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Instructor of the year honor

Eagle Paragliding's chief Instructor Rob Sporrer received USHPA's Instructor of the Year Award in 2002. Every year USHPA issues the award to the person making the biggest contributions to our sport in the United States.

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Paragliding Testimonials

1. Royal Air Force
2. Jonathan Chuter
3. Mike Biles
4. Rayko Banov
5. Captain Russ Weber
6. Dave Bader
7. Martin Drum
8. Peter Miller
9. Dustin S. Stern
10. Mark Norkus
11. Allison LaPlante
12. Robb Milley

1. Royal Air Force

Dear Mr Sporrer,

I am writing to you on behalf of myself and the rest of my group that came to you for a paragliding course in January. As you were aware this was an adventurous training expedition organized by myself on behalf of the Royal Air Force stationed at Goose Bay.

This was organized under our services requirements to provide activities that are testing and challenging to individuals and to also encourage personal and team development. Having had some limited experience paragliding, qualifying P2 just over 18 months ago, the task of project officer was given to me.

On my first contact with you by e-mail and by viewing your high quality web-site, it was apparent that I was dealing with a well-organized and well-managed school. This continued to the case during the coming months as we exchanged various information and requests for training requirements, all of which you were happy to accommodate.

The help you gave with finding accommodation to our requirements, was also much appreciated as this meant that I did not have to try searching for them from Canada. The accommodation was excellent and we were also pleasantly surprised with the very good rate that you had negotiated for us.

From day one of the training it was obvious that you were a very competent and knowledgeable instructor and just as important you were very easy to get on with. Being British and being in the military, we tend to have a very unique outlook on life, and this influences the way we interact with people. Everyone in my party found that you adapted and embraced this unique style so well that very quickly you even started to understand our sense of humor.

The training was always very clear, concise and put over in an informed, authoritative but friendly manner. It was clearly divided into a series of logical progressive steps that enabled all students to safely increase their knowledge and abilities with the wing, with allowances being made for individual abilities.

This was nice to see as being a qualified A1 instructor with the RAF, you are in the habit of taking apart peoples instruction methods but this was not the case, because of your high standard.

The proof of the quality of training could soon be seen in the progression of the students and they were soon producing clean launches and landings with good awareness of landing approach and set up.

We did have the misfortune of having that very large weather front move across which upset the flying for several days, but you had enough flexibility in your training to ensure that the lost time be kept to a minimum.

I was also impressed by the depth and quality of the ground school training, which has certainly given all of us a much better appreciation of the weather and the factors affecting thermal production.

The flights in the mountains will certainly stay with all of us as the high point of the course. The careful steady approach to teaching with safety as the first consideration pays off when in 9 days you can train 6 students (even allowing for several days of bad weather) and then safely launch and recover them from their first big flight. Even when preparing for these first flights the attention to detail is noticeable, everyone is briefed on all available landing zones, the best route to the main LZ, where thermals might be found etc, all very reassuring for those making their first big flight.

On a personal note I would have no hesitation in recommending you to anyone, I have seen your training and I have seen your training area, if only all schools were as good. Having had three training courses now 2 in the US and 1 in the UK, I can say that Eagle Paragliding and Rob Sporrer are the best I have been to. My own flying improved in leaps and bounds during my time training with you and if the opportunity arises that I can train with you again, then I will be there. I know when I say thank you for all of your help, advice and patience; I am saying it for my entire group.

Many Thanks,

Sgt Richard Tustain - Project Officer
ERS RAF(U) Goose Bay
PO Box 907 Station A
Goose Bay Labrador Canada A0P 1S0

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2. Jonathan Chuter

My name is Jonathan Chuter and I LOVE to fly. I've been flying for about two yeas now, on and off. I live in London, England. I've wanted to fly something (although I was never sure what, or how, quite) since I was about 10, and my interest was kindled properly when I was given a glider lesson for my 18th birthday. Since I had way too much testosterone and adrenalin and no money at that age. I settled for skiing and biking. I had a certain repeating dream while sleeping about once a month where everything became really light and floaty, and I found myself launch up into the air and flying around...

