Up and away

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

cluster_ballooning1

Cluster ballooning is your inner child’s (or inner daredevil’s) fantasy come true. I thought this was something scenic done for effect in movies (see The Red Balloon) — I never imagined people did this in real life.

Oh, but they do, some flying up to 4 miles high (!) in what they call a “something between a sport and a personal eccentricity.” John Ninomiya, a cluster ballooner with over 60 flights under his belt gives a beautiful explication of the sport’s peculiar combination between delight and daring:

Cluster ballooning is also something very beautiful and whimsical – like something from a children’s story, or something from a dream. For me, the tension between those two elements – being carried away with these huge, colorful toys, and at the same time, exercising the appropriate skill not to end up in trouble with the FAA, or possibly injured or killed – that’s what I find so interesting about cluster ballooning.

Cluster ballooning aesthetically is the confluence of so many joyful elements, it’s hard to name them all: round, shiny balloons, gathered together in an abundant mass; the transcendent floating and rising movements that make us look above the horizon; the freedom of flight, unencumbered by heavy craft; the wonder of being above the clouds, leaving the earth and then returning to it; and the absurdity that all this is done by a toy, the very same thing used to decorate a mailbox on a child’s birthday.

It’s an extraordinary feeling when something you never thought existed is revealed to you. As I child, the tug of a helium balloon on my wrist filled me with a fantasy of being carried aloft that was part wish, part fear, but all joy.

Read more about cluster ballooning here, and if you’re feeling brave, check out a tutorial here.

October 8th, 2009

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