Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Paragliding

Sky’s the limit!

1. IT'S ONE OF the SAFEST AIRBORNE SPORTS

At least 30 lines connect you to the wing, any one of which is strong enough to support your weight. The risk of the wing deforming or collapsing while in flight is rare and usually due to flying in bad weather. If you’re at a sufficient altitude, the reserve ‘chute worn by your glider pilot will guide you safely back to the ground. So, if you thought it was a sport reserved for suicidal maniacs and adrenaline junkies, think again – paragliding is really not as dangerous as it sounds.

2. IT'S MORE COMFY THAN THE CHAIR YOU’RE SITTING ON

Unlike most harness-based activities, the focus is not on a series of uncomfortable straps and crazy clipping devices around your legs, thighs, groin and midsection. Paragliding harnesses connect you to something akin to a lounge chair at the front of the glider (some of which even feature lumbar support). After leaping from the precipice of your choice, the glider inflates and you simply relax and ride your flying lounger wherever the wind takes you, while your experienced pilot does all the work throughout the descent.

The only thing you really need to know is that paragliding is the best way to experience complete airborne euphoria. But, if you want to know more, read on…

3. PILOTS TAKE CONTROL

Pilots have a great deal of control over their gliders. They hold controls in each hand which connect to the trailing edge of the left and right sides of the wing. These are used to steer and adjust speed. The only thing not in the pilot’s control is ascent – that depends on your pilot’s skill (and luck) at finding rising columns of thermal air, which can launch the glider to great distances.

4. IT'S NOT HANG-GLIDING

The major difference between hang-gliding and paragliding is in the wing shape and design. Hang-gliders are solid wing structures (an aluminium frame in a V-shaped wing). Paragliders are soft wing structures, with no internal frame, which once inflated have an elliptical shape. Paragliders have a much slower flying speed which means they’re more forgiving than hang-gliders, and as a result the learning curve is usually less steep for paragliding.

5. IT WAS NAMED BY NASA

NASA helped develop, design and name the paraglider. It was previously known as a sail wing, used in the recovery of lunar capsules. In 1961, a French engineer named Pierre Lemoigne took the first step by cutting strategically placed vents in a parachute which allowed it to ascend into the air and be steered.

6. YOU CAN TAKE A LONG-DISTANCE FLIGHT

Most tandem paraglider flights last between 15 to 25 minutes, depending on weather conditions. But especially skilled pilots can find and exploit thermal columns of rising air and use them to fly their way across the country. The world record for the longest paraglider flight in a straight distance is held by Nevil Hulett of South Africa who flew a distance of for 502.9 kilometres in 2008.

.7. EVEN YOU CAN DO IT!

Anyone who weighs between 20 and 115 kilograms can paraglide with absolutely no experience required. Booking your flight in advance is essential. The operator can then advise what the weather and wind conditions for that date are and make a decision whether to proceed with the booking. Some tour operators will arrange transport for you, while others will provide you with directions to the launch site. Paragliding gear conveniently weighs less than a golf bag when it's all packed up, so you can take it with you mountain-hiking then paraglide down when you’ve had enough. Participants are advised to wear jeans and closed shoes, as well as a jacket, regardless of what time of year it is. The scenery, serenity and adrenalin will most likely leave you wanting more.

A word from paragliding pilot Stephan Kruger

Owner of Fly CT, Stephan represented the South African team at the Red Bull Dolimiten Mann in Austria. He ranked eighth in the South African league in 2012 and finished sixth at the South African National Paragliding Champs in Barberton. Stephan is also an instructor who teaches advanced flying techniques and aerobatic manoeuvres on the tandem paraglider. His personal best distance is 118 km.

What motivated you to make a career and a business out of paragliding?

The absolute desire and freedom to fly and to share the joy of paragliding flight with others. 

Why would you recommend this sport to others?

Paragliding is the closest man will ever come to flying like a bird, and this has always been the dream of mankind. 

How has the sport changed your attitude towards life?

People always say that you should find something that you love and you will not work another day in your life; this is what paragliding has given me.

What can a first-timer expect from their first experience?

You can expect the sheer exhilaration of getting airborne within a few easy steps and truly flying around just like a bird and only relying on the elements. 

What are your personal favourite flying sites and where else in the world have you flown?

My favourite South African site would definitely be Lone Tree Hill in Barberton. I have flown in the Alps in Austria, Italy and Switzerland. 

Where does Fly CT operate from?

We are based in the CBD in Cape Town and mainly operate from Lions Head and Signal Hill. We do also fly from Sir Lowrys Pass, Franschhoek, Hermanus and Porterville. 

Although all safety precautions are in place, things can and have gone wrong. What are the main reasons for tragic outcomes in this sport?

The main reason for tragic outcomes is the inability of pilots to assess the appropriate weather conditions to fly in. Paragliding can be a very safe sport if you choose to fly in safe weather conditions.  

Why makes paragliding addictive?

The fact that when you are flying up there in the sky nothing else matters and for a moment in time you are truly free. 

How much does it cost to fly?

The cost of a tandem paragliding flight is R950 per person per flight.

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