What is Paragliding?
Paragliding is the closest you may come to experiencing what it feels like to fly. Paragliders take off running from the ground, usually from the top of a slope, and capture the wind in their canopy, which is connected to a seat like harness. Gliders swerve their body weight and use the brake handles and speed bar to control their direction and velocity. Unlike hang gliding, riders get a gentle, floaty ride in a seated harness where you can soak in the view as you soar.
Paragliding got its start in the 1960s, when Domina Jalbert invented a special kind of rectangular chute called a parafoil, how paragliding got its name. The parafoil was broken up into cells that allowed the wind to pass through and carry someone a long distance, allowing a glide. It was formalized as a sport after 1978 when three friends in France took off from a mountain and captured popular interest. Paragliding continued to grow in popularity, spreading throughout Europe and to the United States till there were a number of competitions taking root in the 90s.
Paragliders usually launch from elevated ground like a hill or a mountain, or in naturally windy places like valleys or large bodies of water. You should have an open area free of obstacles like telephone poles or excessive trees, with sufficient wind to raise your paraglider. Knowing how to maneuver in the right wind conditions is key to successfully paragliding. Ridge lifts, thermal air columns, and wave lifts are the main type of wind forces keeping the paraglider aloft. Under the right conditions, paragliders can soar for hours at a time.
The paragliding canopy may look huge in the air, but the fabric is frameless and folds easily into a backpack. The lightweight design allows you to glide long distances. The harness is usually shaped like a seat, with a reserve parachute and sometimes an airbag for extra protection in case of an accident. A radio or phone is important for communication, and it's recommended to take a compass or GPS for directions.
Here is the essential paragliding equipment you should have:
- Brake lines
- Paragliding Canopy
- Speed bar
The goal of most paragliding sessions is to use your piloting skills to stay aloft for as long as you want, enjoying the ride and soaking in a beautiful view. Some more experienced paragliders enjoy long-distance glides, where people can glide for hours and miles on end. Others might enjoy short downhill speed competitions or competitions based on acrobatics or landing accuracy on a target.
Rules and RegulationsMany competitions and flight parks have their own specific rules to follow. Still, there are universal safety rules and regulations that all paragliders should take seriously, such as knowing the right of way and how to launch and land properly. The rules of where you can and cannot paraglide is essential before you set out gliding. Overall, you should always check your equipment beforehand, take care to give other gliders sufficient space, and stay out of commercial flight paths and developed areas.
Here are the most important paragliding rules you should know:
- Never paraglide in commercial plane flight paths.
- Always lay out your parachute correctly, making sure no lines are tangled before you take off.
- Reversing turns should be made into the wind.
- Don't paraglide in developed areas where you may crash into telephone poles, buildings, etc.
- Do not fly directly above or below another paraglider.
- Gliders should give way to the right when approaching head on.
After they've identified proper wind or thermal lift, paragliders start by properly laying out their canopy on the ground and walking forward into the wind. They use kiting skills with the brakes and handling lines to properly take off and land. Beginners start with sled rides, a short glide from the top to the bottom of a hill, to learn how to launch and properly kite. More advanced paragliders might focus on acrobatics or going long distances in cross country gliding by reading their environment for proper thermal spots and wind lifts.
Here are the most important paragliding strategies you should know:
- Thermal flying
- Speed flying
- Cross country flying
Here is the common lingo and slang in paragliding:
- Glass-off: A nice, smooth takeoff where the winds hit just right.
- Speck out: Climbing to an altitude so high that the paraglider looks like a little speck in the sky.
- Thermals: Hot air that rises from the ground and lifts the paraglider. It can occur over asphalt parking lots, hot stone, etc.
- Ridge Lift: Wind brushing towards a mountain or hill, blowing against them and upward.
- Wave Lift: Wind blowing against the mountain downwind.
- Kiting: Term for inflating and controlling the canopy in the wind.
- Bounce: A rough, bumpy landing on the ground.
- Sled ride: A short glide from the top to the bottom of a hill, often used to train beginners.
- Honking: Extremely gusty wind conditions.
Paragliding has attracted many skilled athletes known to be tough, daring, and adventurous. Cross country gliders have excellent endurance skills and a deep knowledge and love of the environment. From cross country champions like Joachim Oberhauser and Meryl Delferriere to accuracy champions like Soyoung Cho or Yong Wu, paragliders have made a name for themselves in the airsports community.
Here are the most famous paragliders you should know:
- Joachim Oberhauser
- Meryl Delferriere
- Soyoung Cho
- Wong Yu
Paragliding leagues and organizations support the gliding community worldwide with fun competitions and events. The FAI is the organization that oversees the broader, international gliding community. Paragliding is generally most prevalent in Europe, although it's growing in popularity everywhere.
Here are the most popular paragliding leagues you should know:
- Federation of Aeronautic International (FAI)
- Paragliding XC League
- US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA)
- British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association
- Sports Aviation Federation of Australia (SAFA)
Events and Competitions
Some paragliding events focus on the sake of experience, while others are races or acrobatic competitions. The cross competition, where gliders race across the country miles at a time, is the most well known and widespread type of race. Some might even occur over days, where gliders travel across entire countries or states to the finish line. Others are focused on shorter distance races, where gliders launch from the top of a hill or mountain to see who can descend the fastest.
Here are the most popular tournaments in Paragliding:
- FAI Paragliding Championship of Columbia: Held in the Corillera mountain range, Columbia's FAI Paragliding Championship is perhaps the most exciting race there is, with over 100 of the best paragliders participating annually.
- Red Bull X Alps: An exciting cross country race where paragliders hike and glide across the alps.
- British Club Challenge: A friendly, casual competition with team based flying, where all from beginners to pros are welcome to join.
- Ali Dagen Open: The Ali Dagen of Turkey is one of the most scenic cross country events for paragliders, with the beautiful backdrop of Mount Ali.
- Tenerife Open: The Tenerife Open of Spain is part race and part festival, with a number of competitions and lively attractions each year.