Flying with the birds in Clearwater


Leaving the top of the mountain. Photo SPIN.

We are surrounded by natural beauty in B.C. We bike down mountains, hike back up, swim in clear lakes, raft down rivers and more. But it’s not often we see the landscape from above.

Just an hour and a half drive from Sun Peaks, Willy Rens is providing the opportunity to do just that.

This year he founded XSky Paragliding in Clearwater to share his passion with others. A paraglider with nearly 1,200 international flights since 1993, Rens and his wife moved to Canada in 2002 for “the wild outdoors.”

“We like paragliding, love skiing and snow sports and everything that has to do with the mountains,” he said.

Alex Prins and I met him in Birch Island, near Wells Gray Park and Clearwater.

From our meeting place we could see the landing field ahead of us and behind us, nearly at the top of the mountain, Rens pointed out where we would take off.

Looking down on Birch Island from the air. Photo SPIN.

There the valley was spread out beneath us. The North Thompson River meandered between green fields and the smoke-filled sky had transformed to blue with fluffy,
white clouds.

As Rens prepared the equipment for the flights, he said learning the sport wasn’t difficult with practice.

“If you love it and you have the vibe in you then you want to do it all the time.”

Prins was up first in an attempt to overcome his fear of heights. His and Rens’ harnesses were connected to each other and to the paraglider as they went through a short orientation before running towards the edge of the mountain and taking flight.

A few cheers floated back as the wind lifted them out and over the valley.

Rens said the reaction has been similar with every guest he takes out.

“Everybody is really enthusiastic. They all love it and want more,” he said.

When my turn came I was suddenly nervous, wondering if I could trust my life essentially to two carabiners.

But before I knew it Rens said “Go!” and we were running. Mid-step we lifted off the ground, sat down in our harnesses and floated.

As we flew over the forest a hawk glided beside us for a few minutes before Rens guided us across the valley.

It was a true bird’s eye view; cars, homes and livestock appeared tiny as we flew over.

Rens explained the smoke from wildfires has turned some potential customers off but he’s been having fun regardless.

Flying tandem with Willy Rens. Photo SPIN.

“After 24 years of flying mostly solo I felt it was time to give back to the community and anyone else who wants to do it.”

After around 20 minutes airborne we head down towards the landing field and our feet gently return to earth. I, like those before me, immediately want to go up again.

Rens’ motto, “Be the bird, anyone can do it,” rang very true after flying alongside birds and overcoming anxieties.

“A lot of people come up with a million reasons for not doing amazing things in this world. It’s easy to do if you believe… it’s open for everybody,” Rens said.

And we are already planning our next flight.