Flying High: blue sky, azure ocean


By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Laguna Beach Independent

Paramotor pilot Christian Gallo uses a gas-powered propeller with a channeled parachute that he wears like a backpack to fly over the beaches and hills of Laguna Beach several times a week. Photo/Barbara McMurray

On many clear evenings at sunset, a buzzing sound can be heard in the skies over Laguna. Tracing it to its source, locals and visitors may have a flash of surprise, delight, and perhaps a twinge of envy when they see a person flying over the ocean, dipping and looping with a motorized parasailing device known as a paramotor.

That person is usually Christian Gallo, who tried paragliding last year at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla. Once airborne, he was hooked. 

“Flying in a paraglider gave me this incredible sense of freedom and excitement that I can’t get enough of,” Gallo said. He first became intrigued with learning to paraglide a few years ago on Oahu as he watched a childhood friend soaring through the skies. 

“It made me realize that we can achieve anything we set our minds to with the right mindset and determination,” he remarked. “Taking calculated risks is essential for my personal growth, so I’m drawn to extreme sports like paragliding.” 

Paragliders like the ones that launch from Torrey Pines need a hill or a winch to launch. Powered paragliding, or paramotoring, is a form of ultralight aviation where pilots wear a backpack motor, Gallo’s choice of equipment. 

Gallo prepares for takeoff with his setup of a 100-lb. ParaJet motor with a propeller, gas tank, and channeled parachute Photo/Barbara McMurray

Before a recent flight from a breezy hilltop, he told a curious passerby, “You’re at greater risk of bodily injury driving a car than you are up in the air like this. There’s no traffic up there. It’s so serene and so elegant it gets boring after a while. I’m not seeking adrenaline. The moment you’ve experienced adrenaline is when you’re putting yourself in a situation where you’re out of control because adrenaline is really fear.”

Gallo said that the unpredictability of where he might land because of thermal winds and random drafts is the worst part of a flight session. Timing and careful analysis of conditions are imperative. Prior to takeoff, he checks an app that shows him a meteorological data analysis of his precise location’s wind speed. Cautious planning makes the difference between neatly landing where he started or ending up miles away, crawling up a weedy hillside with a heavy backpack. 

Seizing an opportune moment, Gallo runs about 10 feet and guns the propeller engine on his back. The thrust sends him airborne. He nods to an observer and climbs high into the azure sky. Once aloft, he uses two flight controls – left and right steering via the glider’s toggles and a handheld throttle to climb or descend.

Paragliders (including motorized ones) are classified as ultralights by the Federal Aviation Administration, so pilots do not need a pilot license or certification. However, it is recommended that pilots undergo formal instruction at a certified paramotor training school and possess extensive knowledge of the rules and regulations that apply to local airspace. Practice flights, ground training, and learning weather patterns, wind factors, accessible locations, and flight rules are necessary. Pilots must follow guidelines set by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USPHA), including seeking that organization’s certification.

Pilots are allowed to operate under simple rules – the FAA’s Regulation Part 103 – that include limitations on where they can fly. No paragliding on private land without the landowner’s permission, over a congested area, or in a national park, nor in certain restricted airspace classes as set forth by the FAA. However, paragliding over the sparkling Pacific Ocean is permissible if the aircraft “does not fly closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure, measurable in any direction, for example horizontally or vertically.” 

Most flying is done between 25 and 30 mph. Depending on the flying conditions and the combined weight of the unit and pilot, a paramotor like Gallo’s ParaJet uses approximately one gallon of gas per hour. Pilots wear parachutes for safety; all harnesses have a reserve parachute to prevent aerial accidents. 

Gallo noted that getting started with paragliding can be pricey, depending on what you’re looking for. 

“On average,” he said, “you can expect to spend around $5,000 to $10,000 for a complete setup, including the paraglider wing, harness, reserve parachute, and a motorized unit like the ParaJet. And remember the cost of classes, which usually ranges from $1,500 to $2,000.

His motorized unit, which weighs nearly 100 lbs., allows him to climb vertically, reach higher altitudes, and maintain flight for longer durations than traditional paragliding.

With its motor, a ParaJet offers a significant advantage in flexibility and freedom. Pilots can explore greater distances, go on cross-country flights, and even participate in competitions. Additionally, the motorized system enables pilots to fly in varying wind conditions, opening opportunities for flights that might otherwise be impossible or unsafe with regular paragliding.

“Paragliding offers a fear-free experience that goes beyond the usual adrenaline rush,” Gallo said. “It brings a sense of flow and expansiveness. As a rare paraglider in Laguna Beach, flying mostly alone adds to the joy of soaring. It strengthens my connection with the ebb and flow of life and the vital force within.

