For Pienaar, whose palette of outdoor pastimes also includes golf, skiing, kayaking and mountain biking – among other activities – paragliding is about more than just business and recreation. He’s also an accomplished competitor.
He recently received an invitation to compete in the venerable Paragliding World Cup, a tour featuring a series of international stops. In May, Pienaar made his World Cup debut in Mun Gyeong, South Korea, where he finished 55th overall.
Pienaar, whose competitive background dates back four or five years, has long sought a World Cup invite, which is earned by performing well in qualifying events.
“It’d definitely been a goal of mine,” he said. “Literally, when you get to this level, it’s like a golfer on the Nationwide Tour going to the PGA Tour. It takes you to a whole different level.”
And, by all accounts, Pienaar is worthy of such company.
“He’s probably one of the longer-standing pilots around,” said Dave Thulin, one of Pienaar’s pilots at Adventure Paragliding. “He’s got a wealth of knowledge, really. He’s been flying since the mid-’80s, from hang gliders to paragliders. He’s experienced a lot between those two sports.”
In Korea, Pienaar and fellow racers negotiated lengthy courses in a cross country-format race. Finishing time is only part of the equation.
“First of all, you get points for being there first,” he said. “Then you have to complete the course. … You get scored according to if you land on a specific point on the course.”
The conditions were challenging in Korea, but the experience was invaluable.
“It was very windy and it was raining, so it was super frustrating,” Pienaar said. “But we had two decent days, so it made it a fairly valid competition.”
More than 120 competitors participated in the Korean competition.
“I came in 55th overall, which was pretty respectable for a first time at a World Cup event,” he added. “It’s the top pilots in the world that go out there.”
Competitions hold many purposes for Pienaar. Not only does it serve as a competitive outlet, it keeps him sharp at his trade.
“If you fly at this high level, it’s unbelievable how much better you become,” he said. “That’s my main mission, to keep people safe and, you know, the more knowledge you have, the safer we are and the more we know what to do.”
And he plans to keep plying his paragliding trade – and sharing his passion for the sport with the Roaring Fork Valley – for many years to come.
“It never gets old,” he said. “It never, never, never gets old.”
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