Get Out There
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IF YOU PARTY, THEY WILL SPEED FLY
The Story of Will Burks’ Backyard Boogie
Speed flying was a sport on the rise when Will Burks first piloted over Hailey’s Quigley Canyon a few years ago. A high-adrenaline blend of paragliding and B.A.S.E. jumping, speed flying might just be the next fixture in action sports (Red Bull and GoPro already sponsor the sport’s premier athletes).
With wings that are smaller than those used in paragliding (the latter averages 23 square meters, whereas Burks’ speed flying wing measures in at only 11), speed flying is fast—really fast. Rather than gliding at altitude, speed flyers focus on bone-chilling descents, often swooping just feet from a slope. Even so, “speed flying” is still a term on the fringe. To the unenlightened masses, it’s paragliding with a vengeance.
Seated at his Hailey home, where a windsock flaps in the yard behind him, Burks isn’t worried about semantics. He compared speed flying, which, unlike paragliding, is presently unregulated, to snowboarding in its early days: “People fly where they want, when they want.” Things are still maturing in the U.S., where speed flying doesn’t have the history that it does in Europe. “In the States, the guys that are the most badass now were just learning seven or eight years ago,” explained Burks.
Left: Hiking up Red Devil Mountain.
Right: Backyard Boogie participants set upcamp in Will Burks’ yard.
So in 2011, Burks decided to host an event reflective of speed flying’s rawness and his own experimental paradigm—a homegrown gathering in which everybody would literally hike, launch and land in Burks’ backyard. Forget corporate sponsors and a press release, Burks’ Backyard Boogie would be a speed-flying celebration, nothing more.
The night before the second annual Boogie last June, Burks’ front yard is quiet and empty, but he’s expecting visitors, lots of them, to fill any open space. “Everybody’s bringing their tent. We’ve got two porta-potties, a dumpster and a BBQ I made. It’s going to be way bigger than last year,” smiled Burks, talking of the weekend-long party. Word had spread online, through friends and via word of mouth—one guy is flying in from Puerto Rico, supposedly. But without any kind of formal registration, the event will have to shape itself. Said Burks, “Everyone just shows up at a drop zone.”
Almost miraculously, Burks’ “drop zone,” the Old Cutter’s subdivision of Hailey, is directly behind his childhood home, where he now lives with his wife, Lori, and their two sons, Eliot (6) and Isaac (4). Not only has the space not been developed as planned, but just east of it is Red Devil Mountain (6,594 ft.), which Burks can climb in 30 minutes and which will serve as the primary jump site for the Boogie.
Outside Hailey, Burks’ other drop zone is Sun Valley’s Greyhawk parking lot. As a pro-skier with film credits for Teton Gravity Research (TGR), Burks was able to merge the two sports—skiing and paragliding—with ease, despite the fact that launching his wing, tapping the slope on skis and flying away is nothing short of crazy. Yet for Burks, “Speed riding combines something I’ve done my whole life with something new.”
On the morning of the Burks’ Backyard Boogie, “new” is the word of the day—new friends, new wings, new ideas. While attendees file in and make camp, Burks leads a first group up Red Devil around 10 o’clock. Watching them fly off the top, it’s clear that nobody’s going to soar leisurely. “You commit to dropping in and you’re not stopping,” described Burks. “You have to look ahead, be confident, go where you want and enjoy it at the same time.” Moreover, understanding the weather is critical and that day conversation teemed with talk of good thermals and favorable winds for flying. The plan the following day was to launch off Della Mountain (6,729 ft.), but, like the sport of speed flying itself, there is uncertainty regarding the forecast.
Between its diverse attendees—seasoned speed flyers like Marshall Miller mixed it up with complete newcomers—and intimate setting, Burks’ Backyard Boogie is evidence of a sport in maturation, as well as some insight into the people, like Burks, who are pushing it in new directions. Speed flying is neither paragliding nor B.A.S.E. jumping, but a hybrid that has brought new life to the world of wings.