- Sports and Recreation
How to Paraglide — An Infographic
When I first contemplated creating an infographic about How To Paraglide, I wanted to design something simple that showed the awesomeness of the sport — because paragliding has awesomeness.
When you’re looking up at launch from the landing field getting ready to drive up, you feel the excitement build. As you stand on the top of the hill unpacking your glider while looking out and feeling the wind in your face, the adrenaline kicks in. Getting into the harness and completing the safety checks, you become hyper focused. You pull the glider off the ground to inflate it; you feel the wind and how much lift it potentially has; you’re perfectly in the moment. At this point your tax returns and cheating girlfriend won't enter into your thoughts once.
A Few Wise Words
My wife and I learned to paraglide in Spain with an instructor that insisted that 'paragliding is a decision-making sport’. And above all, it is. You are responsible for the condition of the glider. You are responsible for the condition of your harness and your reserve, for correctly and safely connecting everything together. You are responsible for the final decision about the wind and weather conditions — and whether you are in the right frame of mind to take that leap off an extremely high hill or mountain and competently fly a glider safely back to the ground. You are also solely responsible for that decision to stay up in the air and continue to fly depending on the weather conditions up above launch.
A common saying in the paragliding world is — ‘it's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air and wishing you were on the ground'. From experience, this is very true!
That caveat stated, here's the infographic...
Before I go into detail, I want to tell you that paragliding is exceptionally easy. On a good day when the air is smooth, you can take your hands of the controls and fly perfectly well just by leaning side-to-side. But although it might very well be easy to paraglide… taking off and landing are not! I've only ever injured myself taking off and landing. I've never injured myself in the air!
So how to paraglide…
— Laying and Checking
Preparation prevents… death! When you’re at the top of the hill looking out across the expanse of sky that you're hoping to soon be flying through and you think it’s looking good — you can unpack. Start with the paraglider canopy laid upside down so that when you pull it up, it rises above your head and points in the direction you want to fly (this is important, although so is everything else)! Untangle and stretch out the lines that will (soon) connect your canopy to the harness, again in the Direction of flight, and scan your eyes along each line to make sure there are no twists or knots. Generally there will be some tangles and turns which require you to run your fingers through and untwist them.
When you’re all straight and true you can connect them to your harness, which again is pointing in the direction you would like to fly (and I have seen some numpties connect it backwards!). When all this is completed and you feel the wind and weather are right, clip yourself into your harness, but not before wearing a helmet. When you're all safe and secure and you’ve checked every clip and connection, it's time to inflate the Glider.
First, gather one side of the lines and ‘duck’ underneath them so that you now face the canopy with your back to launch. Are you excited yet?
— Skill over Enthusiasm
Inflating the glider takes practice. Hours and hours of ground handling — that’s bringing your glider above your head and balancing it within the safety of a flat Field — hone these skills that allow you to control your glider safely. There are a number of ways to do this, but put simply, you take the lines and pull them towards you to open the front end of the canopy to begin the inflation process. If the wind is right you'll feel a pull as the glider wants to lift into the air and fly. Again… control it!
Next you’ll step back using your body weight, which is now connected directly through the lines to the canopy. This pulls the glider sharply into the air and makes it fly above your head. It's very important to control the glider’s speed. The glider wants to fly, but as you're facing backwards you don't want it to! It happens; it's difficult. So you now have, ideally, a glider perfectly balanced and flying above your head, and completely under control. This is the ideal opportunity to look up and check the canopy has inflated properly and there is no debris inside the cells. Check all your lines are straight and untangled and connected to the relevant parts of the glider. It's not uncommon to see sticks tangled in the lines at this point. It's not impossible to fly with sticks in your lines, but… neither is it sensible.
When you're ready, turn your body around 180 degrees to face launch. Regain that full control.
— Timing is Everything
Launching is critical if you want to fly, which of course you do, and launching at the right time is crucial. Many times I've jumped off the hill just as thermal has dribbled past in the guise of a sea breeze. You then end up in the sinking air that falls down behind it and have a very short flight from the top to the bottom of the hill. Ideally, your highly tuned spidey senses will notice the difference between prevailing wind and a thermal creeping up the hill, so you’ll hopefully jump straight into the front of good, rising air and go straight up. The more height you can gain straight from launch, the more successful your flight is going to be.
You’ve decided that you’re launching and the glider’s nicely balanced above your head. Bend your knees so you can gain traction (in opposition to the lift of the glider), and lean forwards to allow forward motion opposed to the gliders drag, all while still keeping balance and control. When you're ready to launch, run as fast as you can towards the edge of the hill (which won’t be that fast). Keep the glider flying directly above your head and fully inflated. If all is well — or should I say, ‘if your proper planning has resulted in a perfect combination of timing, control, and piloting skill’, you’ll get to the slope of the hill and feel the glider pull you into the air.
