We all experience nature in different ways. This week’s Shoestring Warrior loves to soar and take in the scenery from above! Meet Shoestring Warrior and hang glider pilot, Mike Jefferson. For the past 16 years he has been flying hang gliders and small, ultralight aircraft. Not only is flying a hobby for him, he has devoted his life to teaching others the sport of hang gliding. He started out working at a hang gliding school and after four years, he opened his own school in the Bay Area!
I studied all the textbooks from the past and taught myself the skills I needed to pass the sport on to the next generation.
With an unprecedented number of 5-star Yelp reviews, it’s clear that Mike loves what he does and takes great care in introducing people to the sport he enjoys so much. Check out his school, Big Air Hang Gliding, and keep reading to find out what Discovery Channel tv show featured Mike as an expert!
Shoestring Warrior: Mike Jefferson
Hang Glider Pilot – 16 years
What are your passions outside of work?
I like to travel around the United States usually to fly some kind of aircraft or hang glider. I recently passed my sport pilot written exam and have been approved to fly my little red Rans S-17 experimental light sport airplane as well as the Bailey Dragonfly special light sport aircraft.
Tell us about yourself!
After high school I joined the Marine Corps. At the time, I thought this was my best chance to see the world. After basic training in San Diego I served the rest of my 4-year commitment in Beaufort South Carolina working on support equipment for the F4 Phantom fighter jets. While stationed in South Carolina I did have some time off and got to see a lot of the east coast. I have always been interested in working with my hands and building things. I made and sold over 3000 model airplane kits and built my own teardrop camping trailer which I still use.
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
I camp at least a dozen times a year. It seems like I only camp when I go to a remote hang gliding site.
Camping and hang gliding go hand in hand.
When did you discover your love for the outdoors and specifically hang gliding?
When I was 16, my father and I took lessons in small planes called ultralight aircraft. These small planes weighed only 254 pounds and used engines from go-carts. You don’t need a license to fly an ultralight airplane.
What led you to start your own hang gliding company in the Bay Area?
When I first started teaching hang gliding there was only one hang gliding school in the Bay Area. I worked for this one school for 4 years. I studied all the textbooks from the past and taught myself the skills I needed to pass the sport on to the next generation. I have always thought that healthy competition is good for any business and also good for the growth of our sport.
Big Air Hang Gliding currently has the highest Yelp reviews with five star ratings in the Bay Area. What do you think are the keys to your success?
I use a variation of the golden rule when dealing with customers. I treat them like I would expect to be treated.
Last month a customer who purchased a tandem discovery flight years ago emailed me and asked for a refund. She had tried to schedule a couple of times and kept getting cancelled due to bad weather. Since I cannot control Mother Nature, I immediately refunded her payment.
If people don’t live in the Bay Area and are looking for a reputable and safe hang gliding school, what should they look for when choosing a company?
This is a difficult question to answer and my honesty may get me into a bit of trouble. Most hang gliding instructors in the bay area are good people trying to do their best to train others to do a sport that has the potential of hurting you. It seems to me the smaller schools with one or two full time instructors have the best safety record. These smaller schools and independent instructors work with their students on a personal level and the students develop a student teacher relationship that can last a lifetime.
In 2009 you appeared on the popular television show, Mythbusters, on the Discovery Channel. Tell us about that experience!
The Mythbuster shoot was a lot of fun. My good buddy Steve set the whole thing up and I guess I was the only other qualified tandem pilot available that day. I really wanted to take Kari Byron for a flight but she had a child in her belly that was ready to come out at any minute. Kari, if you read this, I still owe you one tandem discovery flight!
Have you ever expanded your love for flying into the realm of extreme sports such as base jumping or parachuting? Why or why not?
I have not tried any of these sports.
I am actually afraid of heights and I am a bit of a control freak.
Yea, you heard me right. I don’t consider hang gliding an extreme sport. If you get the proper training and use good quality equipment you will have it under control and thus not be afraid of the height.
Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?
Sorry I drew a blank on this one.
Where’s your next adventure?
I want to go to Fiji and retire. Don’t tell anyone but I hear stories about a seaplane there that needs a pilot.
The perfect s’more?
You can’t go wrong with double chocolate, right?
Photos © 2018 Mike Jefferson