What is Paragliding?

What is Paragliding?

So, you want to be a paraglider? Paragliding can be extremely physically, and even mentally, demanding. In order to become a paraglider, you should know the basic fundamentals of paragliding. And the fundamentals of paragliding go well beyond the understanding of the basic question, “What is paragliding?” So, if you are interested in becoming a paraglider, or if you have never heard of paragliding, and would like to know what it is, then check out our list of everything you need to know about paragliding. We answer everything from the basic question of, “What is paragliding” to the more complicated questions like, “How do I know if a location is suitable for paragliding?”

1. What is paragliding?

What is paragliding?
What is paragliding?

If you are unfamiliar with paragliding, then the first question you should want the answer to is, “What is paragliding?” To answer that question, paragliding is the activity of gliding through the air, only being attached to a parachute that resembles a canopy. Paragliders descend from high altitudes, like mountains and cliffs.


2. What is the history of paragliding?

What is the history of paragliding?
What is the history of paragliding?

You may be asking yourself why this is on the list. But, if you are serious about something, then you should know the history of it. Thus, you will have a better understanding of a topic, in this case, paragliding.
It all began in 1952 when Domina Jalbert modified basic gliding parachutes by adding controls and multi-cells to it, thus, there would be more of a lateral glide. Then, in 1961, Pierre Lemoigne designed a type of parachute, which would later lead to the design of the Para-Commander. The Para-Commander had a certain kind of design that allowed it to glide throughout the air and steered. Shortly after, in 1963, David Barish developed a single surfaced wing which was intended for recovery of NASA space capsules. The wing was tested on Hunter Mountain in New York, which shortly led Barish to promote the activity of slope soaring at ski resorts. In 1973, the word paragliding was finally coined when authors Patrick Gilligan and Bertrand Dubuis wrote the first flight manual, called, The Paragliding Manual. Finally, in 1978 friends Jean-Claude Betemps, Andre Bohn, and Gerard Bosson gained inspiration from The Paragliding Manual and decided to test it out. They launched from Pointe du Pertuiset, Mieussy, and flew 1000 meters. Ever since then, paragliding increasingly grew popular, and the equipment greatly developed.


3. Can anybody paraglide?

Can anybody paraglide?
Can anybody paraglide?

Yes! Anybody can try paragliding. But while anyone can paraglide, you should be in physical shape.


4. Do I have to be in shape?

Referring back to the last question, yes you should be in shape. Paragliding can be physically demanding in the sense that you should have good coordination and a lot of strength and stamina. You should also have a pretty good amount of flexibility. Along with being in physical shape, you should be in the best mental state. Mental ‘strength’ is important because you have to be on alert, and you should be able to make quick and reasonable decisions if certain conditions happen while in flight.


5. Is it safe?

Yes and no. While paragliding is safe, it definitely poses some risks. But, the amount of safety that you have while in flight can largely be contributed to how prepared you are and how much knowledge you have about paragliding.


6. What are some of the specific risks?

The specific risks usually depend on the certain area you are planning to paraglide in and the certain weather conditions of that day. But there are a few general risks of paragliding. One largely being the weather. The weather can change almost in the blink of an eye. And the slightest weather change could be a potential threat to you. If the winds are too strong, or they start blowing towards the opposite direction, you could be in a lot of trouble. Also, a storm could endanger you.
Another risk is the possibility of crashing into someone or something. If you are not alert enough, you could possibly crash into something like a tree, a nearby cliff, or even a building. You could also crash into another paraglider or someone on ground level when you attempt to land.
Finally, the last overlying risk is the possibility of equipment malfunction. In flight, there is always the chance that your equipment could become tangled, or you cannot access a certain part of the equipment that you need. Usually, this can be prevented by checking on your equipment right before a flight, but equipment can malfunction during a flight.


