About Us

Balloon Photo Gallery

Our Story
"A legacy of excellence!"

In 1978, ten days after taking his first balloon ride for his 33rd birthday, Don Surplus, pilot and company founder, purchased a hot air balloon with four of his friends. Together, these newfound converts started a flying club they named The Yountville Aerostat Society which later became Napa Valley Balloons.

There were approximately 400 balloons in America at that time, making hot air ballooning a very unique and curious sight in the Napa Valley. The almost magical allure of watching a hot air balloon touch ground attracted countless people, many of them bent on using any means imaginable to convince a pilot to take them for a flight. It wasn't long before Napa Valley Balloons took on a life of its own.

In 1980, after incorporating the business, a small team of pilots began offering commercial flights to wine country travelers looking to explore Napa Valley from above. As Napa Valley grew in popularity and became world-renowned for its fine wines and culinary excellence, so too did the love affair with hot air ballooning. Under the leadership of Don Surplus and his business partner Kim Kleist, Napa Valley Balloons thrived for decades. Thanks to the hard work of our dedicated pilots and crew, more people are now flown in Napa Valley than any other flight corridor in the world.

After Don’s retirement in 2007, Kim took on a new partner, Gabe Gundling. As a young boy, Gabe never grew tired of watching hot air balloons land in the unplanted farmland surrounding his family’s Napa Valley home. His ballooning career began in 2003 as a member of Napa Valley Balloons chase crew and rose through the ranks to the position of Pilot and eventually owner of Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. With Kim as the wise and patient mentor, and Gabe’s youthful enthusiasm, Napa Valley Balloons grew to become the largest balloon ride company in the country. Kim retired in 2014.

Today Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. is regarded as one of the premier hot air balloon companies in the world. Armed with a love for ballooning, an entrepreneurial spirit and an incredible team of dedicated staff, the future at Napa Valley Balloons is bright.

Meet the Crew

Meet Our Staff
You're in good hands!

Bob Swanson

Bob Swanson
Pilot

Bob Swanson has been a commercial hot air balloon pilot for 39 years and has logged over 9,100 hours of flight time. He considers himself fortunate to have flown throughout the western United States, Austria, Italy, France, Turkey and the Swiss Alps.

Mike Eakins

Mike Eakins
Pilot

As a former World Champion skydiver turned balloonist, Mike Eakins brings a unique level of experience to piloting that is unmatched in the industry. Mike has logged over 3,000 hours of flight time and feels completely at home in the skies over Napa Valley.

Chris Jones

Chris Jones
Pilot

Chris Jones has flown on three continents during his career, including participation in major balloon festivals at home and abroad. Chris has flown in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Switzerland and many of North America's major destination, but, in his opinion, "nothing beats Napa Valley."

Chad Eckerman

Chad Eckerman
Pilot

As a young child, Chad Eckerman's love for all things aviation was ignited by his father, a retired Navy pilot and flight instructor. His love for ballooning is contagious. If you're in need of some inspiration, one flight with Chad will teach you that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.

Russ James

Russ James
Pilot

Russ James' childhood dream of learning to fly a hot air balloon became a reality in 1991. As a commercial hot air balloon pilot, Russ has flown in almost every major aviation destination in the western United States. His passion for ballooning is deep-rooted and he considers himself fortunate to spend thousands of hours in his favorite place…the sky.

Shane Robinson

Shane Robinson
Pilot

Shane has been ballooning since 1989. As a commercially certified balloon pilot, he's flown in 44 States, throughout Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, and much of SE Asia. After thousands of flights in all types of balloons, Shane has a level of experience and knowledge that is unmatched in the industry.

Daniel Claudon

Daniel Claudon
Pilot

Daniel started his ballooning career in 1987 flying hot air balloons above the Napa Valley. Since then he has flown in Canada, various places on the African continent including Egypt and many wonderful years living his dream of flying over the wildlife of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. While in Tanzania, Daniel served as the chief pilot for Serengeti Balloon Safaris until his return to North American ballooning. Since his return, Daniel has flown extensively in both Sonoma and Napa Counties.

our Fleet

Our Balloons
"American made and best in class!"

We fly Cameron Balloons made in the USA

Our Hot Air Balloons

Our state-of-the-art FAA certified hot air balloons are AMERICAN MADE. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cameron Balloons U.S is considered to be the top U.S. manufacturer of hot air balloons. Using industry leading materials, Cameron designs balloons that are comfortable, durable and outperform those of competitors. In recent years foreign manufactures have entered the US market offering less expensive alternatives, but at Napa Valley Balloons our experienced pilots have flown them all and the difference is clear. In the end, we choose to spend a little more for the absolute best, providing guests with the comfort of knowing they are flying in the best balloons money can buy.

While our standard basket size is 16 guests, our hot air balloons vary in size and the largest can hold up to 20. Our baskets are compartmentalized to maximize space, comfort and safety for each guest. Each basket is individually hand woven rattan into a rigid frame making them both light weight and extremely durable. The balloon envelope is typically constructed using fire-treated nylon and a highly durable fire-treated fabric called Hyperlast. While these materials are lightweight, their structural integrity is incredibly strong.