You’re learning to paraglide. Obviously you’re not the kind of person who plays it safe in life. Good for you. Life is short and you want to ride it for what it’s worth. But lets not make it too short. Paragliding can occasionally be deceptively easy. When things go wrong they go wrong really fast. With this is mind here are a few rules for the brand new paragliding pilot, hard learned from my skin-of-the-teeth close calls and those of others:
I. Though shalt not be the first to launch. Experienced pilots love newbies. They have a name for the overly ambitious, green pilots who can’t wait to get off the hill: Wind dummies. It’s sort of like the food tasters medieval kings employed back in the day. If the taster didn’t die, the king ate. If the wind dummy doesn’t get whacked, the other pilots will launch. Don’t be the wind dummy. If more experienced pilots are waiting there is usually a good reason. No one likes to wait for waiting’s sake.
II. Though shalt not be tempted by the camera. You’re up in the air and you can’t wait to let everyone know on the social networks. Who can blame you? It’s exciting and you want to share that rush with your buddies. Flying, however, is a multi-tasking business. Where is the next thermal? Where are the other pilots in relation to me? What’s my wing doing? Am I drifting? What are my landing options right here if I sink out? You’ve got enough balls to juggle. Don’t add another one by bringing a camera up with you. Accrue 50 hours first and then consider it. In the same vein your friend is on the launch or LZ with a camera consider them a siren singing on the rocks. You’re going to swoop too close, push your glide too far, or lose your concentration at the wrong moment so that they can get that perfect shot. They can take pictures, but don’t you play to the camera. You are new. Stick to your flight plan and forget about the lens. You’ll be surprised by the photos later.
III. Though shalt buy your first gear from your instructor. Paragliding is not like handball or Frisbee. It’s an elite sport that costs money. In exchange for what you put in you’re going to have experiences that most people will never have. You’ve paid for the lessons, now pay for the right gear. It might be tempting to look online or ask around for something used to save a few bucks, but buyer beware. Until you have a strong grasp of paragliding you might end up with the wrong gear for your weight and level of experience. Sellers desperate to move old, dodgy equipment will be happy to dump it off on an unwitting buyer such as yourself. I made this mistake and almost took off on a glider that could have ended my life.. way too advanced, way too light on the wing. You’ll have your first instructors name on your card for the rest of your flying career. He or she is part of your team. They’ve guided you from the training hill to the mountain. They’ll be there for you when you need advice as you progress in the sport. Support their business and trust them to set you up with the right gear.
IV. Though shalt trust your gut. “If you head directly, you can make it on a straight glide,” said the local pilot on top of the launch just outside of Rio de Janeiro. He wasn’t flying yet. He was waiting for the day to heat up and become more thermic. I was new and anxious to get off the hill. Enough talking and waiting around! But that LZ sure looked 3x further than my pure glide ratio. “On a straight glide.. no lift? I can make it?” I asked again. “Yes,” he confirmed. So I launched. First. I was half way to the LZ when I had to set up a landing on a thin strip of grass at a train station. The options weren’t good. The landing was worse. My gut said I couldn’t make it. It was right.
V. Though shalt have fun and revel in your newbieness. Whether it’s surfing, snowboarding, or paragliding the most laughs and the brightest eyes seem to be on the beginner waves and bunny hills. A good percentage of the advanced crowd rides with a scowl on their face, quick to poo poo the new guy and downplay his experience as small time. They rode a bigger wave than you, flew higher than you, carved more treacherous runs than you. Don’t let them rain on your parade. They are jealous. It’s the principle of diminishing returns. You’ll never beat the first time and you are embarking on a series of firsts. First time your feet come off the bunny hill, first time you launch from 300, first time off the top, first thermal, first spot on landing, first cloudbase, first XC. Revel in it.
Paragliding is a blast. It’s a sensation like no other. Although it’s not as safe as shuffleboard, it’s a whole lot more fun, and we can minimize our risk by sticking to the fundamentals learned from solid paragliding school and by always erring on the side of caution. Have fun and see you in the sky.