Challenging stereotypes from the skies

Gliding over the Kwahu Hills with the wind under his feet and surrounded by a panoramic view of Ghana’s Eastern Region is a Ghanaian who is the only certified African paragliding pilot operating in West Africa.

© Jonathan Quaye capturing his paragliding activities in Lonavala, India, March 2019

This is according to membership figures from the Association of Paragliding Pilots and Instructors – an organisation that trains travelling pilots and instructors and has 7,000 members across 122 countries.

His name is Jonathan Adjin Quaye and he’s a self-confessed adventure sports junkie with paragliding among the wealth of activities he loves to do. He’s also a keen rock-climber, hiker, and has dabbled in cycling. “I feel happy when I’m doing these sports,” he said. “I like the outdoors and I like nature, I see myself to be more comfortable in that environment.”

Jonathan works full time as an administration and finance consultant, leaving weekends and holidays as his spare time to practise a passion for adventure sports that started as a school boy.

“From childhood, I’ve known what I wanted to do,” said Jonathan, who has been a certified paragliding pilot since 2016. “The first book I ever took out from the library at age 10 was about planes. I found it so fascinating.”

Childhood dream

Image © Jonathan Quaye

Determined to follow his passion as a youngster, Jonathan got involved in an after-school club called Head of State Award Scheme in Ghana (Duke of Edinburgh Awards in the UK) that promoted outdoor sports.

He would save his pocket money to pay for the club’s outdoor excursions, and successfully completed all the competitive activities within the scheme. This won over his initially resistant father.

 Training in India

Jonathan initially received paragliding training in Ghana from two US instructors [Ed Stein and Chuck Smith] who are involved in the annual Easter Heritage Paragliding Festival in the Kwahu Hills. He was forced to continue training at Temple Pilots in Mumbai in the Pune, India for two months in 2016, to gain the number of hours of intensive flying experience required to become a certified paragliding pilot.

“Ghana isn’t currently set up to support this kind of training and its terrain is not mapped out in a way that allows people to do cross-country flying training,” he said. But this doesn’t mean that in the future Ghana could not become a hub for this kind of sport in much the same way that South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Turkey, and Spain are,” Jonathan said. According to Jonathan, the Volta Region is a prime location for flying because of the many ridges needed for a good take off. We just need more pilots able to fly and learn about those areas, he said.

Dedication & cost

Image © Jonathan Quaye

Jonathan is currently working towards becoming a certified tandem pilot, which means he can accompany novices in the air. Fresh from SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol) training in India in March 2019. SIV is simulation training that allows the pilot to react to unexpected situations.

He plans to volunteer in Malawi for one month May, where he will work with a Malawian paraglider from the School of Dreams to gain more flying hours. His aim is to attain his qualification to fly tandem (flying with a novice) and gain further expertise to become an instructor. Currently, only the two US instructors, Ed and Chuck, that lead Ghana’s Paragliding Festival, are able to do this. Jonathan aims to become an instructor in the next two years.

The dedication he has for the sport is apparent because, to date, Jonathan has spent over $10,000 on buying much-needed equipment to the cost of training and flying from Ghana to train abroad. “Aviation sports are very expensive and paragliding is actually the cheapest out of all of them, and compared to say the United States or Switzerland, it’s cheaper to train in India,” he said.

Tackling stereotypes

Jonathan is keen to encourage more of sports and fitness culture in Ghana – first by getting Ghanaians to challenge their perceptions of adventure sports.

“There is a misconception that these sports are too dangerous and that only white people do them,” he said. “On the contrary, in the decade that I have participated in paragliding activities, there have been no accidents in Ghana. We are trained to high standards that are regulated by third parties outside of Ghana and paragliding requires ongoing training,” he said.

He is also keen to smash the idea that extreme sports such as rock-climbing are ‘un-African’ – afterall global history tells us that at one time Black people were barred from participating in football, basketball, athletics or not encouraged to play tennis or golf – to name a few, but they have proven their abilities and excelled in them all.

There is a growing interest in adventure sports, which is being reflected in the number of groups springing up across the country. They include community group Adventure GH, Abibikwantuo and BraveHearts Expeditions – a company that promotes outdoor adventure activities, and Spear of Survival, West Africa’s only reality TV adventure programme.

Image © Jonathan Quaye

Future paragliders

There lies an opportunity for the Ghanaian government to capitalise on the Heritage Paragliding Festival – introduced a decade ago under the Kuffuor administration – to create incentives for more Ghanaians to follow in Jonathan’s footsteps. The Festival traditionally attracts paragliding enthusiasts from across the world and people keen to try the sport in Ghana. This year has the added spotlight of being one of the events under Ghana’s Year of Return initiative.

“The youngsters in Kwahu always get involved and some have spent a decade participating, since the Festival started,” said Jonathan. “They know how to prepare the equipment, open the gliders and some have become adept in measuring when the weather and the wind speed favourable for flying.

“It would be a laudable idea for the government to fund training for the youngsters that want to get into paragliding. I don’t think it’s fair for them not to learn formally. They cannot afford to, but if they get the basic training and are able to generate money over time, they can become pilots,” he said.

Jonathan has already been approached by two people who are interested in flying and will start basic training in the run up to the 2019 Heritage Paragliding Festival. He hopes this training will encourage others to join as well and see all the benefits paragliding can bring.

“As an adventure sport, paragliding makes me physically fit because you are carrying your bag, which includes the harness, the glider, and the reserve glider,” he said. “There is also a mental fitness because you are calculating the weather, and making informed decisions about the environment.”

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To speak to Jonathan about paragliding opportunities or other adventure sporting activities, connect with him on Instagram @peaksandvalleys_outdoors

To keep reading more topics like this,

click Why bouldering is my therapy  

and Space for change in Ghana’s tourism sector

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