7. How can I prepare before paragliding?

There are a ton of ways in which you can prepare before paragliding! To begin, educate yourself with everything about paragliding (this article is a fantastic way to start out)! Once you understand the fundamentals of paragliding, then research the risks of paragliding and how you can prevent it. We actually have an article about how to prevent a paragliding accident, which you should check out. After you understand everything about paragliding, you should check out a good paragliding school. Finally, before you are about to fly, check on your equipment. Create a checklist, and go through it once or twice before you fly. All of these steps will ensure that you have a safe and fun paragliding experience.


8. How high and far can I paraglide?

There are different height and distance restrictions for different locations. But, the general restrictions are that flights cannot exceed 300 miles and 18,000 feet. It should be noted that paragliders usually use an oxygen aid when they fly over 10,000 feet.


9. What equipment do I need to paraglide?

To begin, you are going to need a wing (aka the parachute). While it may seem simple, paragliding wings come in various sizes and shapes. Beginner paragliding wings are typically wide and large. More advanced and competition paragliding wings are typically narrower and slimmer. Thus, as the performance capability of the paragliding wing increases, the safety decreases. When choosing to purchase a paragliding wing, never buy an older performance wing. Although older paragliding wings tend to be cheaper, there is a reason why they are cheaper and older. They are discounted because they are not as safe and well designed as the newer ones. Thus, choose to shell out a few more dollars to ensure your safety.
The next piece of equipment you will need is a paragliding harness. Make sure that your paragliding harness is comfortable, yet has a stiff and extremely stable back. Stay away from harnesses with no back protection or lightweight harnesses. If you really want to ensure your safety, choose a harness with side protection!
While this piece of equipment is not mandatory for beginner paragliders, you should always have one of these with you, no matter what level of paraglider you are. This said piece of equipment is a reserve parachute. If something should ever go wrong with your main wing, then the reserve parachute could save your life. Thus, this piece of equipment is extremely important.
The next piece of equipment you will need is a helmet. While some paragliders choose to use a bike helmet, it is better to use a helmet that is specifically designed for paragliders. This will ensure your safety.
Finally, the last piece of essential equipment is a paragliding variometer. A variometer is a tool used to determine your altitude and the rate of ascent or decent. Thus, this piece of equipment can tell you if you are flying in a thermal and when you are out of a thermal. It can also help you determine when to begin breaking.
Another equipment that could come in handy, but is not necessary are; gloves, a flying suit, a hook knife, boots, and a radio.


10. Do you paraglide by yourself or with others?

It is solely up to you whether you want to paraglide by yourself or with others. Also, there’re two different ways you could take this. You can paraglide, using the same parachute, with another person. You could also paraglide with a bunch of other people, using separate equipment. It all comes down to what you and the other people want to do.


11. Has anybody died from paragliding?

Unfortunately, yes, people have died from paragliding. Although people have died from paragliding, most of the deaths could have been prevented. If you want to learn more about common paragliding accidents and how you can prevent these accidents from happening, check out our article on how to prevent a paragliding accident.


12. How is paragliding different than hang gliding?

There are a few differences between paragliding and hang gliding. One of these differences is the equipment that paragliders and hang gliders use. As we know, paragliders use an air wing. But, hang gliders use an aluminum frame and fiberglass batons. Another huge difference is the speed that paraglider and hangs gliders go. Hang gliders tend to fly much faster than paragliders. Although hang gliders fly much faster than paragliders, paragliding is easier to learn and the equipment set up and break down is much easier for paragliders than hang gliders.


13. Do I need to learn anything before paragliding?

Of course, you need to learn something before paragliding! Like we have previously discussed, you should educate yourself about the history, risks, and safety precautions of paragliding before you actually paraglide. Then, you should find someone to teach you how to paraglide. This is definitely not an activity that you can just get up, go, and do safely. Paragliding takes time and skills. So make sure that you find a skilled teacher or even a world-renowned paragliding camp to attend. Whoever you learn paragliding from, just ensure that they are skilled and will properly train you.


