Paragliding — Getting Started & More
To help guide you on the right path with your all-important first steps into free flying, we’ve provided free general advice on getting started—including tandem flights, taster days, licence courses, FAQ and buying your own equipment, plus a whole lot more—below. On behalf of the whole free flying community, WELCOME to the wonderful world of free flight!
NB: We are focused on providing the best service and equipment to our customers so no longer offer training or courses.
Getting started with paragliding
It’s simple to fly, but it takes a lifetime to master! You’ll need to be fairly fit, adventurous and have free time, but you don’t need to be fearless. Caution and careful risk management are traits of good pilots.
Generally the best introduction to flying is a tandem flight (or flights). This could be done before or in conjunction with a taster day or more. Once you’re sure free flight is for you, sign up for a full training course.
Tip: Every free flight school and tandem operation is different. Check them out and ask around before signing up. As with everything in flight, don’t base your choice on price. You get what you pay for! Flying is an activity where it’s worth spending more for your best experience and safety.
Tandem paragliding flights are a great way to enjoy the full aerial experience, without having to first learn how to control the paraglider yourself. Your expert tandem pilot will take care of the launch, flight and landing for you!
Paragliding schools usually offer a trial session where you can learn to manage the wing on the ground, and get some short low level flights. These are ideal if you think you might take the sport up, as they build a foundation for the next stage.
Full training courses
Expect 10-15 days of training to reach an adequate level for safe solo flying. In the UK this will result in the Club Pilot licence, which is internationally recognised via the FAI¹ CIVL² IPPI Card³ Safe Pro rating system.
My country or abroad?
We think it’s best to learn in the environment you’ll do most of your flying in, even though training in some locations overseas can offer you an accelerated progression, if you’re lucky with the weather. We’ve flown all around the world and, although the weather is certainly more reliable for flying in some places than others, the truth is it’s not guaranteed to be flyable all the time anywhere. The best is to combine your main training near where you live with additional training abroad.
‘What about doing it on my own? Am I too old to learn paragliding? What about personal accident insurance?’
For the answers to these and more, check out the Paragliding FAQ.
Buying your own equipment
In free flight it’s incredibly important that you buy the right and best equipment for YOU, personally. You are buying equipment you need to trust with your life, and getting the best gear for you really can make the difference between a great flight and a dreadful one. To stay safe, within reason, and ensure you get maximum enjoyment out of your flying, you need to be sure you’re making the right and best decision for YOU. With free flight equipment one person’s perfect dream machine can be a terrible match for another. What’s right for someone else might not be for you.
Don’t be tempted to rush into buying gear. There’s a lot more to it than first meets the eye, and it’s all too easy to make costly mistakes. Even for professional full-time equipment specialists like us with a great deal of experience it takes careful consideration to match the individual with the right equipment. Package deals offering training and gear might sound tempting but may unduly limit your choices and not provide you with the best result.
Tip: Flying is an activity in which you really want to avoid making false economies!
To help give you some insight into free flight equipment, you may find our Gear Guides section helpful, especially our series of articles on choosing the right equipment:
We are free flight equipment specialists, offering a great range of new and used free flying gear and exceptional expertise at matching pilots to equipment. Find out more about us, and what we offer
“Thanks so much to Nancy and Carlo at Flybubble. Their friendly and clear-minded approach to matching a person to the wing is a brilliant service. I trust Flybubble implicitly and they have never let me down.”
– Flybubble customer Paul Grover
Improving your skills
See our Flight Skills section for a range of articles, videos, tips and free tutorials.
Every BHPA club will have a coaching team, but they are volunteers, so their availability is often limited. Some schools offer one-on-one pilot coaching. Pilots are strangely reluctant to pay for instruction, but it always pays itself back in confidence, ability and skills. Good coaching rapidly impacts your airtime and accelerates your learning. We recommend you join a club, seek out the coach, and make friends with the experienced local pilots, who are often more than happy to share their hard-won knowledge.
Highly recommended! This is probably available from any of your local tandem pilots, if you’re prepared to pay the going rate. Tandem pilots are often experts at thermaling, as their income depends on staying airborne. By seeing what the pilot does while feeling the sensations in the air, you learn fast. We do offer this from time to time, so join us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletters to keep in touch. We can’t promise we’ll break a record, but you’ll learn a lot.
