Local hang glider wins national championship

Matt Gardner
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A Prince Albert man has become the first Saskatchewan resident ever to win the Canadian Hang Gliding National Championship.

An avid hang glider since 1980, John Theoret placed first in the open class competition at the 2014 national championship, which took place from July 13-19 in Golden, B.C.

Back in his hometown on Tuesday with trophy in tow, Theoret, 56, said his achievement was still sinking in.

“It’s the first major competition for me to win, plus the first one from Saskatchewan, so we put Saskatchewan on the map,” he said with a chuckle.

Born and raised in Prince Albert, Theoret credits his father, Des, for helping to kindle his interest in flying.

As a boy, Des fashioned a hang glider-type device made of poplar and burlap and attempted to jump from the roof of his farmhouse into a haystack below.

The attempted launch led to a scolding from his father, but telling the stories to his own son John helped kindle in the younger Theoret a love of flying.

“I believe I might have seen hang gliding on TV or heard it on the radio, but I thought to myself, ‘Boy, I’d love to do that,’” John Theoret recalled.

Following his graduation from St. Mary High School, Theoret was working on Vancouver Island in 1979 when, “like a lightning bolt,” the thought popped into his head that he should learn how to hang glide.

Immediately going to the library, he took out the hang gliding how-to book A Hole In The Wind and was soon taking his first lessons.

“It fulfills something deep that I can’t explain,” Theoret said of his love for the sport. “I’ve heard this mentioned to people -- until you’ve experienced hang gliding, it’s hard to explain. I think some people have a deep-down need to fly.”

So great was his passion for hang gliding that Theoret would happily drive four hours each way to Regina for lessons.

Despite constant improvement that led to his flying at higher and higher distances, it wasn’t until 2010 that he finally began to take part in competitive hang gliding events.

“The reason I haven’t competed sooner was because I really didn’t think I had the skills,” he said. “It was kind of strange when you think about it -- I didn’t think I was good enough.”

Yet his success at the Lumby Air Days races belied that trepidation, as Theoret placed first in the king post hang gliders’ division -- an early victory that led to his participation in other hang gliding competitions.

His 2014 national championship win follows previous attempts, which reached a high point last year when he came in third place using a sport-class hang glider.

By contrast, today his preferred mode of flying is the topless glider.

“There’s a big difference there,” he said. “A sport-class glider is a Volkwagen. These topless gliders are Ferraris.”

Recalling the Lumby competition, he noted, “I’m flying a Volkwagen amongst Ferraris and I came in third. So it was then I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe I do have the skills.’”

Competitive hang gliding is judged primarily on two qualities: speed and distance.

Using their skills and judgment -- and aided by a device called a variometer that measures instantaneous changes in their height -- hang gliders look for rising columns of air known as thermals to use as a means of propulsion.

I think some people have a deep-down need to fly. John Theoret

At this year’s national championships in Golden, Theoret launched from a height of 6,000 feet and was able to attain a height of 14,500 feet -- only the second time in his life he has managed to achieve that altitude.

In one sense, his crowning as national champion was a bittersweet moment for the hang glider.

“I sure wish my dad was here to see it,” Theoret said. “He passed away in January 1993. That’s one of the thoughts that crossed my mind.”

With that latest victory under his belt, however, Theoret shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

The national champ already has his eye on his next major challenge -- competing in the upcoming FAI World Hang Gliding Championship, which is set to take place early next year in Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

Theoret described the city as the “Mecca for hang gliding, as far as I’m concerned.”

“In the winter you can thermal every day,” he noted. “You can fly every day.

“In Canada that’s unheard of. Out of a week you might be able to fly two, three days. It’s rare that you can fly seven days in a row. It’s very rare, because of the weather.”

Competitive hang gliding is a lifestyle in every sense of the word, with the two major challenges being finding enough time and money to compete.

Though he currently has a home in Nordale, Theoret is constantly on the move, travelling between hang gliding events when he is not working -- usually on the oil patch -- to build up the financial “nest egg” necessary to keep hang gliding.

Following the world championship in Mexico, he plans to come back, find a job and repeat the process all over again.

“I think my life has been directing me to this pivotal point in 2015 -- the reason being … because of my financial situation and the time on my hands, it’s all coming together right now,” he said.

But Theoret also noted the importance of regular flying and continual practice to maintain one’s skill set.

“The skills I’m at right now, if I was to, say, walk away from hang gliding and not fly for six months, my skills would be degraded quite substantially,” he said.

“It’s not like riding a bike. It’s something you’ve got to continually work at and hone and just practice, practice, practice. I’ve been at this for 34 years and I’m still learning things, big time.

“There’s no way that I’m at the top of my game,” he added. “There’s still so much to learn.”

See also:

Johnny Glide: aeronaut extraordinaire

Organizations: Mary High School, Volkwagen

Geographic location: Golden, Saskatchewan, Prince Albert Vancouver Island The Wind Regina Mexico Valle de Bravo Canada Nordale

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Recent comments

  • Eugene Bumbacco
    July 28, 2014 - 01:01

    Great to see you in the winning circle.

  • Skydog Bob
    July 23, 2014 - 17:04

    Congrats John. Bob London, Ontario