Visiting Santa Barbara regularly in the last few years to see a certain local lady I became transfixed by the paragliders I saw intermittently in the clear beautiful skies above the town. I signed up for a discover paragliding lesson with some reservations. You see, although I felt my hormones had settled to an acceptable level, and although I could just about afford it, I work as a school teacher in London, and while I value good teaching, I can't abide mediocre educators and I certainly wasn't about to pay a bunch of self centered jocks to put my life at risk while they wished they were elsewhere, flying high.

My experience of learning to fly with Eagle Paragliding was very special. Without going in to too much detail about educational theory, different people learn in different ways, and people bring baggage (fear of failure, or of looking stupid!) to the learning environment which usually hampers their progress, their ability to trust the teacher, and their enjoyment of the experience. At Eagle, I learned so much and in such an enjoyable way because my instructors were not only clearly technical experts, but were also able to communicate the right amount of information in the right way, and deliver it at the right pace for me. In addition, they (consciously or subconsciously) were aware, very quickly of what kind of a learner and a personality I was and adapted their teaching accordingly.

What the hell am I talking about? Well basically, I am a serious person who learns very quickly, wants to do well, is very self critical and wants to get the absolute maximum from every experience I have. In response to this, Rob fed me a lot of technical information, but disguised much of it in catchy sayings (A's away, rears near; cross em n boss em; move to the low side). This meant that my head was not full up with technical stuff (so that I had enough brain free to be aware of and sensitive to my glider and its behavior). When I set up these days I can hear Rob's measured voice in my head, "yeah, Jonny Pops!" Rob allowed my to push myself on the first couple of days, allowed me to kite even when the wind was pretty strong and I was clearly struggling. He laughed a lot when I fell over, while encouraging me at the same time, to combat my seriousness, and to loosen me up (which I needed to in order to feel the glider). I'm not sure whether his humor, and his insistence on calling me 'Jonny Pops' was partly him having a laugh, but it defused my overly serious attitude, and allowed me to laugh at myself which for a slightly uptight brit ; ) was great for my vacation vibe but also helped me fly better.

I remember Marty asking me gently to stop when the wind became too strong for my kiting ability in the middle of the day, and rather than flying with the experts (as an instructor was doing from another company) while the wind was strong (which would have got right up my nose) he sat for maybe three hours and talked about flying and commented on what was going on with the wind and peoples' gliders and talked about teaching theory and his negative experiences when he learned to fly planes and what an inspiration that was to him to teach really well. Marty stayed till about 7 that day and I got 5 flights that evening as the wind died - just him and me. Every time I took off, he calmed me down, set me a task, and every time I landed, he began by complimenting me on what I had got right, joining me in my excitement and joy, and then analyzed the flight with me, examining it for things to improve.

At all times, I felt safety was paramount and risk assessment a serious undertaking. The emphasis was always on me being responsible for my own flying, not relying on them, making good decisions, etc.

Many lessons culminated in a trip last Easter when I got to stay with Rob in his RV, and was assigned Kev as my personal minder, instructor, and drinking buddy. While I had to wait a few days for good winds, Kev and I had a blast, and when the wind finally got right, he got me my first high mountain flight and my first ridge soaring experience (both on the same day!). The following day I had what can only be described as a religious experience soaring about the Santa Barbara cliffs for over an hour in bright sunshine, butter smooth winds and a solid, stable glider which I was persuaded to purchase ahead of a rather spicy alternative that I had my eye on (thanks Rob!). Kev was an excellent instructor and facilitated my transition from student to pilot. His easy manner, many flying stories, childishness when it didn't matter, and moments of utter, grownup seriousness when it did, earned my respect and confidence, things I do not offer easily.

