Episode 4- Cedar Wright “Nothing Great Happens Without Risk”

Photo- Jimmy Chin

Photo- Jimmy Chin


The Cloudbase Mayhem is dedicated to dissecting excellence in flight. We interview the best pilots in the world and find out what makes them great. But in this episode we delve into the opposite end of the spectrum with world class climber, self-described goofball, North Face athlete, film director and producer Cedar Wright, who has recently caught the paragliding bug BADLY. His climbing partners include Alex Honnold, the late Dean Potter and Sean Leary, Tommy Caldwell, Will Gadd and a ton of the Yosemite Camp 4 Original Gangsters of the incredible “Valley Uprising” documentary like Peter Croft and Tommy Caldwell. Cedar and I met at last years Banff Mountain Film Festival where he happened across a paragliding film in Greenland called “Resounding Silence“.  The movie inspired Cedar to find out what paragliding was all about and five months ago he dove in feet first and hasn’t looked back. His stoke and passion for flying is infectious and his unique perspective on what makes human flight so special made for a stellar interview that was incredibly fun. Cedar came to Sun Valley last week to get a taste for big mountain air and find out how to fly cross country. It’s been incredibly fun to take him under my wing a little bit and he’s reminded me of how special the learning phase is…and more importantly how that arc never really stops. You’ll enjoy this show, Cedar is an awesome character, his energy and passion for what he calls “sky crack” is truly inspiring.


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Show Notes:

  • Cedar discusses his climbing career, films and growing up in a town of 86 people
  • We discuss how he got into paragliding this last year. Learning in Santa Barbara with Eagle Paragliding and Matt Henzi.
  • Cedar talks about risk, and the difference in risk between climbing and paragliding, and the importance of taking risk in life.
  • We talk about the level of adventure that exists in paragliding.  Is it possible to have a bigger adventure, is it the ultimate in freedom when it comes to adventure?
  • What it’s like to be a beginner again
  • The value of being audacious
  • Being a sponsored athlete and some of Cedar’s mentors in the sport like Bill Belcourt.

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10 thoughts on “Episode 4- Cedar Wright “Nothing Great Happens Without Risk”

  1. Superb podcast, absolutely brilliant and love the enthusiasm. While the US PG community is apparently small, the big-wall climbing offshoots bring something unique that I don’t think we can match here in the UK or even much of Europe. Special mention also due for Cedar’s followup FB post on the tech-diving record attempt fatality. Very relevant, a timely counterpoint and evidence of a mature attitude to understanding risk perception for novice flyers (of which I am one).

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  3. Pingback: Podcast Episode 27- Cedar Wright and Intermediate Syndrome | CLOUDBASE MAYHEM

  4. Nice one! But hes flying a en-b wing after 5 month in conditions of sun valley! That’s a kind of the opposite what you are talking about in all the safety podcasts to not level up so fast and more! Does he has the intermediate syndrome already whiteout even being a beginner? 😉
    Great to hear more stories
    Catch ya

    • Well…a B wing is pretty safe, and I wouldn’t suggest flying an A glider here but yes, he was right smack into Intermediate syndrome from day 1:) He’s really getting better, luckily has had a few “incidents” that have kept him in check.

      • I couldn’t find the first Cedar Wright post on facebook, so I decided to post here. You think I’m wrong to call you a hypocrite, therefore I’ll outline the reasoning.

        Here is the point: You’re trying to help Paragliding. Right? If that is the case, why is your message so contradictory? In fact, you do not practice what you preach. It does long term harm to your message.

        Vik is correct. 5 Month Pilot flying Sun Valley at peak conditions? Intermediate Syndrome? Perhaps. But what about “Old Boys Club” Syndrome? If that was some regular Joe, P2 – would you tell him go for it? Does he get a pass because he’s in the club?

        Frankly, it doesn’t matter, and I don’t care. The point is, on the one hand, you’re own actions demonstrate a cavalier attitude toward safety. On the other hand, the overall message from you (not your guests) is safety, caution, don’t move too fast… Except if you’re in the Gavin club.

        • Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. I’m just trying to do my best. Not only to help the sport and reduce accidents but also entertain and inspire. Of course I make mistakes, I’m very very very far from perfect. And I admit to being a hyprocrite in many things, who isn’t? Because I am just completing the book on the Mayhem and went back through every show, some several times I can see and understand your views. So much is lost in nuance. Much is lost because I’m not a very good interviewer (trying to always improve), sometimes I don’t call people out when I should. Cedar is a good example. He didn’t get to go flying with me that day in Sun Valley because he was in any “club”. Cedar was and remains very stoked, much to many people’s concern. His attitude at times in my opinion is dangerous- as mine has been, and many stoked pilots are. But it’s also awesome. We need stoke. To improve we sometimes gamble too hard. I flew with him that day because he was going to fly regardless, it wasn’t my place to say “no”, I wasn’t his instructor and flying is his call. I kept him on the ground when we got to launch for two hours so it would mellow out. The conditions were perfect for me, but I knew they were way too aggressive for him. This place can and will bite. After the flight we talked about it (much to my wife’s consternation) for 3 hours. He was over the moon excited, but he’d also gotten pretty scared and I tried to push a little more reserve, a little more caution, a little more slow down. None of that is in the show. If you go back and listen to his second show when he flies into the power lines I called him out on it. I didn’t celebrate his bad decision making. But we’ve all been there. I’m not making excuses for him, but he certainly didn’t get a pass.

          I’m an X-Alps pilot. I fly in a lot of dicey conditions and a ton of it is on film. These things almost certainly come across as cavalier and at one point in my flying life to an extent they probably were. That’s the not the pilot I am anymore, and I train hard to compensate for the increased risk. I have dedicated an insane amount of time to this sport and have tried to model good behavior and practices, but when Will Gadd and I take on something like the Rockies Traverse hopefully people are intelligent enough to realize we are professionals and they don’t go out and try to attempt the same thing without proper training and hours. I have the podcast to try to share knowledge and help pilots improve safely, knowing full well that I can’t always “practice what I preach.” I don’t always get it right. You can’t make this sport 100% safe. You’re not wrong to call me a hypocrite, but you are wrong to call me one about what you posted on facebook. You don’t know my skiing history, you don’t know who I was with, you don’t know how we were recreating. Yes, things can happen, and that’s why I shut down any cross country for the past two months. But going out solo on a hike and fly where I land at my car in mellow air in the morning- the chances of something happening, WHILE fully engaging in social distancing practices I call being responsible, taking care of my health, and staying sane in a responsible way. That’s not being a hypocrite.

  5. So what you’re saying is that after posting that pilots shouldn’t fly, you were flying… in mellow morning air… after a nice healthy climb… back to your car? Just joking… kinda.

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond again Gavin.

    Regarding the Cedar Wright or any of the interviews, nuances are certainly lost. You are doing your level best and nobody is perfect. I get that and you have my respect in that regard. I think everyone appreciates the work you are doing. You are stuck between promoting free-flight, spreading knowledge within and about the sport, promoting safety and all the while, being entertaining at the same time (you should start taking lessons from Nick Greece in that regard). We thank you for it. However, you decided to make part of your living promoting yourself and your place within this tiny community of paragliding. You should not be surprised when people call you out to answer for your actions vs what you say should be done.

    Some of my favorites:

    Don’t fly in high winds. (High winds are the key to distance in some places. What’s a novice pilot to think?)
    Don’t take unnecessary risk. (By definition, free-flight IS an unnecessary risk)
    Don’t go XC unless you’ve done SIV’s. (The majority of pilots are working stiffs. No XC flights for them?)
    Don’t move up wing class too quickly. (compared to who or what?)
    Don’t change your wing and harness at the same time. (I shudder to think of this one.)
    The Cedar-Chelan story. (from the perspective of a parent of similarly aged children, I was unable to listen past that point. It should have been edited out- you knew that at the time. I’ve lived life, done plenty of things. Kids don’t need elders to help them make bad decisions. Its an abuse of one’s station in life and bad form)

    For some of these, perhaps the nuance is missed, for some perhaps misconstrued by my own situation, and still others are just what they are- an opinion. I would say the episode with Alexander Robe was very impressive in that his approach is so contradictory to the standard safety mantra on the show.

