ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This week, teens from around the globe are working together in Albuquerque to become the future of the ballooning industry. The week-long Rio Grande Balloon Camp brings together kids aged 13-17 from all over the country and even as far away as Germany.
“I like the adrenaline that I get from flying or crewing,” said J.D. Padilla, one of the campers. “I signed up for the camp so I can get more experience in and around the balloon and so I can become a pilot one day.”
It’s just after sunrise at Balloon Fiesta Park where teens are getting the opportunity to take flight and hands-on with hot air balloons. Padilla, whose dad used to crew, has been around balloons his whole life and even started crewing, himself, around three years ago. For other teens, this is their first time in the air.
“A lot of them, it’s their first time being around balloons,” said Cheri White, president of the Balloon Federation of America, which hosts the summer camp. “It’s fun to see the passion in the youth to see that they’re really excited about learning to fly, learning to be crew, learning to be pilots.”
Campers get hands-on training from certified instructors and the chance to pilot the balloons, themselves. In addition, they spend part of the week in the classroom, learning everything behind-the-scenes.
“We give them classroom instruction on weather, aeronautical decision making, we did a presentation on competition,” said Neida Courtney Bueno, camp director for Rio Grande Balloon Camp. “We have them go with different instructors every day, in part, because they learn something from each instructor. Each instructor does things differently.”
Those involved in the sport say this is the next generation of ballooning and it’s important they learn now.
“The young children are the future of ballooning. If you look around, a lot of the pilots are getting older,” said White. “We need the youth to keep the sport alive.”
Stepping into the basket and taking on the burner, Padilla takes in the opportunity and experience shaping his future. There is one thing he says he’s looking forward to once taking flight: the scenery.
“Looking at the view,” said Padilla. “I mean, it’s New Mexico. We’ve got a good view.”
This is the fourth year Albuquerque has hosted a balloon camp for teens, with other ones taking place this year in Reno, Nev. and Factoryville, Penn. While about half of this year’s Rio Grande participants are from New Mexico, other campers came from as far away as Texas, Washington, Tennessee, New York, and Germany. The Balloon Federation of America will announce next year’s camp locations this October, just in time for Balloon Fiesta.