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Who are the Experience Arizona Adventurers?

Matt Marine

Matt Marine is an Arizona resident who loves exploring Arizona's wonderful outdoor adventures. To find out more about Matt, click the link below.

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Cat-Dog is my faithful trail companion. Her real name is Cammie. Why do I call her Cat-Dog?

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Sara Harelson

I’m Sara! I’m 21, a senior in college, and a journalism major.  I love to read, write, travel, and listen to music.  I’m always on to my next adventure.


See Intern Page for previous interns

Generations of Flight; Tucson Paragliding Instructor Teaches Others to Reach for the Sky

Text and Photos by Nick Smallwood

Have you ever dreamed of soaring high above the ground on a current of warm air; peacefully looking down upon the miniature world below? Have you found yourself thinking as you waited in agony during the 5 p.m. traffic jam, that there must be a better way to escape the stress of your daily commute? Or was it that time you caught yourself looking up at a red-tailed hawk as it took flight from a blooming saguaro, that you curiously wondered what it would be like to fly? If you’re like the many who have dreamed of taking to the sky, one local Tucsonan can help turn your dream of flying into a reality.

Meet Aaron Cromer. Cromer is a United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association certified instructor (USHPA) who is sharing his love of paragliding with others.

According to Cromer, who is currently the only USHPA certified paragliding  instructor in Tucson,
his curiosity and love for flight was passed down from his father and grandfather, both of whom had passions for flying.  

“My dad introduced me to paragliding. My dad always had an airplane. He grew up in the airlines, I grew up in the airlines…so it was natural for me to also be interested in flying,” said Cromer.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sport of paragliding, picture it as being strapped to a parachute that looks like a flying wing. While the dimensions of the wing change depending on the style of flying you do, it spans an average of around 26 to 39 feet.

A google search of the history of paragliding, (which you can find here), takes us back to the 1960’s when the sport is said to have been introduced by David Barish, an aeronautical engineer who “made sail wings for the recovery of NASA space capsules.” You can read more about Barish in an article published in the New York Times, here. Amazingly enough, one can also argue that the design for the first paraglider came out of the notebooks of the world’s most notorious Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci.   

One thing that you may find interesting about Cromer, apart from being a paragliding instructor, is that he also has a very common fear.

“I’m actually afraid of heights,” said Cromer.  I used to do a lot of rock climbing and mountaineering before I got into paragliding, and I noticed that when I got high, I would get really scared. I would be on the rock shaking.”

“Part of the reason I kept climbing was because I wanted to step into that fear and push that boundary back, and conquer it. It got better over time.” said Cromer.

According to Cromer, who has flown to an altitude of 14,000 feet in his paraglider, the sport provided him with a different take on his fear of heights.

“It’s a different perspective. When you’re attached to a rope on a rock wall, and you look down, you can see it’s going to be drastic if you fall. When you’re in a paraglider and look down, it’s almost surreal. It’s like looking out of the window of an airplane,” said Cromer.

While it may seem ironic, Cromer said he feels more comfortable the higher up he goes.

“Honestly, you’re safer the higher up you are. It’s the impact to the ground that’s going to hurt you.”

“If something happens when you’re higher up, you have a lot of room to work it out, and if you can’t work it out, you throw your reserve parachute and land on the ground…hopefully in a nice spot and not a river or something,” said Cromer with a chuckle.

One thing that you should know, at least for those of you interested in flying, is that paragliding is one of the least expensive methods of flight. To start, all you need is a glider, a harness and a helmet…oh and lessons. All of which can be acquired for less than $8,000 dollars.

You may be thinking, $8,000 is still a lot of money to spend, however, if you add up the costs of getting a private pilot’s license, renting a plane, purchasing fuel and acquiring the cheapest possible insurance you can find, (preferably something that is legal), paragliding wins by a long shot.

If you’re sold on the idea, your path to becoming airborne begins with finding an instructor. That’s where people like Cromer come in. You see, without an instructor, the possibility of ending up upside down in a tree, or with cactus needles sticking out of your you know what, is pretty good.

Cromer said that one of the first things he teaches his students during what is referred to as “Ground School Training,” is the weather.

“We’ll talk a lot about weather. A lot of this sport is contingent upon the weather. If the weather doesn’t work, we don’t even go,” said Cromer.

After a few seasons in the classroom, students travel to one of the training fields where they are either towed into the air by means of Cromer’s pickup truck, or are able to launch from one of the rolling hills in Sonoita.

Here is a short video I shot from one of the training days out in Sonoita.

While the majority of time spent in the air is smooth sailing, Cromer always stresses the importance of safety, and flying within your skill level.

“There’s a saying that it’s better to be on the ground wishing you’re in the air, than in the air wishing you’re on the ground,” said Cromer.

Cromer recalls one of his most frightening moments in the air when he made the mistake of underestimating the power of the wind.

“I was really new, about a month away from getting my certificate, and I hadn’t flown for a while, and I was like, I’m going to fly no matter what,” said Cromer.

“I took off, and the winds kicked up and pushed me back over a canyon into some really bumpy and turbulent air. My wing collapsed all over the place.”  

“If I had flown within the limits of my skill level, I would never have gotten into that problem. I was pushing it. I was ignorant,” said Cromer.

As far as memories go, Cromer says that he’s had far more good ones flying, than bad.

“Probably one of my most memorable moments was flying with my son and my dad. We went on a trip to Mexico and we got to fly in and out of the clouds together, wingtip to wingtip. We were so close that we were able to talk to each other. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. It’s really cool to fly with people you’re close to,” said Cromer.

For Cromer, it easy to tell that it’s the combination of his passion for flight and getting to share it with others that makes the sport of paragliding so special to him.

“The biggest thing for me is I like doing this with other people, and it’s more fun to share it with somebody else, said Cromer.

For more information about Cromer, and how to start flying, you can visit his facebook page here.


Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.

Paragliding Can be Dangerous


    Very nice video and article you did on paragliding with Flying Lizards,
Aaron Cromer.

       You should ask him about my son, Zach Orman.  He was a skier, rock climber and
Adventure loving young man.  He wanted to be an ER Physician.  He died paragliding in Sonoita
At the practice hill in Las Cienegas Natural Conservation area on April 7, 2013.

       Look up the movie, "Nobody's River".  That film was dedicated to Zach.
A gust of wind killed him at age 28.  He was a third year Med Student at the U of A.
He was helping instruct a group of students on take offs and landings.
Tragic end for Zach.  So sad for his girl friend, friends and family.

        While paragliding can be fun, it can also kill you. 
You should know that side of the sport.  A private airplane pilot license is probably safer.

        I wonder how many stories there are like Zach's?   

Rodger S. Orman, MD

Here is a tribute to Zach that recently appeared in the Journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Here is a video dedicated to Zach.

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