Middendorf makes his mark yet again

Grant Middendorf, of Hawea, has been named the New Zealand paragliding champion.
Grant Middendorf, of Hawea, has been named the New Zealand paragliding champion.

Hawea pilot Grant Middendorf has been named New Zealand paragliding champion for the fourth time.

The National Paragliding Club Championships finished on Saturday, following six days of competition in the Wanaka area.

Organiser Derek Bivers said 59 pilots from throughout the world competed, including 12 women - the highest number of female entries he can recall.

Middendorf, who has been paragliding for 25 years, was one of the first people in New Zealand to take up the sport.

It has taken him around the globe including five world championships, the most recent in Spain where he was placed 23rd out of 150 pilots.

The highest world ranking he has achieved is No 4, about a decade ago.

He also holds a couple of New Zealand records, including the longest distance flown. He flew 142 kilometres from the Snow Farm in the Cardrona Valley to near Burke's Pass in the Mackenzie district.

The other record is for "out and return", where pilots must fly back to the point from which they took off. Middendorf completed a 90km return journey from the Snow Farm, which he said was very challenging given the sport relies on the wind.

Naturally, he has had some testing moments.

"I think with any challenging sport, you will find yourself in challenging situations and the skill is recognising and preventing that and, if you can't prevent it, dealing with it appropriately."

It is not a cheap sport, with a similar outlay to scuba diving, he said.

"I've travelled extensively chasing competitions around the world, particularly Europe. It is an expensive pastime."

His wife, Lucy Hewlett, who is also a paragliding pilot, quipped this may be partially due to the fact Middendorf invests in a new paraglider every year, while she upgrades every three to five years.

Middendorf said the costs involved may prevent him from competing at the next world championships in Bulgaria, which he has qualified for.

Travelling is also a large part of Middendorf's day job. He has worked throughout New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific, in his role as a mine drill and blast supervisor. He also occasionally moonlights as a commercial tandem paragliding pilot.

Evan Lamberton, of Auckland, and Peter Groves, of Wanaka, came second and third behind Middendorf in the national championships and Gladys Gomez, of Queenstown, was the highest placed female, coming ninth in the overall competition.

Middendorf also won the serial, or senior, class, followed by Dominique Guenard, of France, and Lamberton.

The sport, or intermediate, class was won by Groves, with Hamish Barker and Nick Taber, both of Nelson, placed second and third.

Louis and Angus Tapper, of Queenstown, took out first and second place in the fun, or learner, class, with Kris Erickson of Wellington coming third.

The Southland Times