BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — UPDATE 4/1/22: Due to unfavorable weather conditions this weekend, the fourth annual Southwest Florida Balloon Festival has been postponed until April 15 - 17.
Our original story continues below:
A few bright blimps will be hovering in the skies above Bonita Springs this weekend.
It’s part of the Annual Southwest Florida Balloon Festival.
“Whether you’re 75 or 5, you’re going to come and just be mesmerized by the balloons. It’s something the whole family can do.”
Soaring thru the skies magic is happening. Hot air balloons are being prepped for the annual event, captivating spectators both new and old to the ‘lighter-than-air’ attraction.
"Most pilots are over the age of 60," says Richard Garvie, CEO & President of Easy Events Group. "We’re trying to get younger people to come into the sport and to basically keep the sport going because, unless we do something, ballooning just isn’t going to be around in 5 or 10 years’ time.”
Pilots like Richard Davenport.
“I’ve been ballooning since 1985," says Davenport, Chief Pilot for Remax of Florida. “I’m a carpenter by trade at a construction company in the moment at that time. I dropped all of that and now I’m doing ballooning full-time.”
A passion that was discovered during his first hot air balloon ride.
“It’s just the thrill of being up there, it’s so peaceful and quiet. The only noise you hear is occasionally we hit the burners so you have a little blast here and there. And if we’re close enough to the ground, you can actually talk to people in a normal voice because there’s nothing to obstruct the sound. So when we’re flying over real quiet and you talk to them, they’re looking around not knowing that we’re above them!”
But as beautiful as these balloons may be, getting them to fly takes a bit of time.
"We always say we try and get balloons up as soon as we can," says Garvie. "As you can see, right now, it is a little bit breezy so you can’t always say we’re just going to get the balloons up- you have to wait for the wind conditions to be safe. But usually by 7:00 we’ll have most of the tethered ride balloons up and then at 8:00 the rest of the balloons will go up, ready for the glow as soon as the sun goes down and it gets dark.”
And because I had the chance to catch a glimpse from up above, I had the distinct pleasure of helping pack up. But don’t just take my word for it….
"A lot of people are apprehensive about it, but you’ve got to come out and try," said Davenport. "You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone.”
"You might decide the first time you come out it’s not for you, but I guarantee if you actually come out and you get in a balloon and you go for a flight with one of these guys- you’ll be hooked for life," Garvie said. "And that’s pretty much what happened to me.”
The Southwest Florida Balloon Festival will be taking place Friday - Sunday at the old Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track. You can find more information online here.