    The last two I listed killed any goodwill I had at the time. But I’ve given the wing/harness point a little thought since your response yesterday. I know what I know about that accident from you. Perhaps a lesser man would have swept it under the rug. You put it out there, admitted you could have prevented it if you had said something. I think I didn’t give you enough credit for that. The second, I get it. On the surface, it’s a funny story, exciting to be a little edgy. But actually, it’s a bad editing call.

    I listened to the entire podcast last week, and yes, it was clear you and others had tried to make it clear to Cedar to ease up on the throttle for his safety. Hats off for that.

    So, on the points regarding the podcast and messaging within, I’ll give it to you. You’re doing your best and nobody is perfect, both listener and presenter. I hope you can take my input and use it.

    On the Covid thing however, I think you are dead wrong. Here is why: If for no other reason, if you want your podcast to be accessible to all, it is better to leave the politics at the door.

    If you look at politics in the US, UK and AUS, one can assume that about half the pilots, and hence half the listeners, disagree with your politics. You’re not going to change their mind. They listen to get away from the everyday bitching and moaning. When you bring that crap in, you only lose. I get it. Global warming, pandemic, Gaia is dying, we need to halve the world’s population, etc. You put yourself at irreconcilable odds with half your listeners at no benefit to free flight when you go all out left wing nutter.

    (regarding the (non) science and politics behind COVID, let’s ignore that for a bit. glad to get into it if you want. I’m a biochemist by training in a family of doctors, professors and engineers. History can be the final judge.)

    Your Covid post did immense harm to our community. It pitted one group of pilots against another group of pilots, with one side using your podcast to shame others for perfectly safe flying in perfectly safe conditions.

    Look at it from our prospective.

    First: Our jobs, our houses, our family’s future is being ripped from us. Why do we have to lose flying as well? Nobody flies expecting a trip to the ER. Flying is perfectly safe, in the same way that skiing is perfectly safe. It’s how you do it that determines the level of risk. For me, flying is the safest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve got broken ribs, knees, cracked head, slipped disk, from skiing, skating, sliding, you name it. Flying is the same as driving. It’s as dangerous as you make it, and every once in a while, some texting jerk will hit someone.

    Second: We can’t just fuck off when the weather is good like you and Chrigel. We’ve lost our jobs. This is the one time we can fly on a Monday when the weather is good. OH! But WAIT, Gavin and Crigel, two guys who basically fly when they want, where they want, how they want, said we shouldn’t fly… because… ? It’s a bad look? Based on what I saw in my club, the regular Joe pilots gave both of you a collective middle finger.

    But wait, it gets better. As it turns out, Gavin wasn’t quite accurate in what he said. The nuance of the message was it’s OK to take an early morning sledder?… or a little light skiing?… or for those of us who are really good at flying safely.. and he had his fingers crossed, so it doesn’t really count…. C’MON man. You were posturing for virtue points. So sad.

    You were being a hypocrite, you know it and if I didn’t care about paragliding, I wouldn’t care to call you out on it. You told people not to fly with the implied message of don’t engage in ANY activities that would be deemed dangerous by any pencil necks and eternal naysayers.

    • I really appreciated this Tom. This is constructive and I take all of it as solid feedback. Thank you. Much better than what I was feeling on FB! Maybe I’m just too sensitive:)

      Some thoughts on your list of favorites:

      High winds. High winds in the mountains continue to kill a lot of people. In the old days 15 km was the absolute top end. Above the wasn’t a day for paragliding. As Russ said, the reason accidents aren’t going down even though wings have gotten so much better is that now the top end is much higher. So- stronger lee, stronger roter, and thus still high accidents. Flying in wind in the mountains is scary and dangerous. My big flight here in 2013 was in a stupid amount of wind. I would never do that again. Ignorance is bliss! But I think the advice is correct. Alex Robe doesn’t fly in wind and he does 300KM+ triangles every season. If we picked our days better we’d have a lot less accidents. Everyone needs to be wary of wind, but Novice pilots need to be VERY wary of wind. I don’t think this is bad advice. Flying in wind just increases the risk. But…flatland flying in wind can be pretty reasonable. Landing can be sketchy, but you’re not dealing with lee and much turbulence.

