Santa Barbara Hang Glider Emporium


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Santa Barbara Hang Glider Emporium

Ken de Russy started a hang gliding school based in Santa Barbara, California, in 1974. (1)

Instructor Ken de Russy in a Swallowtail at the Mesa training hill, Santa Barbara
Instructor Ken de Russy in a Wills Wing Swallowtail at the Mesa training hill, Santa Barbara

These photos are from long time instructor Ken de Russy, who nowadays (2020) runs a hang gliding museum in the Pacific north-west. See under External links later on this page. In 2012, Ken sent me (the original author of this web site) several American hang gliding magazines and books pre-dating my own collection. They provided much information I drew on for this web site.

Ken de Russy's first hang gliding store in Santa Barbara, California
Ken de Russy’s first hang gliding store in Santa Barbara, California
Ken de Russy's first hang gliding store in Santa Barbara, California
Panning to the right inside the store

These color photos were taken in about January 1975. The tall gold rectangular objects next to each of the helmets in the glass display case in the second photo are Colver audio variometers. See the Variometers page for more.

Virtually all store activities are managed by Bonnie Nelson, Ken’s wife and partner.

— Dan Johnson (2)

However, the shop was too small and Ken relocated the store in the spring of 1975.

Kammy Low, Gary Bencar, Ken de Russy, and Dave Saffold at the Hang glider emporium of Santa Barbara
Kammy Low, Gary Bencar, Ken de Russy, and Dave Saffold at the Hang Glider Emporium of Santa Barbara. Photo by Bill Pierce.

The Channel Islands Hang Glider Emporium Flight Team competed at the 1976 Hang Ten World Open at Escape Country on Robinson ranch in Santiago Canyon, Orange County, California. (See Winter escape: The 1974 U.S. nationals in Hang gliding 1974 part 2 for a bit about Escape Country.) Ken subsequently dropped the Channel Islands prefix. His business phone is the oldest phone number in the history of hang gliding. It is still in use and has rung to a hang gliding business without interruption since April 1974.

Inside Ken de Russy's second Hang Glider Emporium premises
Inside Ken’s second store premises

The Hang Glider Emporium serves Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities of Montecito, Carpinteria, Goleta, Santa Ynez and Lompoc (Vandenberg Air Force Base) with a total population of over 250,000.

— Dan Johnson (2)

Reading the bi-monthly magazine Whole Air in Ken de Russy's store in Santa Barbara
This crop of the right photo in the preceding pair shows Fred Mellon reading the bi-monthly Whole Air

The original photo from which the following image is derived was on the cover of Santa Barbara Wind & Water, December 1976. (3)

Cover photo of Santa Barbara Wind & Water, December 1976
Ken in an SST at Santa Barbara in 1976 The original photograph was by Bill Pierce.

Here in Santa Barbara, the land wants to be an arid chaparral, but decades ago the city fathers dammed wilderness creeks and tunneled through mountains to bring water to thirsty lawns. During a recent drought, homeowners were so desperate for verdant vistas that they sprayed their dusty yards with green paint.

— Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, 1997

Ken de Russy and friends honor Bob Wills
Ken and friends honor Bob Wills
Ken de Russy preparing to fly a hang glider at North Star Mountain, Kimberly, British Columbia
Ken preparing to fly at North Star Mountain, Kimberly, British Columbia

Ken de Russy reads a magazine at the hang glider emporium in Santa Barbara
Ken reads the August 1980 edition of the USHGA magazine
Bonnie Nelson and Ken de Russy serve a customer at the original hang glider emporium in Santa Barbara
Bonnie and Ken serve a customer
Art based on a photo by Michael Pringle of  Ken DeRussy launching an Ultralight Products Mosquito at Wilcox Beach, Santa Barbara
Ken De Russy launching an Ultralight Products Mosquito at Wilcox Beach, Santa Barbara. Photo by Michael Pringle.
Bob Brown, Jeff Mailes, Ken de Russy, and Bonnie Nelson at the hang glider emporium in Santa Barbara
Bob Brown, Jeff Mailes, Ken de Russy, and Bonnie Nelson

I’d rather be totally used up at the end of the day and know I’ve put out 100% than to sit around and take it easy.

— Bonnie Nelson (4)

Ken de Russy approach for top landing a hang glider at Wilcox Beach, Santa Barbara, California
Ken approaches for a top landing at Wilcox Beach

The Santa Ynez mountains, an eastwest coastal range in the Los Padres National Forest, provides Santa Barbara with unlimited flying year round.

— Dan Johnson (2)

Ken de Russy and Fred Mellon flying hang gliders. Photo by Ken de Russy and Stephen Duke.
Ken with Fred Mellon off his starboard side. Photo by Ken de Russy and Stephen Duke.

This was the center-spread in Santa Barbara Magazine March-April 1988.


Ken de Russy with a Whitney Portawing
Ken de Russy with a Whitney Portawing

These two photos by John Baird, a 1974 dealer and early club president in Santa Barbara, are of the 1974 Whitney Porta Wing, one of Ken’s museum collection of vintage hang gliders. The Porta Wing used cables instead of tubes in the leading edges. See it in flight under Trial and error in Hang gliding 1973 part 1.

Ken de Russy runs with a Whitney Portawing
Ken de Russy runs with a Whitney Portawing

External links

Ken de Russy’s Hang Gliding Museum on Google Photos

Ken de Russy Biographical Info on Google Photos

Ken de Russy talks about safety in Big Blue Sky, 2008, by Bill Liscomb on YouTube starting at 58 minutes 41 seconds. (That is followed by film of Bob Keeler falling into the sea in a broken glider in 1976 with Tom Peghiny narrating.)

References/sources

1. Erik Fair, Hang Gliding, July 1984

2. Dan Johnson, Whole Air, May/June 1982

3: Cover photo of Wind & Water volume 1 number 4, December 1976, from Santa Barbara Area Newspapers, SBHC Mss 50, Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara

4. Bonnie Nelson quoted by Carol Price, Hang Gliding, November 1980

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