Wild paraglider spotted in Oak Bluffs

Pilot John Gallagher has been taking to the skies for 27 years.


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a kiteboarder? If you’ve seen John Gallagher around the Island, you might be wondering the same thing. 

Gallagher is an experienced paraglider, having done the sport for the past 27 years as both a pilot and instructor. 

“It’s really a fun sport,” he said as he packed up his sail after a quick jaunt above Inkwell Beach. 

In paragliding, the pilot is attached by harness and lines to a 25-foot-long inflated wing, and takes off by launching the wing (also called a sail) into the airstream and running with it. Once the sail gets enough air, the pilot is lifted off the ground and seated in a sling attached to the harness, allowing them to cruise at heights up to 18,000 feet. “I’ve been up near jets before,” he said.

Paraglider pilots steer the sail from a “speed bar” at their feet and hand brakes, both connected to the sail by Kevlar lines. 

Paragliders aren’t just for little joyrides, either. The world record for the longest distance traveled in a paraglider was set last year — 365.5 miles, over 11 hours of flying, according to Cross Country Magazine. Gallagher’s own personal record is 79.8 miles across Massachusetts.

“We flew over Gillette Stadium at around 17,000 feet, and it was really something to behold,” he said. 

Gallagher is a washashore to the Island, usually spending the summers at his home in Oak Bluffs and winters traveling to the West Coast. But this winter, he decided to stick around, using the opportunity to get some off-season air time around the Island.

His experience paragliding has taken him all over the country, and yet he is always drawn back north: “Over all my years, I keep coming back here. There’s really something about the Northeast.” 

When he’s in the area, Gallagher usually flies up-Island or on the Cape. “Just the other day I took off from Lucy Vincent Beach and landed in Menemsha, right at time for sundown,” he said. “And this weekend we’re planning on flying from Wellfleet seven miles south to Nauset Light.”

As for the danger aspect, Gallagher isn’t too concerned. As long as the pilot is in control, there’s not much to worry about. “I’ve been doing this for a long time …mI can control the sail enough to just sit stationary and talk to people. But my wife likes to say I’m just an advanced idiot.”