Pro Athlete Evan Garcia & "Grace Under Pressure" - Part I

Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Evan Garcia

I started flying paragliders about two and a half years ago, and like many, I’ve have fallen deeply for this quirky little sport. I am a professional whitewater kayaker and distribute for brand of boats here in the US. This gives me a lot of time to chase weather, stack hours, and basically be a complete and utter “skycrack-head”. I can thank my easy going lifestyle for my rapid progression into free flight, however, I can more likely attribute this to my mentors Matt Henzi and many talented pilots in the Pacific Northwest where I call home. I live in the Columbia River Gorge which is famous for being a powerful venturi and a mecca for kiteboarding. Our flying here is actually really fun and super instructive when it’s working, but sometimes that’s only a few days a month. This leaves me, being a wild dreamer, with tons of time to come up with outrageous and sometimes far fetched ideas.

I’ve traveled to Patagonia at least once a year for almost half my life. It was tradition for my brothers and I to spend our winters in the small town of Pucon, Chile. With a band of like-minded gypsy kayakers we would paddle to our hearts content while all the rivers in North America froze.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016 in California’s High Sierras. A tomahawk-like crash down a 100 foot tall cascade left me with a dislocated and broken shoulder. The type of kayaking I do comes at a price and the time I spend off the water while healing always left me wondering what else is out there.

Like most adventurous humans, the dream of flight has always intrigued me. On this particular “dry spell” I decided the time had come to see what these flying parachutes were about. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to speedfly, base jump, or parasail. Thanks to my good friend Isaac Levinson, one thing led to another and before I could even paddle again, I had my P2. From the moment I left the ground I started to understand these magic pieces of fabric I knew that one day, when my skills caught my aspirations, I would return to my second home of Patagonia to fly.

The next few years were a roller coaster ride of literal ups and downs. Learning a new sport is humbling and after one of those, “you’re not sure you’re ever coming down” flights, I learned to greatly respect the power of the sky. Perhaps the coolest thing paragliding has done is opened my eyes the amazing and totally invisible world swirling around us at all times. It changed the way I look at and connect with our planet. I now love stopping to feel the wind, constantly looking up for clouds, and I pay more attention to the weather forecast than the news. I’ve also learned to appreciate many places that I couldn’t fathom liking before this journey. Take any flatlands for instanceI used to cringe thinking of the shear nothingness. Now I thrive in the desert.

Many have recognized that paragliding is similar to whitewater kayaking, but for me they feel more like opposites. I’ve spent my whole life following rivers—the literal veins of our planeton a one-way path to a set destination. Flying is borderless, and for me as a newer pilot it also feels limitless. The scale and freedom of flying is different than anything I’ve experienced before. In strong thermals you can climb a mile much faster than you can run a mile and jump entire mountain ranges or cross vast deserts that would otherwise take days. For me, the two sports greatly intertwine with mental game needed to thrive at both activities.

I like to use the phrase “Grace under pressure”. To me, it means being able to perform at a high level in a stressful environment. For example: you’re on a river and decide to run a scary rapid where you HAVE to go left, but all the water really wants to push you right. In this case you must keep yourself mentally composed which will allow you to take the physical actions necessary for a successful descent. It’s also obvious in flying: let’s say you glide into some terrible turbulence and all of the sudden your wing violently shoots. If you freeze up your wing continues and will collapse; if you panic you may over-correct and stall or spin your wing. Doing the correct thing in a tough moment is “grace under pressure”. A lot of the times these are subtle and precise actions that take time and experience to master. I personally love the side of me that comes out during these situations and the ability to tap into this mental zone helps immensely in every aspect of life.

So this brings us to November 2018 on my annual trip to Patagonia. I arrived to Chile after a break through season of flying at home. I had big aspirations, endless motivation, and for sure too high of expectations...

Continue reading the rest of Evan's story next week

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