Q&A with Dan Boria, the ‘Balloon Guy,’ on his plan to go stratospheric on a lawn chair

Daily Brew

[Dan Boria is on a mission to space on a lawn chair. PHOTO: Facebook]

Dan Boria’s first balloon-related stunt seemed audacious enough: he floated over the 2015 Calgary Stampede, “Up”-style, in a lawn chair held aloft by more than 100 helium-filled balloons. But he’s got big plans in the works to top that trip by a considerable height — as in, a few dozen kilometres.

Boria, the owner of the Calgary-based cleaning-products company wants to take his lawn chair about 40 kilometres up into space with the help of about 500 weather balloons. He’s raised about half the $500,000 he thinks his plan requires, is getting the required permits and is stubbornly confident that he’ll succeed. His trip high into the atmosphere is tentatively scheduled for September 2017, he says, and an exact date and location for liftoff will be set when his permits are properly in place.

His first trip ended safely but left him with some unresolved legal trouble: the police met him when he landed in Calgary and Boria was charged with a variety of offences including mischief causing danger to life, dangerous operation of an aircraft and operating an aircraft without a pilot’s licence. A court date for those charges is in October. 

That risk-taking attitude — and the ability to commit to something with the conviction that you can do it no matter the odds — has been around since he was a kid, Boria tells Yahoo Canada News. He ascribes it to his success so far as an entrepreneur and his stratospheric plans are outlined on his company’s website, which could make one wonder if his plans are more about promoting his growing company more than a sense of adventure.

But Boria, 27, insists that he’s committed to successfully getting into space on a lawn chair and says there’s a little patriotism underlying his plans as well. 

“We have to take the record back from the Americans,” he says, referring to the record-breaking Red Bull project that successfully brought professional skydiver Felix Baumgartner 39 kilometres into the atmosphere and then down again. Baumgartner was highly trained and experienced, but Boria says he’s not daunted by that.

“We’re basically the underdog that’s going to take the title,” he says. “And we’re the first Canadians.”

Boria spoke with Yahoo Canada News about his plans, his motivations and how he responds to people who call him crazy.

Q: How did you get the initial idea to float above the Stampede in a lawn chair with balloons? 

The initial idea last year was to skydive into the Calgary Stampede with a parachute while I had an airplane banner attached to it. I paid for the parachute and I had an airplane banner made, but I couldn’t get a way up there [to skydive]. I was on the verge of bringing a Mexican up on a work visa when we thought of the balloon thing. I saw the movie Up and I just knew it had to work.

Q: Why are you making the leap to expand this to space? 

We had the opportunity to do this and we don’t want to go any lower than last year. I just know I can do it. 

Q: Who is helping you with the technical logistics? 

It is pretty hard to get people on board. If I call a private space company I can show them the other stunt and show that I’ve done it before. But a lot of them want to charge a lot. Google and Red Bull both spent more than $20 million dollars to do this and we’ll do it for five per cent of that.

We’re dealing with a privately owned space company to deal with manufacturing the space suits, which is the most difficult part. Once that’s in place we’re set. And right now I’m getting my hot air balloon licence and putting together the permits needed for this. 

Q: This will take a considerable amount of funds to do. How are you raising those? 

As of right now I’m self-funding it. We’re selling T-shirts online. It’s $20 and all [of] the purchase price goes towards this. We’re also selling some sponsorships, a bit of ad space on the chair. We’re talking to some local Calgary companies. We definitely have a big spot left for a life insurance company to put their logo on it.

Q: After last year’s ride above the Stampede you were arrested and charged. Do you have plans to avoid that this year? 

Last year I knew I was going to get in trouble for it and there’s no way to get a permit for it. I decided that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. This time there are ways to do it legally. People have done it before. The American space program did it and then the Russian space program did it. A guy in New Jersey tried it. He died. Red Bull and Google have done it successfully. And now All Clean Natural is about to do it. 

Q: Are you concerned about the safety risks, even potentially the risk of serious injury or death? 

The most dangerous part is the suit depressurizing when I’m up in the atmosphere. I’m going to be up in the vacuum of space. If that happens I die in seven seconds. I also can’t send out a control when I’m free falling [back down]. I’ll be going faster than the speed of sound so if I start to go into a spin or something, there’s no way to stop it. We’re working on how to prevent that.

There’s definitely a bit of a safety risk. We’re doing everything we can to downgrade the risk but there’s a risk to everything. You could get hit by a car tomorrow. I’d regret my life more if I didn’t do it. 

Q: Were you the kind of child who took risks like this — the one jumping off a roof or climbing the tower nobody else would climb?

I was the kid trying to ride his bike off of his roof, but I never thought I’d ever have an opportunity to do something like this. When we first started All Clean Natural just over a year and a half ago, I was living in my car and I started the whole company with $90. We’re now a $3 million company with 20 employees. With everything that’s happened with the company and then the opportunity during the Stampede last year, you start to get the idea that anything is possible if you commit and just take no for an answer.

Q: How do you deal with people who dismiss you as unrealistic, or even crazy? 

I love seeing that. Most people I tell don’t believe me and I love that, because then you can prove them wrong. I get a kick out of that. I tell people “Hey buddy, guess what I’m going to do. I’m going to strap 120 balloons to a chair and fly over the Stampede.” Then they see it in the paper later.

Q: If you do manage to get into space successfully, what’s next? How do you top that?

We’ll figure that out when we get there. Right now we’re just focused on this one.

The interview has been condensed and edited.