Anthony Green just got sucked off of the top of the cliff in a dust devil. I am hauling on my D lines hard against the incredible wind, trying my best to not get blown over the back of launch and off of the cliff that Anthony is now swirling above, in an out of control pattern of spins, deflations and riser twists. His glider rotates 270 degrees in one place without actually going negative, and then changes its mind, surging into a violent dive and spiral in the opposite direction, right at the cliff. For a second, I am pretty sure that he is going to die. My glider is actually off the edge of the cliff now; it only needs to pull me another 8 feet and my situation will be worse than his, because my wing is in no condition to fly- holding the D risers against the gust has twisted it into a mutilated shrimp shape. The dust devil hasn’t released Anthony yet, and he makes another sharp banked turn towards the cliff face, missing it by a couple of feet. As his turn takes him away from the cliff he gains more altitude in the mini tornado and manages to get spit out of it in the right direction. He flies down the ridge in the direction of the LZ and I laugh with relief along with the only other pilot still on launch at this time of evening.
An hour ago somebody warned us that the wind might be cross and over the back, and there might be strong dust devils up here at this time of day. But Anthony and I came up anyways, because hey, you never know. As it turned out, the wind was so cross and strong that it was actually impossible to launch off of the shallow south slope. When a cycle did finally come up the hill, we both pulled our gliders up into it about one second before we realized it was a dust devil. It hit Anthony more directly than it did me, and he got his free ride off the hill, while I had to pack up and catch a ride down. But for some reason I wasn’t jealous.
As we drove down the hill we could see Anthony coring up into a thermal just down the ridge, and when we got back to the landing zone 45 minutes later, he was at cloudbase turning circles under a dark monster, flying around as if he hadn’t actually pooped his pants. This epic learning experience was just another chapter in the education of Timothy and Anthony Green, the Paratwins: Although it was Anthony who was plucked off the cliff by the dust devil, Timothy was destined to learn the lesson as equally thoroughly as if it had been him. This symbiotic learning arrangement has doubled their capacity for experience and thus their speed of progression. Two heads are indeed better than one.
Timothy and Anthony Green learned to fly on a golf course with a used parachute they purchased on ebay, towing themselves behind a golf cart. And it gets better: their harness? A WWII training harness they found in a newspaper ad. The quick release? A Phillip’s head screwdriver passed through a loop in the line (which only worked when the line was not under tension). At this time in their lives, since they had never seen parachutes or gliders being towed, as far as they were concerned they had invented towing.
This early setup had some serious problems. First of all, with only 75 feet of ski rope, it wasn’t possible to get very high. Second, the golf course security was losing patience after having received 126 calls about their antics, and they had already issued them one citation for ‘misuse of course’. Third, it was already obvious that the performance of the Raven Parachute was not going to cut it.
On the internet again, the twins discovered a concept called glide ratio and the fact that paragliders have a lot more of this glide ratio stuff than parachutes do… four times more, in fact. They were convinced, and after foot launching the parachute from a few hills and experimenting with boat towing, ski launch towing, and increasing the rope length to almost 800 feet, the twins had conquered parachute towing and were ready to fly paragliders.
They met an instructor in northern California who was generous enough to sell them an aged DHV 2 glider that was one size too large, complete with a faded harness and a skydiving reserve that was literally older than they were. All for $800… what a guy! With their excellent new equipment, the twins were eager to find instruction (the instructor who sold it to them was obviously not brave enough to be there when they tried to fly it) but most instructors refused to teach them on the pathetic gear. Finally another northern CA/NV instructor volunteered, and for the bargain price of $500 the two twins and their father learned to launch and land. Thus began chapter two of their flying career: fun with paragliders.
It didn’t take long for them to get into trouble with the law again. After flying a variety of legal and illegal sites around northern CA, they arrived in Marin County to fly a hill that had looked promising on the map. This hill also happened to be in a national park, so before airing out their not so trusty but definitely old wing, they asked the local sheriff for permission. ‘Have fun’, he said. Some quality kiting and soaring ensued, and the twins packed it up. Moments later, the park ranger came tearing around the corner at a furious pace. Obviously very upset about something, his frustration doubled when his nightstick hooked on something inside his vehicle and prevented him from making the grand and aggressive exit he had planned on.
“Drop your equipment and move to the front of the vehicle!” he screamed. “Parachuting is illegal in National Parks! If we were in Yosemite I could arrest you but here you’ll be getting a citation and I will confiscate your equipment!” The twins tried in vain to convince him that they were only paragliding this time, not parachuting or BASE jumping, but the embattled Yosemite veteran was having flashbacks and was eager to send them to court.
It was two years later when I met the twins at the Dune du Pyla on the west coast of France. Their reputation had preceded them, as by this time they were both competent acrobatic pilots and rumors were flying about two 18 year old American twins who were looping and SATing around the Chamonix valley, where they are now living. When I heard the American accent, the California accent no less, I knew exactly who they were. With virtually no organized or professional instruction, Timothy and Anthony had grown into two excellent young pilots with a serious set of skills for acro and XC. They had already flown from Annecy to Chamonix and almost all the way back, which is impressive because you are supposed to go from Chamonix to Annecy and back, not vice versa, due to prevailing winds. That little adventure earned them a profile in Parapente magazine, and they were already gaining notoriety in France. Shortly before the Dune, they had competed in the syncro division of the Acrofolies acro competition at Annecy, and the week after the Dune du Pyla I flew with them at the Ozone Chabre Open in Laragne, France. They eat, sleep and breathe flying, and it shows. At the Ozone Chabre Open they both flew well, finishing in the top 25% of the field. The week after the Chabre, I returned to their new hometown of Chamonix with them for a little XC flying. Conditions were brilliant and we were at cloudbase above the Brevent before 11am. A late crossing at Sallanches put Anthony and I on the ground while Timothy cruised along the 60km route to Annecy. The next day Timothy and I flew from Chamonix to Les Aravis where we were turned around by a great deal of shade and the cumulonimbus that was creating it. As we turned and ran from the huge black cloud, we were flying into wind in steady 500fpm lift over a shaded valley- the cu-nim was sucking all of the air out of the Megeve valleys at a rate that we could just barely escape. It rained on us just enough to make the flight interesting, and when we touched down in Chamonix four hours later than we’d left, all hell broke loose in the skies above the valley there. In the Alps, timing is everything.
Timothy and Anthony enjoyed living in Chamonix, as they should have, but have since moved to Paris for university studies, where they live near the center of the city. They still manage to escape the clutches of the city life on the weekends and holidays, so if you’re ever in the Alps, look out for two matching wings performing acro shockingly close together, and never far apart.