Portraits of NOVA Team Pilots
Antti Haltiamieli (FINLAND)
When and why did you start paragliding?
I started flying in 2013. At first my goal was just to learn paramotoring, but I soon realized the freedom and the challenge of the free flight. I’ve always been in love with mountains, I used to be a rock climber and climbing instructor but had to give up climbing for health issues. Paragliding has been a way to experience mountains again from another perspective.
What do you enjoy most about paragliding?
Paragliding pretty much defines my life, so it’s hard to distinguish one specific thing. When my feet lift off the ground, I still feel the same thrill as the very first time. The pure solitude under the clouds and flow state of mind are so emotionally powerful experiences, that not too many things in life come even close.
Do you have paragliding idols?
Idol might be the wrong word but I’m grateful and lucky to have had mentors who have given me tools to fly further and safer. Kelly Farina has been a big support and helped me to see the steps of progression and really gave me a right mindset from the beginning. Nicky Moss has always supported me and been very positive. I still hear Steve Ham’s soothing voice in my head when it gets sketchy. “It’s just a cloud”.
Do you have big goals in paragliding?
Absolutely! As a middle-aged man it seems to take more and more effort not only to stay in shape but to improve mentally and physically. I hope my biggest and the best flights are still ahead. I really like how we push the boundaries of what is possible here in Finnish flats but I still have so much beautiful lines to fly in the mountains, too. My biggest goal however is to stay healthy and be able to fly as long as possible, even if it means to take it a bit slower and not to push it to the absolute limit with unreasonable risk.
What are your favourite holiday destinations and where would you like to go?
Before Covid-19, I had travelled abroad over 50 times in the last 5 years. So, it has been actually pretty nice to take it easy and stay in Finland. Actually, I really fell in love in flatland flying basically last summer. The challenge is totally different from flying in the mountains. Here in Finland you need a much broader skill set to fly far. But of course, going back to Rift Valley (Kenya) or Ager (Spain) are high on the list when the borders open again.
What do you do when you are not flying?
I work part-time as a flight instructor at my school Flying Finns Paragliding Academy, part-time as a psychotherapist and also as a children’s foster care specialist. I am constantly educating myself and studying a wide range of subjects, from neuroanatomy to meteorology. Right now I’m finishing a master’s degree in social work.
How is paragliding in Finland?
Just a year ago I would have answered that it’s not that special but now I totally disagree with my then self! I honestly think Finland is one of the hidden treasures and well-kept secrets when it comes to paragliding. The flying itself is sometimes mentally demanding, as big flights usually need at least some flying over unlandable terrain, lakes and big forests. On the other hand, sometimes you enjoy big fields and very safe landings.
Finland is a totally flat country, so we need to tow to get to the air. Thermal triggers are also not as obvious as in the mountains. But when you get your head around it, flying here is a great experience! The thermals are usually pretty smooth, even at the strongest times of the day and first and last hours are really soft and nice (if you stay up). We have a very cooperative air traffic control system and usually you can negotiate to fly through controlled airspace. On the long summer days, there is potential for 400+ km flights here.
What can you tell visitors who come for paragliding and have never been flying in Finland before?
Flying in Finland requires a towing license or at least an instructor to show you how it’s done. The process is very casual and quick. We use big fields or remote airfields for towing, so contacting a club or a school is essential to go flying.
I don't really have any special favourite spots here, because we always try to fly with a tailwind as far as possible in one direction anyway. Triangle days are rare. So, we pick a launch from the furthest point possible and fly until the day ends or in best case scenario, when we arrive at the other coast or Russian boarder! I’m happy to help with arrangements, if an easy 100 km or a demanding big flight is something on your radar. (Contact: email@example.com)
Is there anything else you want to tell us?
I think paragliding is still more of an art form than a sport. It’s important to find right mentors from the beginning but also to choose your own path and goals and stay true to them. Seek advice and be humble, cherish the “beginner’s mind” for as long as possible.
PS: You can read more about flatland flying in Finland in Antti's article on the NOVA Team Blog. And here you can find the article about the NOVA Pilots of the Year 2020. On XContest you can check out Anttis great flights.