      I stand by my advice on SIV. Nate Scales has never had an accident, is a total Jedi and has been flying for 25+ years and he’s never done an SIV. So…it isn’t mandatory, but if you go XC you’re going to have incidents, and SIV makes the incident a lot more survivable. I’m certainly glad I’ve done so much, but yes- it’s expensive and time consuming, but pilots who don’t do it should take what Russ says to heart- we aren’t playing tennis and it could save your life. If you don’t fine, but that pilot is making a conscious choice to fly with less margin.

      Wing class has been covered so many times I don’t think I have to get into that one. If you are comparing yourself to others or to “what” then the point has been missed:)

      Cedar-Chelan story? I don’t remember a story in Chelan. Are you talking about the high tension lines story? That was at Marshall. I think it’s actually really instructive- he made a terrible move and got SUPER lucky. Don’t be that guy! But maybe you are talking about something else…

      I REALLY appreciate your input on the Covid show. I’ve heard the same from others. Point taken 100% on the politics, that should have been removed. It’s not a politics show and I shouldn’t add any to it. A little backstory to bring some things to color: My sister (who you called a “neo lib” or something, but suffice it you don’t agree with her) is an exceptional journalist also doing her best. I’m thankful we have journalists, it’s the bedrock of a free society. When I interviewed her she’d interviewed hundreds of doctors and scientists and had been reporting on Covid from early January. It was early March, things were getting pretty scary and there was a debate going on on some of the flying forums that was turning pretty ugly. At the same time I saw Chrigel’s post. Pretty much everyone in Europe had stopped flying, for some it was banned, but most just chose not to. Here it wasn’t so clear. My intent was to broadcast two people’s opinions who aren’t pilots who knew a lot about what was going on as it was early here and I certainly didn’t know what was going on, and it didn’t seem like our community did either. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I said in the show “we should not be flying”, I think I just asked their opinions- what did they think we should do? For me it was never so much about adding stress to the hospital environment, it was two things: 1) most accidents in free flight happen because of distraction, and Covid seemed like a pretty solid distraction, and 2) Social distancing is pretty much the only weapon we have, and it’s hard to social distance in this sport unless you’re doing hike and fly and landing at your car. So going up in the group van, getting retrieved, using Uber- those all seemed pretty insensitive to me. It just seemed selfish to fly. But point taken. I got a lot more praise for that show (on the order of thousands to a few) than I did heat, but again- point taken and super appreciated. Although “perfectly safe flying in perfectly safe conditions” I’m not sure exists (people die every year at Torrey), but as I said before- during the lockdown I didn’t fly, but I also think we can fly with very very little risk and I have done that and shared that. I still haven’t figure out how to go XC though without a dedicated retrieve driver…so I’m still keeping things awfully mellow, which is fine with me.

      I don’t think we should pretend flying is safe. It’s not. Comparisons to driving…like Will Gadd said, are bullshit. Our statistics are rather bleak, let’s own that and be realistic about it. It’s why most of us love it and do it knowing the odds even knowing many will not beat the odds.

      Point taken on losing flying as well. Again, I was just trying to express the views from an ER doc who is handling Covid in our community who I really respect. Just seemed like the humane thing to do for the time being. He now says flying is no problem, at least here. The hospital is fine. My view was on helping the community and trying to be sensitive to our health care workers. Again, during the lockdown I didn’t fly. I ground handled a lot, I studied weather, I planned- I guess it just didn’t seem like that big of a sacrifice? And just for clarity- I don’t get to fly when I want, how I want. My business is up in smoke. I have a family. To fly I have to balance, plan, and make it work, just like everyone else. Chrigel does as well by the way. I really appreciated his example. But I’m insanely lucky and grateful that I can and I’m not whinging- I know many, many people are going to be much worse affected by this than I am and I was never trying to make it any worse or certainly to shame anyone. I wasn’t “posturing for virtue points”, that’s not what I was doing at all, and again the timing obviously wasn’t clear. When the stay at home order was in place, I was staying at home. So again I stand by my comment before- yes, I’m certainly a hypocrite often and on many things, but on this I was not. I shared two people’s views who I deeply admire because I thought it was important for our community to hear.

      Thanks Tom, I do very much appreciate your feedback.

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