Paragliding is great in that it is both a winter and summer sport and relatively easy to master. It is also deceptively simple which is why you might wonder why it is classified as an extreme sport? However, the air is not our natural playing field – when we take ourselves out of our own environment, we take ourselves into an extreme playground where ground rules need to be applied.
The beauty about paragliding is that it is relatively simple. You have a non-motorized inflatable wing which you launch manually. The equipment is easy to transport, easy to launch, and easy to land. Paragliders have been flown off almost every major peak in the United States and Europe, even Everest has seen the successful launch of a paraglider or two. It is a sport where you can truly soar like a bird in peace and tranquility.
As far a free flight goes – it must be the most sublime
For maximum comfort the pilot sits in a harness and manipulates the wing to soar upwards on currents of air. It is possible to say aloft for hours and hours, climb to elevations of 15,000 ft and travel vast distances cross-country. The record for staying aloft is 11 hours and the distance record is 300 kms so I am not exaggerating.
As with kite and wind surfing, paragliding is reliant on what nature provides, but since launch sites are always off the side of mountains or high level plateau paragliders are able to take advantage of the thermals created by the environment that they are in.
It is advisable to receive instruction from a certified professional and use safe equipment – professional schools create as controlled a learning environment as possible, but ultimately everything you do will be down to your own intelligence and judgement.
Your first experience of paragliding will be a tandem introductory flight. From that you will, in the same day, move on to low level flying, but within two days you should progress to higher flights. The basic techniques are launching, turning and landing and these are pretty easy to learn – though not necessarily without mishap!
However, if, after your introductory course, you are keen to continue the lessons then the next step is to enroll in a Novice Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc. It is best to complete the Novice Course in a concentrated period of time and one of the most important thing to remember is to be able to think clearly and to listen well…
The Novice Course generally takes 7 days and in which you will complete a minimum of 25 flights. During the course, you will complete the USHGA-mandated amount of ground-school time, flights, and flying days, and will learn about high altitude flight, advanced manoeuvres and reserve parachute deployment.
I’ve said this once, but will repeat it at the risk being a bore… it is best to complete the Novice Course in a concentrated period of time!
It is also worth bearing in mind that the speed with which you can learn this sport can also mask the fact that, as with all extreme sports, there is an inherent danger involved and it is extremely important that you always treat this sport with respect and never ever ever forgo the safety aspects. There is no room for ego and certainly no room for short-cuts.
Your pre-flight is always of paramount importance – never rush your take-off. Make sure you have done your research on the flying site and on the weather forecasts for that day. Carry out pre-flight checks. Ultimately it is your life at stake – no-one else’s, so get into the habit, right from the start, of doing a pre-flight each and every time you fly and do it with the intent of finding something wrong rather than merely for just the routine of doing it. Always expect the unexpected. If you are only anticipating the obvious possible accident you will be taken by surprise at how the smallest thing can create an accident.
A great paragliding saying is: Launching is optional, landing is MANDATORY! You can always abort a take-off, but you have no choice when it comes to landing.
Another excellent saying is: It is better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air rather than in the air, wishing you were on the ground!
And I’ll leave with you one final word of advice: Eliminate ‘maybe’ and ‘probably’ from your paragliding vocabulary and from your way of thinking!