As someone who respects excellent teaching and knows it when he sees it, I can honestly say that Eagle Paragliding lead in their field of education. And as someone who values his own life EXTREMELY highly, I am pleased to report that these guys can really be trusted.

Returning to Europe, I bided my time until summer, drove my 'petit camping car' (that's French for small RV, apparently) to France and spent 9 days van camping on the summit of the Puy de Dome, an extinct volcano in the Auvergne region of France on which sits the ruins of a pre-Christian temple dedicated to the god Mercury (him of the winged shoes - they didn't have paragliders in those days!). After waiting for 48 hours for the fog to clear, I spent 5 days flying in all kinds of conditions, learning many new things, gaining experience, having fun and staying safe. It's not somewhere many Yanks will have flown, and I can't recommend it because I haven't flown enough places to compare, but for me it was like going to the moon and coming back safely. That safe, stable glider and all my instruction allowed me to live my dream - thanks Eagle.

Blue skies,

Jonathan Chuter - Jonny Pops : )

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3. Mike Biles

Mike Biles
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
12+ years of flying
Favorite places, Jackson Hole/Santa Barbara

I have been trained by several instructors in my 12 years of paragliding and I would recommend Eagle Paragliding over all of them. I consider the guys at Eagle Paragliding to be my paragliding family. I've trained with them, flown beside them, traveled to foreign countries with them and bought lots of gear from them over the last 8 years. I trust them completely to look after me.

Flying tandem under Eagle instruction several times has given me complete trust in their judgment and expertise. You guys are highly skilled with mountain and coastal flying and you are able to communicate the knowledge to the students clearly; one thing I find very important and rare.

To be a good teacher it takes patience, passion, focus, intuition and a unique ability to effectively convey information. To be a great teacher it takes all those qualities and love for your students. These guys are great teachers!

I have watched your instructors train beginning students. You are all committed to safety and work with each student at their level of skill.

I encourage anyone considering training in paragliding to do it with Rob Sporrer and his staff of instructors at Eagle Paragliding. I couldn't suggest anyone more honest, competent and dedicated.

If you would like to discuss my experience with their training, I would be glad to talk with you.

Mike Biles

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4. Rayko Banov

Dear Rob, it’s been few months since I have completed my training with you, and got my P2 rating.

During this time I did some flying on my own (mostly at Sylmar), met other P2 and more advanced pilots, and some instructors. It gradually became apparent to me how lucky I am to have you as my instructor. I noticed that my ground handling, takeoff, in flight control, and landing abilities are better than those of the other novice pilots. I contribute all of this to your exceptional instruction. During the class I was pleased that our relation felt more like friendship than a business one.

Initially you spent enough time on ground handling and kiting, and successfully conveyed to us how important those are, which really helped me later when flying off the mountains. Another thing I learned from you was the important skills of understanding the weather and reading the terrain. Your web site is a very good hub for weather information. I am also very satisfied with the equipment I got from you. It is a perfect fit for my size and abilities.

Thank you, thank you, for making my introduction to paragliding such a pleasant and exiting experience.

P.S. I am religiously maintaining my flight log book, and looking forward of becoming a P3 pilot when I am ready.

Rayko Banov

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5. Captain Russ Weber

My name is Russ Webber. I have been a paraglider pilot since 2003. I live in Phoenix, AZ and fly locally at South Mountain which is in the middle of the city or at the Craters in Flagstaff.

My favorite place to fly is Telluride, Colorado for the spectacular scenery. The best place I have flown for consistent thermals and great instruction is Valle De Bravo on a tour with Eagle Paragliding.

My training is ongoing, really. The beautiful thing about this sport is the learning never ends. The guys from Eagle take special care to watch their "flock" long after they leave the nest, which sets them apart from other schools.

The training hill in Santa Barbara is fantastic for getting your take offs and landings down pat as well as a great place to ground handle your wing. Santa Barbara also has some very accessible mountain sites once you are deemed ready by Rob and his staff.