“Paragliding allows me to tap into higher levels of creativity and understanding of myself and the universe.”

Gallo posts images and videos of his flights on Instagram @Mindexpansive.

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  1. Who said irony died on 911?
    A guy named Christian isn’t acting like one, instead of agape love, he’s just being “boojie” in the worst sense of this slang term (self-centered and snobbish).
    Imitating or miming, uttering hip phrases when in fact you’re invading the mental (auditory) and physical (the visual blight of an unnatural flying object in our beach views) space of others should be outlawed, banned.
    Why didn’t the writer of this puff-piece interview those of us who suffer through the sounds of an invasive ginormous hornet while our marine bird life is scattered adrift in fright of this monstrosity?
    Here in lower Vic, we are very frustrated by these types of craft.
    500 feet? Howasbout 5,000 away (a mile), where we can’t see or hear them interrupting our sunset views or suppers?
    He’s quoted as saying “It strengthens my connection with the ebb and flow of life and the vital force within. Paragliding allows me to tap into higher levels of creativity and understanding of myself and the universe.”
    What about our connections, how you disrupt our ebb & flow?
    How come you’ve failed to understand or become aware of the most basic of human traits: The Mindfulness of Civility? Compassion?
    Vital force, do you mean force your path upon a multitude, that isn’t spirituality, that’s narcissism. You seem oblivious to others feelings, how therapeutic is that?
    So what part of the universe ARE you connecting with, the one that gives you permission to buzz around us airborne?
    Icarus was a metaphor for complacency and hubris: I guess no one can stop you but you shouldn’t be glorified or exalted.
    We as a society have so few calm places, and in compressed environs like Laguna so little privacy….and removing what little we have isn’t something to shout HURRAH about, is it?

  2. Another “easy come, easy go, little high, little low escape from reality” fact? (With all due apologies to Freddy Mercury, btw).
    Online indicates that these can carry ≈ 2 gallons of liquid fuel.
    And they have larger tank adaptations that have a 4.5 gallon capacity to enable longer flights.
    Sure, the user may have a parachute, but on a windy day, prevailing air currents onshore around here (especially strong in the afternoons), he can bail but where would his paramotor drift towards? Once he’s left the seat, online indicates the motor cycles down, but he’ll have no control over its crash site.
    Land+ Homes + Brush= Kindling!
    In other words, it’s a potentially incendiary device, a flying bomb…….this is a formula for a bare bones basic combat drone.
    Users might feel safe, but what about the rest of the population?

  3. We need to remove this type of “planes sound”, the man flying around and making Is very loud sound through our house in Buebird Canyon.

    It looks like he’s spinning around it…. looks totally dangerous and scary, loud, showing how he can do this… front of our houses.. He’s just like telling the world and showing what he looks like…..just showing the “world!”.

    What is he going to do when he brings of his “new flying buddies”, so they can all use it all the Saturday and Sunday Sunset.

    It comes up here every Saturday and Sunday right at a nice quiet Sunset time, and this crazy flying man shows up everyday weekend …. and it scares the heck out of me and is totally loud annoying.

    I’m not sure if something has to be done about..?!


    PS Sorry…. at 62 year’s, I have become more like a grumpy old man . I don’t read very well either, so sorry if it’s not written perfectl…. apologize.

  4. Yeah…one man’s flight is NOT my fancy.

    Ever sit on the soft sand of Woods Cove and watch these LOW flying, NOISY, flights? Recently two of these pesky paramotors with BOLD advertisements on their plumes circled over and over and over from Moss Point to Pearl and back so much that enjoying the sound of the waves were overwhelmed by the sound of their engines.

    Delightful upward glances turned to scornful looks after the nearly 48MINUTES of air borne attack of the tow paramotors.

    Guess is need to pack earplugs alongside my SPF70, cold drinks and snorkel.

