As a boy in his native England, Ben Dunn just wanted to fly.
“I remember running around with my hands out doing the bird thing,” Dunn said as his dad, who took up hang gliding in 1979, would disappear in to the skies of Suffolk.
In 1985, at the age of 12, the younger Dunn finally got his chance to fly.
“It was great; it was definitely destiny, something that I had to do,” said Dunn, a Daly City resident. “It was never enough. I always wanted more.”
After a minor setback, the eager young flier was sent to ground school.
“I crashed into some cow pies and demonstrated that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was,” Dunn said. “My dad insisted that I learn properly.”
In 1996, after completing his studies and landing a job working on Ethernet products, Dunn transferred to an office in the states, prompting a move to Santa Cruz.
For the next five years, Dunn was content with his casual weekend coastal flying off the cliffs of the Pacific. He recalls a 2001 hang gliding safari in Owens Valley, home of Mt. Whitney, that accelerated his passion for the sport.
“Big air, big thermals, strong wind gradients,” Dunn said. “And the scenery was mind blowing, flying over peaks that would take the whole day to hike up.”
With his flying in high gear, Dunn took the leap into competitive hang gliding in 2004 at King Mountain, Idaho.
“That first year I was a little bit mind-blown by it all and didn’t do very well,” Dunn said.
In 2005 at King Mountain, he was third in the event, a six-day endurance contest, and the following year in Washington state, Dunn won the Chelan Classic, his first-ever championship. Rather than testing longevity as at King Mountain, Chelan resembles a sailing race with GPS cylinder locations serving as virtual buoys.
A lay-off from his day job in 2008 resulted in more time for the sky and a subsequent jump in his competitive ranking. He is currently in the U.S. top 10 rankings and low 40s in the world.
Dunn, who lives with his girlfriend, Tracey Story, an “up-and-coming” hang glider, supports the hefty expense associated with world-class competition by teaching his students on a tandem glider. He is contemplating a return to a “real job,” but at present there is nothing that he’d rather be doing.
Whether flying above a 737 jet as it descends for a landing or circling with a California Condor at Pinnacles National Monument, this is one chap who prefers the friendly skies.
HANGLIDING ESSENTIALS: No. 1 Judgement, No. 2 skill
2010 PRE-WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: Out of 150 competitors, Dunn was 24th overall and second on the U.S. team
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Ben’s dad has hanglided since 1979 and still does in France
LEARN TO FLY: www.sfhanggliding.com