I can recommend Eagle Paragliding to anyone who is serious about flying.

Capt. Russ Webber

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6. Dave Bader

I am a Private pilot with Single Engine, Instrument and Sailplane ratings. I received my P2 Paraglider rating in 2004 after training with Eagle Paragliding School in Santa Barbara, California. Though my initial training was fun, efficient and adequate to get me safely airborne, I have been most impressed with Eagle’s commitment and follow up after I received my rating. During the past several years Eagle instructors have regularly coached and assisted me in becoming a safer and more proficient pilot. I have been transported in the school van to the top of the training hill and more local mountain launches than I can count. Only with this level of support was I able to enjoy many of my more spectacular flights to date.

Flight in a paraglider is the most exciting and most natural form flying I have experienced. Paragliding is not a sport for everyone but everyone that that wants to fly a paraglider needs a school like Eagle Paragliding.

Thanks Rob.
David Bader
Carpinteria, CA

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7. Martin Drum

Dear Rob,

I would like to extend my appreciation to you for the excellent instruction you provided. I have wanted to get my P2 certification for quite some time. As you know, I had originally planned on going up to Washington but due to my uncertain schedule I was unable to fix a date well enough in advance to secure a spot. In retrospect, I believe that turned out for my best. Your instruction met and exceeded all my expectations.

  There are several things that I will always remember.
   1) Your emphasis on patience and safety.
   2) Your emphasis on mastering ground handling skills prior to         any flights.
   3) Your positive and encouraging outlook toward the sport and
        your students.
   4) Your sense of friendship that transcended the training.

From the combined reading material, videos, simulator, and watching you decide when the conditions were right, I gained an example of a patient and meticulous outlook that I hope I will always follow. The three days of ground handling (kiting) left my muscles a bit sore but gave me confidence for what the wing should feel like. I will never lose the sense of importance of good ground handling skills. The final day, when the right conditions for ridge soaring presented itself was, of course, the coup de grace.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to see many other pilots fly and it has only increased my appreciation for the training I received. I wish you the best in the future of your school and look forward to seeing you as the opportunity may present itself.

Martin Drumm
USHGA# 75127

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8. Peter Miller

I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience with Rob Sporrer as paragliding instructor. I remember my first 5 day program quite well, in particular a few things.

Rob was constantly streaming quality information, while somehow managing not to lecture. I used to teach as well - and I was usually exhausted after 3 hours. Rob went a full 5 days back to back without missing a beat. If his students were listening, they were learning something new. Rob consistently listened to his students when they had questions, or simply wanted to discuss with him the topics at hand. Rob made it clear he was always interested in hearing his students' perspectives as well. Rob was patient with those students who needed more time than others, while still encouraging them to take the next step when they were ready. Conversely, when students were doing the wrong thing, Rob's instructions were always clear and appropriate - he took the time always to go over the students' methods and make sure they understood how to do better on their next step. Rob was serious about the sport and its details and its risks, but still always made it clear that the point was to have fun and celebrate the flying. This was an excellent and rarely found combination.

I've referred to Rob everyone who has asked me for a recommendation on a paragliding instructor, and will continue to do so.

Peter Miller

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9. Dustin S. Stern

Rob -

I wanted to thank you for the superb training and service I received as a student at Eagle Paragliding.

I really appreciate the hard work which you put into training students. You consistently placed safety first, illustrated a depth of knowledge, and taught with such enthusiasm that you made learning a very enjoyable experience. I feel fortunate to have attended your school, and to receive Dixon's recommendation to train with you.

In all cases, you took the time to do things right, going as slow as necessary to verify both my own skills and making sure I was properly inspecting any equipment we were using. In many instances I knew you could have taken short cuts or omitted training me on some aspect of paragliding, but you never did, often giving me more than was necessary in order to make me feel comfortable and a better pilot.