Travel with your paraglider, even if it is just to new areas in your own country! It’s one of the great joys of free-flying: it can be done almost anywhere, and the aviation communities are welcoming, the world over. Guides do not need to be licensed instructors, but they are often experts in their region and passionate about getting pilots into the air. The best operations will get you flying farther and higher in a progressive way, building on your skills so you don’t overstep your limits and lose confidence by getting a scare.
There are instructors who specialise in doing extreme manoeuvre training, over water. Venues include Annecy (France), Lake Garda (Italy) and Oludeniz (Turkey). Begin with a “pilotage” course which will teach you better wing control and active flying and next time go for the full-blown SIV⁴, which includes stalls, spins and reserve deployment. Doing this will boost your confidence and keep you safer. We’ve noticed a massive improvement in pilots who attend these courses, and we think they should be a prerequisite for flying anything above a mid-EN B wing and for all pilots going XC.
Start with our articles on Active Flying
Cross country leagues
Once you’ve learned how to fly cross country (XC), the online paragliding XC leagues provide a competitive forum for paraglider pilots. You can learn something by watching what other pilots achieve. We are enthusiastic yet safety-conscious cross country pilots, and in 2015 ended up winning the UK paragliding XC league (Carlo #1 overall, Nancy #1 lady) on sports and XC class rated wings, beating many racing hotshots on their snaky hot ships.
For inspiration, read Flybubble Carlo’s summary report on the 2015 UK PG XC season.
After building your cross country flying skills, a competition can boost your skills. A competition task makes it possible to compare your decisions with those of others following exactly the same route. In the UK there is the Advance British Club Challenge, a series designed to introduce pilots to competition flying. Simple tasks are set and flying is in a social, supportive environment. Some competitions like the Gin Wide Open and Ozone Chabre Open offer good introductions to competing overseas. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can progress to regional and national championships, and ultimately aim for your national team. There’s always something going on during the European summer.
¹ FAI – Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the World Air Sports Federation.
² CIVL – Commission Internationale de Vol Libre, the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Commission of FAI.
³ IPPI Card – IPPI stands for “International Pilot Proficiency Identification”. The IPPI Card provides a standard reference by which all national rating programs may be compared. Safe Pro Para for paragliding; Safe Pro Delta for hang gliding.
⁴ SIV – SIV stands for the French “Simulation d’Incident en Vol” which translates roughly to simulating incidents (instability, unstable situations) in flight.
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Five tips for getting started with paragliding
Paragliding is a magical sport. This feeling of freedom, of admiring landscapes in a more than comfortable position. It made us want to share with you our five tips to successfully start paragliding and make the most of it!
Paragliding is a recreational activity, but most people do not know it is also a sport and are unaware of the sensation and benefits of paragliding. Yes, the wind on your face, the weightlessness of your legs. A gentle feeling of being alone in the world and witnessing incredible sights in a more than comfortable position. Wouldn’t that be the life everyone dreams of? Dream with us and find our five tips to start paragliding in complete safety for maximum enjoyment and a dream come true!
Tip 1: ready and motivated to start paragliding
Paragliding is becoming an increasingly popular sport, as you have surely noticed during your trips to the mountains or the beach.
When you start paragliding, you have two options:
– If you simply want to discover the sensation of flying and enjoy a brief experience, you can start with an introduction to paragliding.
– If you want to get into paragliding much more seriously, learning and flying requires, like every sport, time and basic knowledge. However, safety is more important to the activity. If you are just taking up paragliding, you will be flying in optimal safety conditions in a school approved by your relevant governing body.
However you opt to enjoy paragliding, it is a sport that requires commitment. Paragliding requires mastery of specific equipment and a particular environment, and self-control. Once in the air, you are alone (at least when you already have some flights under your belt ^^).
If you play close attention, observe the rules and respect the instructions of your instructor, as well as the conditions required to paraglide correctly (weather, physical and safety), you reduce the risk of an accident and increase your chances of enjoying yourself.
