Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flying Lessons

Our paragliding lessons have turned out to be a little more challenging and strenuous than we expected. Granted, we didn't have much basis for those expectations.

Kiting is still a challenge, especially in unstable wind conditions. It gets a little better each day, but there are still humorous incidents. When the wind gusts and you don't control it well it's easy to get picked up off the ground.

One time I got picked up, my feet swung forward, I got dropped on my ass, and the glider collapsed on top of me. I felt like a meatball in spaghetti with the lines draped all over me. Thankfully I had someone helping to pull the glider off me without tangling the lines.

Another time I had the glider up kiting for quite a long time but as I maneuvered under it I ended up at the edge of the field with bushes behind me. On top of that I had our 84 year old just to my right with his back to me and totally unaware of me. Another glider was on the ground just to my left. Now what? Of course, the wind picked that moment to gust and I got picked up again but this time with enough force to spin me around. When reverse kiting you face the wing with a twist in the lines. Think of being in a swing twisted around to face the other direction. I landed on my feet this time, managed to spin back around, found the glider starting to drop, brought it back under control and put it down not on top of any people, bushes, or other gliders. It might sound skilled, but it was pretty much pure lucky fluke.

Launching can also be tricky at first. There are a lot of things to think about in that critical first few seconds. Lean forward, keep your arms back, thumbs up, don't pull the brakes, run hard but steady, stay under the glider, steer straight down the hill. Often you lift off the ground but then the glider drops again and you need to go back to running. If you think you've taken off and you're not ready to run again it can be a problem. This happened on one of my early flights. First I got off center and I was worried because I was heading for the bushes, then I lifted off and I thought I was home free. But then the glider dipped and I needed to run again, except my legs were too far back and I was into the bushes. I attempted to run but it very quickly turned into an embarrassing belly flop and the glider came down. For the rest of the day I was picking thorns and thistles out of my clothes!

Turns are also hard to judge at first since you don't know how much to lean or brake. Our usual training flight plan was to go left first and then turn back right across the hill. I wasn't turning back across the hill enough and our instructor was telling me (over the radio) "more right, turn back towards the hill". Of course, then I overdid it, turned too hard, lost a bunch of altitude, and got too close to the hill. As you can imagine this is not a good combination and I realized I better land before I got dragged across the hill. It was across the hill and across the wind, not what beginners are supposed to do (you should land and launch into the wind) but I flared (full brakes) and landed with no problem. I'm sure I gave the instructor a few nervous moments, although I'm sure they've seen it all before.

The gliders fly at about 20 miles per hour so you're not dealing with huge speeds, but it's still faster than you can run, and fast enough that you don't want to run into anything. But if you flare properly with full brakes (which is actually not that difficult) you land quite gently on your feet. (A little headwind helps reduce your speed.)

On the positive side, Shelley tells me she likes it when I screw up because then she doesn't feel like she’s the only one :-)


  1. Not that I want to try this, but can just anyone take up paragliding? Do you have to pass a fitness test before they "take you on"? It's been tons of fun reading you blog these past few weeks. I even want to go back to Vegas! Thanks for a good read.

  2. No fitness test, nor did they ask or warn about fitness. I think you'd find out pretty quick (before anything dangerous) whether you were up for it. Thanks for reading!