Compared to the other instructors we encountered and the ones I've seen in the past, I felt you set the highest standard for safety. I believe your school, for as long as you continue to train, will produce well-developed, safe, properly trained pilots.

In addition to feeling a sense of confidence around you based on your attention to safety, it was also clear that your depth of knowledge was outstanding. Clearly, you knew what you were doing, the terminology involved, and how to explain concepts in several ways such that new students could learn them. I also noticed that you were constantly striving to find new and effective ways to teach; something which marks you as a top-notch instructor.

Finally, I was also deeply impressed by your ability to be both encouraging and positive no matter how difficult I or another student was. Your encouragement made a huge different, and set an example I personally will strive to hit in my own work as a trainer. As an instructor, I know how difficult it can be to train people, especially when they have disruptive personalities, attitudes, or are just plain having a hard day. Not once did you say anything negative, down-beat, or negative about anyone or anything they did. Even when we discussed the After Action Reviews following my flights, you always found a way to do so in non-threatening ways.

I believe Dixon and AirPlay can be very proud of their affiliation with you and your training service. Your devotion to a safe, positive training environment backed by your knowledge and experience combines to make your school one of the best out there.

Dustin S. Stern

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10. Mark Norkus

Living in NJ where there is little opportunity to learn to paraglide, I looked all over the country to find a school that would not only help me earn my Novice P2, but a school that would provide me future opportunities to fly. The commute out to the west coast paid great dividends. In less than a year and a half, I've made several trips back to Santa Barbara to fly with the guys from Eagle who always welcome me back with open arms. Just after earning my P2, I traveled with Eagle to Valle De Bravo Mexico and shortly afterwards up to Alaska on their paragliding tours. The opportunity to participate on these trips is the best way for an east coaster like me to stay in the sport. Not only do you get to fly great sites, but you continue to learn from the best pilots in the country. I can't wait for the next trip next month.

Mark Norkus
Neptune, NJ
P2, 3 years

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11. Allison LaPlante

Name: Allison LaPlante
Where do you live? Santa Barbara, CA
Years Paragliding: 6
Favorite place to Fly: All of the sites in Santa Barbara.

Rob and staff are not just excellent instructors, but they are great friends. They are genuinely caring people! Rob is super positive and a safe pilot/instructor. Eagle Paragliding is usually the first school at the training hill in the morning and the last one to call it a day as the sun is setting. I totally appreciate Rob and his staff for being such great mentors in the paragliding field in SB. They are advocates for our Santa Barbara sites to keep us pilots safe and preserve our local flying sites!

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12. Robb Milley

RaeLynn and I just returned from a fully catered paragliding trip to Valle De Bravo, Mexico. Here’s how it went:

This trip was put on by Rob Sporrer and the Eagle crew, and all we had to do was get to the airport in Mexico City and they’d take care of all the rest. Now I’ve traveled five continents, and I still like to be met at the airport. Having someone who understands the trains, taxis, and all the connections take a lot of the hassle out of traveling. We were not disappointed; we walked out of customs, and there was Kev and the Eagle van making us feel like we’d never left home:

Loading the Eagle Paragliding van at the Mexico City Airport

At the airport we were joined by other guests from Idaho, Florida, Oregon, and Guatemala. We had a chance to get to know each other as we experienced the hospitality of the Mexican police. Chris and Ada tag-teamed the cops and got the bribe down to $200, learned the secret password and we were on our way again. Kev got us up to date on the conditions, and also pointed out all the road signs that were pointing in different directions than the previous Saturday. I was really appreciating the “fully catered” portion of the trip so far!

Bribing police in Mexico City on our Paragliding Tour

We got to the house in VDB, and I felt like Jed Clampet just arriving in Beverly Hills. It wasn’t a house, it was a hacienda. A huge place, with cathedral ceilings and a veranda bigger than my whole house. Every bedroom had its own bath and fireplace, the lawns looked like the third hole at Pebble Beach, and the hot tub was big enough for swimming laps. RaeLynn and I got the master bedroom (another reason to bring your wife). Dirty laundry left on the floor was washed, folded, and returned the next day. (no wife involved...)

