Paragliding Frequently Asked Questions

Paragliding is a fairly magical activity. There are a lot of questions that first timers and long timers have. It is normal, as paragliding is such a dynamic activity that occurs in such a dynamic environment. The atmosphere is often not understood very well by those who do not study and experience it on a regular basis, and the equipment is rather exciting to touch and see. Here is a paragliding FAQ list that tries to answer some of the basic questions that people have.

Teaching paragliding
South Side morning paragliding
Paragliding FAQ 3

Frequently Asked Questions

What is paragliding and how is it different from hang gliding or skydiving or BASE jumping?

Paragliding is best described as flying a glider off of a hill. Paragliders are non-rigid and consist of a fabric canopy attached to a harness with a set of lines. Hang gliders are a rigid triangle with a frame. Parachutes, used in skydiving and BASE jumping, are designed to open in freefall. Paragliders are designed to be opened on the ground, then flown away. Some people try to position their glider in rising air in order to maintain or gain altitude and stay aloft for more time. Other people like to simply fly from the top to the bottom.

What is it called when there is a fan on the back?

That is called paramotoring. Paramotoring can be a great activity in the flatlands or in very calm conditions.

What can I expect for my first lesson?

That is very dependent on conditions and how quickly a student can learn. Often during perfect conditions, we start with some ground handling to see how touching a paraglider feels. If a student feels like a tandem flight is the next best course of action, we may go for a tandem. Usually, if conditions are right and the student wants to, we go to the very bottom of the training hill to do some very short, small runs. Occasionally these runs at the bottom of the hill turn into very small flights, even on the first day of instruction.

What are the strength requirements? Surely your arms must get tired from holding on for so long

Paraglider pilots tend to simply rest their arms on the brake lines. Only a few pounds of pressure is needed in order to turn a glider. However, inflation and landing require the most athleticism. Generally, anybody who can jog on a hiking trail and jump off a picnic table are capable of paragliding. Inflating a paraglider requires a burst of energy, and if landing in variable conditions, might require some shock absorption by the legs.

How old do I have to be to fly?

Anybody of any age who can clearly say “I want to go fly” can do a tandem flight. Copilots from 3 up to the age of 89 have been witnessed at Point of the Mountain, but there are younger and older copilots out there in the world.

How long does it take to learn?

Similar to any life-long pursuit, it takes the whole time to learn. Some people make an analogy to hitting a golf-ball, skiing, sailing, or riding a bike. However, most people report that they feel like they can fly comfortable by themselves with the guidance of a friend after approximately 3-4 weeks of training.

How much does it cost?

It depends. Some pilots have purchased houses as close to the flying site as possible and bought their vehicles around how many friends they can drive up to a launch site on a dirt road. The initial plunge runs most students about $7-8k for all of their lessons and equipment. After that, the only cost is time and energy to get to suitable flying sites.

Is it scary? I am afraid of heights

Like any sort of motion, it can be scary if done inappropriately. On tandem flights, passengers are often asked if they like roller coasters and thrills. If they do, that can be arranged mid-flight. If they do not and they prefer gentle turns, that will be respected. The harness that pilots wear is made to feel like a chair, and most people report that they did not feel like they were falling at all. The goal in paragliding is to keep everything really smooth and everybody happy.

Is paragliding dangerous?

Yes. Humans were not meant to fly and any allusions to paragliding being not dangerous are false. However, incidents are the exception to the norm and there are hundreds of pilots who spend their entire flying career without any major injuries. Just like driving, taking proper precautions and paying attention and thinking ahead can prevent the vast majority of incidents.

Do you need a lot of wind for paragliding?

We need just the right amount. Paragliders take advantage of the best weather conditions available and micro-meteorology. Clear sunny days with about 10mph of wind seem to work the best.

Do the lines ever get tangled up?

The lines of a paraglider tend to not get very tangled up. They are fixed at each end, so they cannot tie themselves in knots the way head phones in a pocket can. However, they can sometimes get a little bit twisted up, and after about five minutes, they are back to normal.

What does it mean to be Pilot In Command?

This answer is best left to the individual to develop on a daily basis. Being in command of a craft requires knowledge of how to operate it as well as knowledge of when and where to operate it. Continually seeking out knowledge and applying it in an appropriate and confident manner is one of the best traits a Pilot In Command can have. Executing decisions quickly and confidently which show forethought and responsibility for actions is another important trait for a PIC mentality.

What is a sled ride? What’s the difference between that and speedflying?

A sled ride is one of the simplest paraglider flights. It is from the top to the bottom. Sled rides are great for practicing spot landings, learning to launch and land, and make simple turns in gentle conditions. Speed flying is kind of the same, but generally with an emphasis on getting down the mountain in a hurry. The line between the two is incredibly blurry and can change depending on the pilot. Usually the difference between a speed flight and a sled ride is best described as “you know it when you see it”

What does it mean to be “heavy” or “light” on a glider?

Paragliders are certified within a certain weight range. If a pilot and all of his or her equipment falls at the lower end of the weight range, they are flying “light” on the glider. The glider will have a lower sink rate, be more prone to deflation, but the deflations are less exciting. On the other end of the spectrum, flying at the higher end of the weight range tends to make everything faster and more dramatic. Flying heavy tends to make a glider less prone to deflation, but when they do happen, it is more dramatic and exciting.

Which is better? Hang gliding or paragliding?

Both are excellent. They are both different tools for different jobs. It is very hard to beat the convenience of a paraglider. Hang gliders can fly in a greater range of conditions than paragliders, but take more time to set up and take down.