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Pittsburgh Paragliding instructor is first to speedfly from Machu Picchu

Last month Pittsburgh resident Jon Potter became the first person to speedfly from the top of Peru’s Machu Picchu.  The flight, which is like paragliding but much faster, wasn’t permitted and afterward involved hiding from authorities in the jungle for several hours.

Having conquered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Potter is back to a tamer pursuit: teaching paragliding to Pittsburghers.

Last fall, Potter launched Pittsburgh Paragliding with lifelong friend Adam Schwartz.  Since opening they’ve taught the sport to over a hundred folks in the hills of Allegheny County.  For $195 students get two hours of instruction, which Potter says is ample time to learn to fly.

“I have never had someone who wasn’t able to fly,” he says.  “It’s relatively easy to start out.”

Paragliding is free flight using a parachute that’s large enough to actually gain lift.  According to Potter, a flyer can stay in the air for hours at a time.  With speedflying, a flyer can only go down, and at very high speeds.

The business is the only of its kind in Western Pennsylvania.  Schwartz and Potter are licensed through the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association.  All equipment for gliding or flying is provided, except for boots, which students should be comfortable running in.

Lessons typically take place in Hampton Township, but locations are subject to change based on wind conditions.

Unpredictable wind conditions are one of the main reasons speedflying from Machu Picchu, which descends from 7,970 feet above sea level into a steep canyon, is considered so dangerous.  A previous paragliding attempt from Machu Picchu was successful, but according to Potter, he was the first to speedfly from the heritage site.

“There’s something to be said about doing something first,” he says.  “It’s like the bread and butter of what paragliding is all about, being able to do something so monumental.”

Potter is also co-operator of Not Another Hostel, in Lawrenceville.  The donations-based hostel opened last summer, and is the only accommodation of its kind in Pittsburgh.  The University of California, Berkley is currently studying the hostel’s pay model.

Click here to watch a video of Potter's speedflight off Machu Picchu.
Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Jon Potter
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