Every morning, no matter how early I got up, fresh coffee was already brewed, and the kitchen elves were squeezing oranges for breakfast. Kevin McGinley made sure we were well taken care of each day at breakfast and dinner. The food was excellent. It was plentiful, and each day we got a lesson in the culinary arts with an explanation of an exotic spice, or some wild grain that allowed four foot Mayans to build huge pyramids. Steak, lobster, chicken, pasta, we had it all. My favorite (I only mention it as nobody has ever heard me say this before...) were the salads. I could have been happy eating just the salad. No desserts though; we’ll have to work on that for next year.

The next morning we were taken to all the LZ’s along the road between town and launch where we got the brief on using that LZ and also programmed our GPS's. Then it was off to launch.

The Penon in Valle De Bravo, Mexico

One of the great things about going to VDB is that in addition to all the new friends you make on one of these tours:

New paragliding friends in Valle De Bravo, Mexico

You also catch up with all your old friends:

Paragliding friends in Valle De Bravo, Mexico

Now I said this was a fully catered tour, and I should explain what I meant. I’m sure that if you were willing to spend the time and money you could arrange transport from the airport to Valle De Bravo. You could probably have gotten accommodations that came close to the master suite at the Eagles Nest if you planned far enough in advance. Transport to launch can be arranged in town, and as long as you land next to a paved road you can hitchhike or haggle with a taxi driver for retrieve. You won’t get meals like Kevin was serving up, at Jovans, or the taco stand; maybe there is a restaurant in town that can match the level of cuisine we enjoyed, but you won’t be having that meal in the company of your fellow pilots. All of these luxuries are what make it special, and separate it from the dollar-a-day tours of Mexico.

What really made this trip worth wile was that we had eight pilots and five instructors. Plug that into your student-teacher ratio calculator and tell me where else that happens. And this wasn’t Larry, Moe, and Curley; this was Rob, Brad, and Ritchie (check the Monarca final results, you’ll see them at the top of the list) These guys were amazing with the amount of attention, and the level of coaching they provided. Even with a hundred pilots in the air they could pick us out, knew what we were doing (or should have done) and where the best lift was if we were in trouble. Every day, every pilot got feedback on what they were doing and how to improve their technique. Each night we reviewed the day's events and discussed the options and choices that could have been made.

The Launch ramp at Valle De Bravo, Mexico with the Penon in the background

Valle is pretty infamous for the circus at launch; the Eagle team made sure everyone was well prepared, well coached, and supported through the launch. The coaching continued during the flight both from the ground and from the air. Each day they’d get us off launch, and when we were situated, the instructors would launch and we would gaggle up. Then it was team flying for a cross-country adventure. I managed to rack up four months worth of flight time in one week in VDB.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of a team of coaches making sure you have your best possible flight, even for a pilot as highly recognized as myself (years of experience, and I got a hat at the SBXC!) I did my best to look like I didn’t need any tips, but I was busy listening to the tips offered up to the rest of the group and trying out those strategies. I changed the way I turn; I used my speed bar more than in the last ten months; I added ballast and adjusted it up and down getting a feel for how it changed my flying; I hung out in zero sink, long after I normally would have been folded up and made it to the lake with a thousand feet to spare. I pushed myself and when it worked, I was pumped; when it didn’t, retrieve came along and took me back to launch. What could be better?

Valle De Bravo Lake landing zone

If you’d like to get away from the rain next season, if you’d like to get months worth of flight time in one week, if you’d like a fully catered vacation, talk to Rob when he gets back from the comps. I think it would be great if we could get a bunch of Topa and SB pilots with similar skill levels together for a customized training session in Valle with the big dogs from the Eagle team. The only thing that could make that better would be dessert after dinner.

Robb Milley soaring next to the Penon at Glass-off

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