14. Would it help if I had skydiving experience?

While it may seem as if skydiving and paragliding are extremely similar, they are basically completely different. Sure, there are a few aspects of paragliding that are similar to skydiving. But the overall skills and techniques are different. Skydiving is much faster and does not require as much technique or skills as paragliding does. Even though skydiving and paragliding are different, if someone has skydiving experience, they may find a little bit of an easier time picking up on paragliding.


15. What are suitable weather conditions for paragliding?

To begin, weather conditions will vary among the different paragliding locations. Before paragliding, one should be completely aware of wind speeds. If there is no wind, it can be extremely hard to navigate throughout the air. But, if the wind is too strong, then it can be extremely dangerous to fly. The maximum high wind speed for beginners is usually 9 mph. The wind speed range for intermediate paragliders usually ranges from 10 mph to 18 mph. Advanced and expert paragliders can choose to fly in whatever wind speed they please. But overall, paragliders, no matter what skill level they are, should never fly in winds over 30 mph. Although 30 mph winds may not seem that fast, it seems a lot faster when you are flying in the air, rather than when you are on ground level. Another thing that paragliders should pay attention to is the wind direction. Make sure that you are aware of what direction you are launching from, and the specific wind direction that it should be flowing from. You do not want to end up getting caught in the wind and risking your safety.
It should be noted that there are a lot of weather conditions that you should avoid. For example, you should never paraglide in any type of storm. If it begins to rain while you are flying, continue with your flight course and land in the designated area. But, if your safety is in danger from the storm, make adequate changes to your paragliding course. Another thing that you should watch for is clouds. Avoid clouds that are taller than they are wide.
Overall, make sure that you pay attention to the weather. Check the weather right before you go paragliding. Also, make sure that you can detect weather changes while you are in flight. If you can tell that a storm is about to happen, or the wind is changing, or any other kind of sudden weather change, then you will be much better off.


16. Can I paraglide during any season?

Like we previously discussed in the last question, some weather conditions are completely unsuitable for paragliding. Thus, there are certain seasons where you should paraglide, and certain seasons where you should not paraglide. But, since the seasons and weather conditions are not the same worldwide, paragliding seasons differ among different parts of the world. Thus, check out and research the specific paragliding season that correlates with the location of the paragliding area you want to visit.

17. Is there any paragliding terminology?

Yes! There is a ton of paragliding terminology that you should learn and be able to recognize. We will only go over a few of the common terms. The AGL (Above Ground Level) is the pilot’s altitude measured with respect to the underlying ground surface. The LZ is the landing zone, aka the place where you land. The TO is referring to the takeoff area. A coastal ridge lift flight is when the wind pushes into a cliff and the wind has no other place to go, so it goes up. Thus, a cushion of rising air is created. A sled flight is when thermal activity is extremely low. Sled flights typically occur at training hills. Finally, soaring flights (also called thermal flights) are when paragliders increase their altitude by flying through rising pockets of air aka thermals.
There a ton of other terms that paragliders should know. So if you are interested in paragliding terminology, or you are serious about paragliding, you should research the rest of the terminology.


18. Do I need a paragliding license or anything of that sort?

Nope! Paragliding is basically self-regulated. Although it is basically self-regulated, paragliders are sure to adhere to the policies and guidelines of the USHPA. Since different paragliding locations have different restrictions, some paragliding areas require the paraglider to have a specific USHPA certified ratings. In that case, research the specific site regulations of a paragliding location you are interested in before visiting that site.


19. How do I know if a location is suitable for paragliding?

How do I know if a location is suitable for paragliding?
How do I know if a location is suitable for paragliding?

While you should use your weather detecting skills and other paragliding knowledge to detect if a location is suitable for paragliding, you should also use the internet to your advantage. There are a ton of paragliding websites which will direct you towards adequate areas for paragliding. From the internet, you can research the certain restrictions of a location, the surroundings of the location, and the typical weather conditions.


20. Where are some of the best locations to paraglide?

While there are thousands of paragliding locations across the world, there are a few sites that should definitely be on your paragliding bucket list. These locations include; Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique, Wengen in Switzerland, Castelluccio in Italy, Dune du Pyla in France, and Hautes-Alpes in France.

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