Eyes in the sky for 20-year-old balloonistSave
By Hunter Calder
Liam McGirr started chasing hot air balloons when he was eight. And now at the age of 20 he has his license to fly them.
He says, he enjoys the unique experience of the balloon and being up in the air "keeps me sane."
"Ballooning for me is just a sport where we have the air to ourselves. It's not like any other form of aviation, we are floating along with the wind."
And this week - during Balloons Over Waikato - he has the opportunity to test his skills against 20 other pilots coming from as far afield as Brazil, Canada, Australia, China, United States of America.
Mr McGirr says it's a week where he gets to fly every day and be challenged by others at a competitive level.
"It gives us the opportunity to get a taste of the competition side of ballooning, it's a way of us having a stepping stone into it (ballooning) and competing on a level with some international pilots who have a much greater experience and we can learn things from."
Australian Balloon Pilot Mark Mitchell has co-piloted with Liam previously and says he likes to support emerging pilots.
"We just have a fun little competition with the pilots so the lesser experienced ones get to have that feel of flying around other balloons."
And it's a sport that brings people together.
"It's a team sport you can never really do ballooning really on your own, not without having a lot of other people around you and helping you out."
Since the Carterton balloon tragedy in 2012 - safety briefings have taken on an extra significance.