By far the most common question I’ve been asked since learning to paraglide is ‘why the heck would you want to do that?!’ If your answer is, ‘Why the heck not?!’ or ‘FLYING!’, then Alice has a few pointers to get you started.
If you’ve ever had flying dreams, or thought it would be cool to follow a bird, or maybe even be a bird, then paragliding may be the sport for you.
Which One Is Paragliding Again?
First of all, for anyone who isn’t exactly sure what paragliding is, it’s the one with the big curved parachute and a person sitting underneath in a harness. It’s commonly confused with parasailing, in which you’re towed by a boat, or hang-gliding, where you’re lying under a triangular wing. Essentially when you paraglide you’re flying a kite, with yourself attached.
There are a few variations including paramotoring with a back-mounted motor, and speed-flying which requires a smaller wing and sometimes skis. There are also different disciplines, like the Hike and Fly, famously pushed to the limit in the Red Bull X-Alps race.
But fundamentally the magic of paragliding is that you don’t need heavy gear, bulky equipment or fuel, just a harness, a wing, a slope, and a little bit of wind.
Getting Started Paragliding
While this is one of the few things in life you probably shouldn’t teach yourself from YouTube videos, it’s still relatively easy to learn and in about a week you can be flying solo, soaring hundreds of feet above the ground. It’s important you learn from a certified school, as it’s illegal to fly uncertified and also not recommended to be high in the air with no idea of what you’re doing or how to get down.
If you’re not sure if paragliding is for you, book a tandem flight and see what it’s like up there.
Tickets To Fly
There are schools around Australia that can certify you with a SAFA (Sports Aviation Federation of Australia) qualification. A PG2 – which is the lowest level you need to fly solo – will cost you around $2000 and takes around nine days. The levels go up based on experience and time in the air. Once you’re qualified, join a local club to learn from other flyers and make heaps of new friends.
What You Need / What To Wear When Paragliding
Once you have the gear, the flying is free! However it will cost you a fair chunk of money to set yourself up.
- A wing – wing models are based on your skill level, so ask your instructor or qualified friends for advice. You can buy second-hand wings from around $1000, and as you get more qualified the wings get fancier (and pricier).
- A harness – the backpack part which attaches you to the wing, costs a few hundred dollars second-hand.
- A reserve – hopefully you never have to use it, but you should always carry an emergency parachute.
- A helmet
- Hiking boots with ankle support (or specialised flying boots)
- Long-sleeved tops and long pants – for sun protection in case you decide to spend hours up there, and in case you make an unplanned landing in trees or spiky bushes.
Optional (but recommended):
- Variometer or altimeter (to tell you how high you are)
But why the heck would you want to do that?
Paragliding is easy to pick up, and opens up a whole world of adventures. Whether you want to follow sea eagles up into the sky, traverse whole mountain ranges, ‘vol bivouac’ aka fly and camp in places with no one else around, or speed fly down a valley in New Zealand, there’s plenty of reasons to give it a crack. The longest time someone has floated in the air is around 11 hours, and the distance record is over 560km. Oh, and the oldest flyer? 104 years old. So you’re never too old to learn.
It really is open to anyone, no matter your age or abilities. Just check out Jezza Williams, a C5 tetraplegic sailing high over New Zealand in the short-film LIMITLESS. Be warned though: once you see Jezza’s stoke and the magic of flying, you’ll want to dish out the cash and learn to fly straight away.
I was inspired to start paragliding by a beautiful YouTube video featuring Jean Baptiste Chandelier, and to be honest I was a little nervous about my flying abilities. But a few weeks later, after some excellent mentoring from Poliglide in northern NSW, I’ve now answered that question.
Why the heck would you paraglide?
Because it’s a way to experience the world in a totally new way, to find the peace and quiet that maybe only exists on the way to the clouds, and to realise that anything’s possible, even flying.