Robert Ambeau can fly.
As the director of balloon operations for the annual Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival in Gonzales, the 71-year-old ballooning expert knows what the world looks like above the clouds.
Even when he’s not planning the festival, he loves to book balloon rides for awestruck passengers. He steers his hot air balloons with the wind. As he flies, he makes mental notes of the wind’s direction at different altitudes so he can maneuver the balloon.
“Everybody in a hot air balloon has a window seat. Remember that,” he says.
He has served as the festival’s director for seven years, but his hot air balloon love story really began about 33 years ago. That was when the Gonzales native first signed up to ride in a hot air balloon. He’d tried motorcycle racing, skydiving and scuba diving, but he longed for a new adventure—hot air balloons.
There was a balloon festival in town, and he worked as part of the crew to help inflate the balloons. But when it eventually came time for him to ride in one, the weather got too bad to fly. He learned of a big festival coming up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so he and a friend bought plane tickets and traveled west. At the festival, he still didn’t get to fly. But he did impulse-buy a used hot air balloon for $5,000.
He took lessons, got his license and started to fly. “I just couldn’t get enough of it,” says Ambeau, who owned a health club back then. “I went every weekend when the weather was good and tried to work it in around my job during the week.”
And all these years later, he still remembers how he felt during his first-ever flight.
“My first flight was a dream come true. It was unbelievable that I had my own balloon and I could start doing my own flights. I started going to as many balloon festivals as I could—in Bend, Oregon; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Naples, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona, and everywhere in between. I still love it. I enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces.”
Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival
Lamar-Dixon Expo Center
$5 tickets; free for children younger than 8
Editor’s note: Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.
This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.