Paragliding has to be one of the most exhilarating outdoor adventure sports you can participate in. If you’re ever travelling in an area which is full of mountains cliffs or steep hills, you’ll have probably gazed up in awe at the sky above having spotted a paraglider in action and thought, “I wish I was up there”.
What is Paragliding?
It works on the same principle as parachuting, although the canopy is designed differently and it’s a similar sport to hang gliding – the main differences being that a hang glider has a rigid, wing-shaped frame and the pilot flies it in a prone position whereas a paraglider relies on a canopy which is maintained simply by air pressure and the pilot usually flies it in a sitting position. Because of its aerodynamics, a hang glider is capable of faster speeds but paragliders benefit from the fact that they’re more portable and easy to carry around.
Ascending air currents are used to propel you and it is a marvellous sensation to just feel yourself drifting along wherever the wind blows amidst the silent peace of the sky, gazing down at the landscape beneath you.
Whilst the majority of paragliding takes place on hills and mountains, it’s not restricted to being a sport which requires high altitude to jump off from. Some paragliders opt to be towed from the flat whereby an engine driven winch enables them to get airborne and this and other variations of the sport are discussed in another article.
Whilst many paragliders simply take up the sport as a relaxing yet exhilarating pastime, there are others who compete both here in the UK and even further afield.
How do I get Started?
The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association offers courses all over the UK and their website can direct you to a school near you. A full course lasts for about 10 days and consists of both classroom theory and practical experience. You’ll be taught how to control your speed, how to steer the paraglider and all about ground handling. Other necessary theory classes include basic air law and flight theory, along with meteorology.
An instructor will accompany you on your flights whilst you are training. Once he is satisfied that you have understood and demonstrated both your practical and theoretical knowledge sufficiently, you will be given a BHPA Club Pilot Rating which will allow you to fly within a club environment. Once you become a club member, you’ll still benefit from the knowledge and support from more experienced pilots.
Can Anyone do it?
Providing that you are in reasonably good health and you have good co-ordination and an alert mind, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to take up paragliding. There is also an initiative which encourages people with disabilities to take up the sport so it is open to everybody.
As for age restrictions, you need to be over 14 to operate a paraglider and over 16 for a hang glider so even teenagers can take to the skies.
Is it Costly?
As you might imagine, paragliding is not a cheap sport to take up in its initial stages. A training course to get you to the stage whereby you are certified to fly your own canopy within a club costs from around £900 and the cost of a new paraglider can be anything from £2000, although you can look at buying second hand. There are also helmets, boots, harnesses and flight suits to consider and, later on, you may also wish to purchase instruments and other accessories such as radios, headsets and windspeed indicators so it is not a cheap sport, although a training school will provide you with all the necessary equipment including the paraglider itself, whilst you’re training and offer you advice on the kinds of items you might wish to consider purchasing in addition to the necessities.