LAKE CITY, Minn. -- Dave Dybsand was a contractor building luxury homes in the Twin Cities. Business was good, but he had a dream of doing something else.

He sold his business in 2015 and moved to Lake City, a place he had visited frequently since the 1980s to go hang gliding off the bluffs on both sides of the Mississippi River.

Dave Dybsand, left, and Devin Nelson carry their hang glider to the boat at Ohuta Beach in Lake City, Minn., on Sept. 4, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Dave Dybsand, left, and Devin Nelson carry their hang glider to the boat at Ohuta Beach in Lake City, Minn., on Sept. 4, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

“I have been flying gliders for 27 years, and this is one place that I would come to fly with a group of friends,” Dybsand said. “We had launch sites, little clearings on the edge of a bluff or cliff.”

Devin Nelson, left, helps Dave Dybsand, owner of Eagle Hang Gliding, attach two harnesses to the hang glider on Sept. 4, 2019, near Lake City, Minnesota. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Devin Nelson, left, helps Dave Dybsand, owner of Eagle Hang Gliding, attach two harnesses to the hang glider on Sept. 4, 2019, near Lake City, Minnesota. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

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Launching from a bluff also meant landing on his feet in a grassy field or on a sandy beach. Both the takeoffs and landings were difficult, and those concerns also meant that his hang gliding was always solo. He wanted to give other people the experience of soaring, but the cliff launches and ground landings made tandem flights too dangerous.

“It was a passion. It was something I really wanted to do,” Dybsand explained. “I wanted to create a very unique experience, something that is unique to Lake Pepin.”

Dybsand began experimenting. He took his hang glider out onto country roads and used a winch in the back of a pickup to tow him up to altitude. He would release, soar for a while, and make a ground landing. Then he transferred what he learned to a boat.

“I put the winch in the boat, and I made some floats that I could attach to the glider,” he said. “They were not elaborate like the ones we have now, but they allowed me to tow up over a body of water.”

A high speed winch is used to pay out tow line and reel it back in for each hang gliding flight over Lake Pepin, which is the widest spot on the Upper Mississippi River surrounded by bluffs. The line doesn't get wet. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
A high speed winch is used to pay out tow line and reel it back in for each hang gliding flight over Lake Pepin, which is the widest spot on the Upper Mississippi River surrounded by bluffs. The line doesn't get wet. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Feats of engineering

He had seen companies in places like Miami that took people parasailing by pulling a parachute behind a boat and using a winch to let the passengers go up a few hundred feet and then reeling them back in. He knew he needed to go higher with his hang glider.

“There was a lot of engineering and design work that went into this,” Dybsand said. “I had friends and people show up to help me build things like the rack in the back of the boat with the glider setup. They helped me figure out the float system. What we did was take the lessons from everybody before us, and we perfected it to a fine art.”

This thin cord is used in a winch mounted a boat to tow Eagle Hang Gliding's glider to altitude. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
This thin cord is used in a winch mounted a boat to tow Eagle Hang Gliding's glider to altitude. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

One big problem was what to do with the tow line once he released the hang glider to soar. He didn’t want 3,000 feet of cable falling down into the water or landing on someone else’s boat.

“The boat takes off, and we lift off the back of the boat,” he said. “The winch that is in the front of the boat is very much like a bait casting reel. It has a drag, so under tension, we are towed up to altitude. When we release, a small parachute opens up and keeps the line from dropping into the water. Devin, the driver, hits a button and a high-speed electric motor brings that line right back into the boat.”

Fly, float, film

Those were large developments, but not the end of the problems. He had to try several types of pontoons or floats before he built a set that could take the forces of landing on the lake. Because he uses radios to communicate with the boat driver, he had to find ways to keep the radios dry through the splashing that happens during the landings.

Devin Nelson prepares to drive the boat for an Eagle Hang Gliding flight. The deck on the back of the boat was custom made to lift and hold the hang glider. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Devin Nelson prepares to drive the boat for an Eagle Hang Gliding flight. The deck on the back of the boat was custom made to lift and hold the hang glider. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

He even had to figure out a way to stop the bouncing of the boat from being transferred up the cable to the hang glider, a problem he solved by putting a spring from a mountain bike on the post where the cable feeds up to the hang glider.

Because people often want photos or videos of their hang gliding experience, but holding and using a camera while suspended under a hang glider is extremely difficult, he designed an arm holding a GoPro camera that could swivel across the front of the glider, allowing him to change the angle of the camera to give the best photos and videos.

“Everything here is one-of-a-kind,” Dybsand said. “We created everything but the hang glider.”

With a vision of what he wanted to do, Dybsand said, “It was a matter of how I could create it, develop it, and keep it safe and fun. None of us were engineers, so we would try something, and if that didn’t work, we would try something else. I wanted to create something that would not have existed if not for me, and that is how Eagle Hang Gliding was formed.”