You’ve pretty much passed the point of no return! Now’s the time to check lines and canopy are still all correct. And by now you’ll also know if you’ve failed to secure your harness correctly as you’ll be dangling out of it screaming (and sadly, it has been known to happen, without happy ending!).
All good? Then fly away from the danger of the hill and let another pilot launch.
— Simply Magnificent
Soaring really is about riding the lifting air that’s being pushed (or sucked, to be exact) up the hill. It’s not about thermals, although they get into the mix. There's a band of lift above and out from launch, and when you’re in the best part of this lift, other pilots will notice and come to join; you’ll be doing the same when you notice others higher than you. For this reason, you often end up with people bunched up in this good lift and you have to follow the rules of the air (and a good deal of common sense) not to collide.
And this is what you came for: to fly like a bird, soaring the crest of a beautiful, green hill or navigating the complex lift of a craggy, untouched rock face. In either situation, you’re now using all of your accumulated skill and experience to dance on the subtle ebbs and flows of the wind as it courses over the land like water in a stream. It really is the closest thing to being a bird you’ll ever encounter.
What often happens now, if the conditions are good, is you’ll be able to hop from this ‘dynamic lift’ into some rising thermals. When you get into a good thermal and gain more height you repeat the process and hop over into another rising thermal. This is what can be termed ‘cross country’. I’ve travelled over 50 kms using this process, a journey that took about 5 hours and only ended when I was desperate for a pee. But for now, we’ll just consider ridge soaring.
In an ideal world you’ll have had all the flying you want before the lifting air either drops off or grows to the point where you struggle to move forward and descend — going backwards while facing forwards is very disconcerting. Also, in this ideal world, you’ll be able to land back on the top where you launched from, but lets consider you’re landing down at the bottom, in a nice, planned landing field.
— What Goes Up...
Descending is all about moving the glider out of lifting air, whether it be the dynamic lift from the ridge, or a huge, fast moving thermal. But there are techniques for descending when you can’t get away from the lift — such as tight spiral turns, swing turns, and collapsing the outer parts of your glider. These methods all allow you to descend when you can’t find the still or sinking air. Once you’re out of the lift it’s all about finishing your flight in the right place; a safe place — like a big open field and not a large forest of trees.
— Time IS of the Essence
Deciding where you’re going to land is paramount to completing a safe afternoon of flying. When you get closer to your landing field you need to choose which parts looks safe and have the least obstacles. Obstacles can include trees, houses, power lines, people, cricket matches, football games, open water, and sometimes wells covered by long grass. You might now have to make some astute decisions concerning your speed and how much height the glider is losing compared to how far away your safe landing is. If you’re losing height too fast and not going to make the landing field you need to make some snappy decisions about where to go next. As soon as you can see wind indicators such as tree movement, wind lines on water, or ideally a windsock, you can start to line up into wind and picture your perfect approach path.
— How Hard Can This Be!!!
Preparation, at this point, is getting ready to land safely when landing is imminent — although on more than one occasion I’ve accidentally hit a thermal and gone right back up to my original height.
The first thing to do is slide out of your harness. The last thing you want to do is to hit sinking air and meet the ground in a sitting position (which I’ve also done and it hurts). Keep your glider speed maintained — you’ll need it when it comes to landing. Make sure you have a good grip on the brake lines and have taken up slack. Keeping up the speed and being able to complete a full flare using the brakes will give you the stopping power you might need… depending on the conditions you’re about to encounter (often a little changeable and gusty).
— A Perfect End to a Perfect Day
Landing is all about meeting the ground without creating any injuries or incidents — be they speed related (forwards or downwards) or accident related like twisting your knee or your ankle. At about your own (body) height off the ground you’ll want to flare the canopy. This should steadily stop the glider in it’s tracks and hopefully ‘pop’ you down onto the ground in one graceful motion. Or it might just bleed off enough speed to allow a sprint with the glider before stumbling and rolling through cow manure. Either way, you’ve landed (woohoo). Ideally though, the glider is still being controlled above your head.
You need to bring the glider to the ground so both you and the (expensive) glider are unharmed. Turn to face the glider — the reverse of what you did when you launched — and pull down on the break lines again so that the glider falls backwards, but gently, to the ground. And now is definitely the time to check for dangers… bulls curious about your big, red paraglider, or those cricket balls followed by irate men in white linen that we mentioned earlier.
All still good? Then unclip the harness, take off your helmet, stretch out your body, and look to see who landed before you and who’s still having a good time flying. But more importantly, smile and congratulate yourself on that perfect sky-ballet you’ve just been a part off that was you soaring through the sky in magnificent harmony with nature — with simply the help of a beautifully constructed flying machine that packs down into a moderately sized backpack. Wonderful!