Tip 2: take a two-seater flight or a paragliding introductory course
The best way to get into paragliding is to take an introductory course. This introduction will allow you to escape for a moment and discover the benefits of this sport. Everyone has always wondered what birds feel while flying, right? This is the chance to find out through a sensational experience: a two-seater paragliding flight.
So the paragliding introduction takes place with an instructor who will oversee the flight from take-off to landing. You can ask them any questions you wish. They’re there to explain the steps involved in a flight.
Do you want to take your interest in this sport further?
We therefore recommend you do an introductory course. It will allow you to gradually get a flavour of paragliding, be introduced to and learn how to use the equipment. You will learn the take-off and landing rules, learn the safety rules, and take your first solo flight. Most paragliding schools offer courses lasting between one and five days. At the beginning of the course, you will be accompanied by an instructor who will guide you and give you both theoretical and practical courses to help you become independent and to pilot your paraglider like a boss! Don’t panic, on your first flights, you will be guided by radio with an instructor at the end of the line. One instructor stays at the take-off location and another at the landing site.
However, doing an introductory course does not mean that you will be able to fly perfectly, especially not at all paragliding sites and in all weather conditions. It is important to remember that a pilot only feels truly ready and comfortable to handle their canopy after at least three courses. Do not hesitate to take several courses, including a more advanced course after your initiation. This will not only allow you to gain confidence in the air but also fly with greater peace of mind and in complete safety.
Testimonies: “my first flight”
“It’s something I wanted to do, I’m neither a whizz kid nor fearful, but I do like a bit of “daredevil” stuff. The first time was on the Dune du Pyla in southwest France. On the morning of the flight, I was a little apprehensive. I didn’t know how it would go, but I really wanted to do it.
Upon arrival at the top of the dune, there was not enough wind. I waited quietly, the wind got up in the afternoon.
For an introduction, you have someone in your back while you are flying, an instructor. You have a kind of big backpack, things around your thighs like climbing harnesses. The instructor asked me if I was ready and we started off together. Once you’ve launched, your legs are empty, you feel like you can sit in a seat. It’s like a merry-go-round; the stomach rises, it’s really fun, I enjoyed myself during the whole flight.
It’s really special, you feel like you’re flying, and in fact, you truly are! It’s wonderful! It’s as if you’ve entered another world. I saw the people on the beach, waving at me, I felt like I’d be picking up the trees, you lose your sense of distance.
The flight lasted half an hour, I was apprehensive about landing, the instructor told me to stretch my legs and sit down, and everything went well. Even though I didn’t fly very high with the lack of wind, I enjoyed the view of the Bassin d’Arcachon, it was great. I can recommend it to others, it’s not rough, it’s gentle . I feel like doing it again ;)”
” 30 years: what’s the best age to take up paragliding? For a mountain lover like me, it was clearly a box to tick. In addition, I probably chose the best spot for my two-seater introduction: the splendid Chamonix valley!
Reservations made for a Saturday morning in July when the weather conditions are perfect: great sun, very little wind, temperature a trifle cool but we don’t complain. I’m all excited about flying and the big smile I had when I woke up doesn’t leave my lips. Fear? Not even an ounce! It’s a two-seater introduction, I know the instructor will handle everything for both of us. Honestly, it’s reassuring.
I find the instructor at Planpraz, a plateau at an altitude of around 2000 m. The view is already magnificent. I hear that same instructor is approaching the age of 75, incredible since he looks 15 younger! He is an experienced paraglider who even has special certification allowing him to fly people with reduced mobility. Yes, he has already flown people in wheelchairs. He also told me that his oldest customer was 92 years old!
Anyway it takes him a few minutes to attach me to the backpack and all the gear. No time to take a breath – he asks me to walk, then run to take off. And. that is it. Not even a little tremor, nothing. Just the wonderful sensation of flying with the exceptional panorama of Mont Blanc. I’m taking it all in, it’s so beautiful. I feel like time is suspended as we are suspended from the canopy. It looks like we’re not going very fast even if we are moving pretty fast.
