The Austrian paraglider whose feats are meant to amaze the eyes and celebrate nature

“Once you have known flight, you will walk the earth looking at it, because there you have been and there you will wish to return,” wrote Leonardo Da Vinci, an immortal genius who succeeded in making flight his scientific art. A quote that, centuries later, seems to perfectly inhabit the soul and actions of Austrian paraglider Paul Guschlbauer.

A world-renowned Red Bull star athlete and the next host of the ONA Short Film Festival, thanks to the partnership with Salewa, this Graz native is what can be called a contemporary pioneer, a “normal” superhuman capable of reshaping pre-existing limits, of creating new ones, especially among clouds and currents, with the sole aim of breaking them.

“It’s all about showing and proving something. I’ve never broken records, I’ve never liked the idea of competition. I simply imagine a challenge and, if I like it, I take it on. I always try to do something new. My desire is to motivate people, to make them understand that every dream can be achieved and that the educational relevance of sport is infinite, as is its ability to make us grow as human beings. I believe that sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond the rules and limits imposed by others, to look a little further and discover new ways, new goals. For me it’s especially important to do all of this through connecting with nature. We all come from nature, we all will return to it and continue to belong to it.”

And in nature Paul found the most ideal of partners, first through the hilly undulations of central Austria, then by flying around and across the world’s peaks. An adrenaline-fueled, dizzying journey that began on a mountain bike and continued on the aerial vehicle invented by Dave Barish nearly half a century ago: the paraglider.

“My father introduced me to the beauty of nature. Near Graz there is a rather high hill, and I loved to ride my MTB to the top and look at the view from above. Then I got into climbing and, finally, I approached paragliding. Obviously, there are huge differences between mountain biking and paragliding: in one sport you are in contact with the earth, in the other you are above it. But there are also similarities. It’s all about following the natural element and overcoming obstacles: on the one hand they may be trees or stones, on the other hand they are mostly invisible, like currents.”

In order to understand the magnitude of the exploits of this 39-year-old equilibrist of the skies and poly-athlete, just think about the flight completed between the northernmost and southernmost points of the American continent, or just look at the content shared on his social profiles: videos and images that actually tell only a small part of the whirlwind of emotions and exertions experienced on a daily basis.

“I’m not a cameraman or a photographer, but even when I was young I enjoyed these tools. This artistic passion then matured into something different. At a certain point in my career I was not getting enough budget or funding to take content creators with me, so I decided to go it alone. I have to say, though, that I can’t always think about taking photos or videos, I have to find a proper balance between the performance and its storytelling, I often don’t even have the time to sit down and edit…”

Paul does, however, have time to sit back in other ways, whether at the top of a peak or during a glide through the void, and admire the natural magnificence. It is precisely communion with this external and, at the same time, internal force within the human being that seems to propel and in some way direct his astonishing feats-a primal nexus that the Austrian paraglider celebrates through irrational courage, rational simplification, and a form of inspiration that is meant to be both personal and collective.

“Along my travels and challenges I have learned that, many times, simplification is necessary to be effective. It takes a tremendous amount of experience to do certain things, that’s clear, but overthinking the details or bending to someone else’s thinking does not allow you to achieve what you think is impossible. It all starts with a simple question: can I do it? And this question leads you to unimaginable situations and circumstances. Try, for example, to think about finding yourself at dawn on the top of a mountain, with the clouds parting and the opportunity to fly in the midst of all that wonder…. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Credits: Paul Guschlbauer
IG @paulguschlbauer
Text by Gianmarco Pacione