The Sport: What’s it all about?

Nova MentorA paraglider may look vaguely like a parachute but probably has more in common with the hang glider. Using modern high strength materials a canopy only weights about 5kg and packs neatly into a rucksack. This makes this “aeroplane in a bag” totally portable and complements other sports such as skiing and mountaineering.

The paraglider wing is an inflatable structure. It consists of a row of tubes open at the front and closed at the back joined together side by side. The wing moving through the air keeps these tubes (or cells to give their correct name) inflated. The air goes in the front but can’t get out the back. These cells are cut into the same cross sectional shape as an aeroplane wing and it is this “aerofoil” section that provides the lift to our wings. The pilot is supported underneath the wing from a web of lines, each one with the strength to support the pilot alone. These lines are then attached to risers, a strap like device that is then itself attached to the pilots harness. The harnesses we use look like a bucket seat taken from a racing car.  These incredibly comfortable harnesses come with back protection systems to protect the pilot from unplanned hard landings, built in reserve parachute systems and all sorts of electronic instrumentation ranging from digital altimeters to global positioning systems. Cross-country flyers can look more like astronauts than paraglider pilots!

The pilot holds in their hands a control handle on each side. A line runs up to the canopy from this handle and pulling the handle changes the shape of the wing.   With these controls you can perform anything from a gentle turn to a screaming spiral dive, slow the wing down for landing or damp out turbulent air. Paragliding wings also come with a foot operated accelerator system that can push up the wings top speed to well in excess of 50kph. We usually fly around at a little more than half this speed.

Thermal flying above Buith Wells, WalesWhat can you do with a Paraglider?

Paragliding isn’t really seasonal, we can fly any time of year as long as the weather is good. We don’t fly in rain and need a maximum wind speed on the hill of around 20mph for training. We also fly in no wind at all as we can provide our own to inflate the canopy simply by running. We are at your service for training almost every day and we tailor the courses around the student’s requirements.

You can do many, many different things with a paraglider. You could hike up a large mountain and use the paraglider to fly back down again. We call this Para Alpinism with Snowdon and Ben Nevis being very popular in this country. Ridge soaring is the most common form of paragliding in Britain. When the wind blows directly onto a ridge or hill, the air is diverted over the top creating a wave of lift. We can soar this wave much like a surfer to stay airborne for hours. After your flight you simply land back on the top of the hill where you took off from. Flight times are often hours in the air and believe it or not, even under training we have had students exceed 3hours airtime in one flight. The ultimate aim for a lot of pilots is to fly cross country using rising thermals of hot air to climb to cloud base and cover great distances over land. The current world record is over 400km.

Thermaling is flying around in circles to stay in the areas of best lift exactly the same way as the birds, mostly buzzards, which you see in this country in the summer. Average good climb rates in this country in the summer are around 400feet per minute although 900 to 1000feet per minute is not unheard off. There is nothing to compare to the buzz you get from banking a glider onto it’s wing tip and firing skywards in a strong, smooth thermal, ground features getting smaller with every turn. All this and more is open to you in the world of paragliding and it is one of the only adventure sports where women can compete on equal terms with men as physical strength is not an issue.

Is paragliding dangerous?

The risks can be kept to a very acceptable level by following some simple rules. If you fly within your abilities, don’t fly in conditions not suitable for paragliding and keep a healthy respect for the sport, you can enjoy an incident free flying career for many years. But saying that, please remember that paragliding is a form of aviation, with all of the inherent and potential dangers involved. No form of aviation is without risk; injuries and death can and do occur in paragliding. Accidents rarely happen during training if the student listens to the instructor and does what is asked. There will always be an element of risk even if we reduce it to an absolute minimum, its part of the sport and must be accepted. The most common form of injury is to the ankle and lower leg. The wearing of purpose built paragliding boots can reduce the risk of these injuries considerably. It is our opinion that the wearing of ANY footwear whatsoever other than that specified increases the risk of injury.

Is paragliding really a sport anyway?

Paragliding is not really a sport. It is a way of life. It defines what you are, how you think, how you choose your friends. When any passion so rules your life, it is natural that you not only think about it non stop, but philosophise about it. And sooner or later start to recognise the stages of your addiction. There is the initial try-out stage: the thrill of your feet leaving the ground for the first time, holding your breath as earth gut wrenchingly drops away from you. Then comes the realisation that you are hanging onto life only by the straps pressing into your thighs. But, as you suddenly experience this same mortality, so do you immediately become aware of life itself, the exhilaration of simply being alive, simply experiencing life to the full. Being completely here and now, intensely in the present moment.

109_0178 copyThe Philosophy, so much more than just a sport. For the first few months, you live to relive that first moment, to see earth opening up underneath and delivering you to a new world of three dimensional freedom. Take off is needed to quench this thirst. Then gradually, maybe sadly, you become used to the feeling of leaving earth on your own wings. Because you lift your eyes off your feet and for the first time, start noticing the new perspective on life beneath them.This is the fourth stage of flying, is probably the most intense, and mother of the 400 km plus distances flown by the current spate of distance mongers. Places flat and arid become paradise. Dust devils become low saves. Threatening clouds point the way to the next out-of-control lift. And suicidal winds now equal mind-blowing ground speeds, the ticket to your first 100, 200, 300 km flights, instant hero status or bitter disappointment. You learn to fly faster, more efficiently, utilising the best part of the day for thermal development, making lightening fast decisions to leave or stay with lift, not wasting time taking the thermal to the top, or suddenly flying conservatively, slowly, as you sense a new weather system settling in, slowing the flying down.You become super tuned to the elements, able to instantly assess conditions for the day soon after leaving launch and climbing away in your first thermal. You can pin point several possible trigger points for lift ahead, adjust your thermaling pattern seconds after entering a new wind layer, mark inversion layer heights without looking at your altimeter, and seemingly instinctively do the right thing to fly longer, faster, higher and further.This to us is the ultimate stage of flying. Where the pilot stands aside, lets his ego pass through and goes on to fly for the pure sake of making it, getting there. Against all odds. Mostly in impossible light conditions, on the most unlikely days, sensing lift where it should not be, using the only thermal of the day, their intuition for flying so finely tuned from years of asking themselves the simple questions: How do I get from here to there in the distance, preferably without walking? And then applying all their senses to the successful completion of this task.The essential element of this stage is easy to recognise: it is the passion to stay airborne, not unlike the will to survive. There is, however, a final qualifier: if no one saw you getting up and making it, if no one realised the sheer impossibility of your flight, would you still feel the soul satisfying pleasure of accomplishment when you land?