  5. Theodore & Nicholas:
    OMG! Something all of us in Laguna can agree upon?
    Not sure if you both were here when we fought the conversion of my military discharge station when a Marine back in 1968: MCAS El Toro.
    We in SOC all bonded back in the early 2000s, fought to make certain that the conversion wasn’t to an international airport. And fought like Hell to change John Wayne Airport’s overfly patterns too. Back then, we were a corridor and our lives were impacted/disrupted multiple times each day.
    Noise and the aerial view obstructions, of unnatural objects instead of our beloved pelicans, our hawks and seagulls were our focus.
    So we won, although Irvine has turned out to be extremely inept and wasteful $$$-wise, 20 years and they’re still looking for the Great Park light switch! Might be a safe city to live in, but no one is safe from the shifting sands of politics in Irvine.
    Now we’re under siege by these flying bombs.
    We have our own Rocket J. (Rocky) The Flying Squirrel, if you strapped an incendiary device to his back. Now that’s “squirrely,” i.e., kinda cray-cray, kinda foolhardy or just plain dumb, isn’t it?
    And if it does crash, who is gonna pay for a fire? These people can’t possibly have enough insurance to reimburse, let alone rebuild our environs if open space, can they? Do they even carry, are they required to have any type of indemnification?
    If they are flying up Bluebird Canyon (I lived there from 1983—88) then they should be fined and grounded for an extended period. Coastal canyons are bowls, natural amphitheaters.
    If what Nicholas is hearing is due to the “amphitheater effect,” that is the sound resonating/carrying all of the way from 500 feet off the beach up thru the Canyon, then look how much more invasive and insidious these things are. They’re impacting the entire funnel, beach to canyon.
    We can ban balloons, ban single plastics, what about the sanctity of our homes noise-wise?
    As an enviro-consultant, I can see several ways to block these selfish nut jobs, maybe via our CC first, even up to and thru the Coastal Commission?
    Anybody with me, I’ll file the paperwork, roll the rock off the cliff and create the avalanche—but it would help to have support.
    Contact me, my email and phone # are online, at CWN’s website.
    Call this the “Clean Airspace Now” movement: C.A.N. these invaders!

  6. If you are a visitor to Laguna and You have an opportunity to look up and see the aerial display from Your hotel balcony or from the sand this spectacle may seem very harmless and enjoyable for You and the aerialist.
    The truth is, if You are a resident of Laguna, not so much. We can hear these aerial noisemakers from the time they launch somewhere around “Alta Vista Park” all the way from South Laguna, past the Montage, and continuing all the way to Main Beach. After hearing the constant drone for hours we get to hear these irritating noisemakers fly home.

    It is annoying, invasive and if You ask Us, the Residents, I believe You will discover that many of the habitants are bothered on a near daily basis by these pesky vehicles in the sky.

    I agree that as stated in the article “Flying a paraglider gave (gives) me this incredible sense of freedom and excitement”. The problem is that while the “paraglider” is experiencing the aforementioned, they are annoying a multitude of residents on the ground. I suggest they drive out to the desert to get their “incredible sense of freedom” and depart from Laguna Beach where they are just annoying.

  7. How timely I should read this post today, for today is Mo-and-Blow day in da ‘hood. Right now I’m listening to a pair of gas hedge-trimmers to the North West, one to the South, two from my neighbor’s back yard and a lawnmower carries the bass riff.

    The Parapilot writes “It strengthens my connection with the ebb and flow of life and the vital force within”. That reads familiar, it’s the same connection I feel when riding my bike, silently with door-to-door service anywhere in Laguna Beach no pilot’s license required. Laguna: don’t lament what you have lost.

  8. Great article, as the comments show the tip of the iceberg. Who is up in the air? Does it really matter? My disdain for the flyers now seems justified by the 500 ft “rule”. Usually on the beaches I see reckless strafing, but the jurisdiction of enforcing FAA regulations seems futile.

    Flips over exposed reefs? Weaving in and around cliffs? Unpredictable drafts? The presentation in this high flying article seems purposefully contradictory to what we see. I would’t be surprised if these guys tried to high-five surfers once they get down to 30 ft.

    This could turn two ways. One, the featured flyer takes the lead of a safe local flying community, who respect FAA regulation first, and listen to community feedback second. Two, the community groundswell puts the flyers in the extreme minority, and bans them along with drones.

    Does the State Marine Protected area include airspace? Lets ask the birds.

  9. Alongside proofreading(just re-read my comments..) I will add the lifeguard and the city saying ‘It’s FAA not us that can do anything’ should warrant a second look at these pesky paramotors.

    I appreciate the effort to spin a positive narrative by Barbara though.

  10. There’s nothing like being on the beach or in the water and having what amounts to an airplane buzzing around non-stop for and hour. These things are annoying enough just buzzing by but once they start circling a spot for an extended time I begin to daydream of having a slingshot. Of course I don’t condone violence or tampering with someone in flight. I just can’t stand the noise. It’s old already. Also go take a risk flying over the water. Don’t risk my life flying that death machine over my head. I’m not impressed. You think we like it when you buzz us when we are in the surf lineup? Guess what? We don’t. We actually loathe it.


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