The instructor allows me to “control” the canopy a bit, turning right and left. Again, I’m not afraid, I’m guided and I’m amazed. Finally, he gives me the chance to do a few acrobatics. We do a few 360° turns, and fly in every direction, that’s great! Super-impressive all the same. And I feel a little sad at the end. It’s time to land: fast and smooth.
The 20-minute flight went by at a crazy speed! 20 swirling, intoxicating minutes, leaving me with incredible memories! Shall we go again tomorrow?“
Tip 3: choose paraglider equipment that suits your requirements
Once you’ve had a taste of paragliding and you’re ready to get started and fly alone, it’s time for you to carefully choose your equipment to take full advantage of your flights. Your choice of equipment will depend first on your level and how you wish to fly. To paraglide, you will need: a paragliding canopy or wing, a harness, a spare parachute, a helmet, a radio, a pair of gloves, a pair of sunglasses and appropriate shoes.
The paragliding canopy
Let’s start with the canopy. It is essential to choose a canopy with a wing surface that is appropriate to your weight. There are different levels of certification that correspond to a level of performance and a required level of proficiency. If you want to know more, we have listed the different types of canopy:
– Canopies used by schools and beginners. (DHV 1)
– Class-B canopy – Standard canopies used by pilots wishing to progress. (DHV 1- 2)
– High-performance canopies used by pilots with a very high level of proficiency (DHV 2, 2-3)
– Competition canopies used by elite competitors (DHV competition)
– Mini canopy: Mini wing certified or uncertified, for speed-flying and speed-riding. The higher the category (towards D), the better the wing’s performance, the greater its aspect ratio (the surface area divided by the wingspan) and the more its behaviour will require the pilot to adjust their steering and fly with precision. You have to choose your canopy carefully because if it is not appropriate to your weight and level of training, it can jeopardise your safety.
The paragliding harness
The harness is a vital element for controlling the canopy, as its suspension lines are attached to it. As with canopies, there are different types of harnesses suited to the requirements, levels and uses of each individual. You will find harnesses with different forms of seating (hammock, board, leg straps) and for different types of paragliding: hiking and reversible (light and reversible backpack harness), aerobatic and freeride called “accro” (protection and hold), cross (light and aerodynamic), paramountaineering (ultralight and weighs as little as just over 100 g!). The factors to be taken into account when choosing a harness:
A little piece of advice? Go to the “Rock The Outdoor” page which details the characteristics of harnesses. Ask professionals to advise you and try out harnesses.
High-quality clothing and accessories for high-quality paragliding
Do you want to get the most out of paragliding and maximise the joy it provides? We recommend you kit yourself out with several accessories. A helmet to fly in complete safety, a radio to remain in contact with someone who will stay at the take-off location and have a watch over you from the beginning to the end of your flight, or to be in contact with someone you’re flying with.
A small piece of advice: you can hang your radio from your harness. We also advise you to wear a pair of gloves to avoid discomfort in your hands when steering and any handling of the lines, a pair of sunglasses to admire the landscape regardless of the weather or shoes with good grip to land without any issues. Also bring comfortable, warm clothes. That’s right, up in the air, it is not the same temperature as on the ground!
Last tip for your gear: make contact with the instructor with whom you completed your introduction or paragliding training or a school near you to choose the equipment suited to your requirements.
Tip 4: find paragliding spots where you can fly from near you
You are now ready to embark on this beautiful adventure, but you are wondering where you can fly in your country. Good news, in France, for example, there are sites everywhere, or almost! The French free-flight federation (FFVL) lists the different places where you can fly: https://carte.ffvl.fr/?mode=parapente .
Another piece of good news? There is almost always a club or school close to these sites, who can support you, advise you and train you.
If you prefer wide open spaces and mountains, here are some of the unmissable locations: Mont Blanc and Lake Annecy, also for ‘hike and fly’ (hiking up a mountain and then paragliding down), the Varan mountain hut near Passy and beautiful spots in Samoëns, close to Gap or even Millau where you can fly more than 300 days a year.
If you prefer the sea and its cliffs, we recommend spots such as the Dune du Pilat, Cap Blanc or Gris-Nez, Normandy, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Cannes, or even Omaha Beach which are incredible spots.
However, the mountains remain the perfect place to paraglide! The reason for this is simple: the terrain enables the paraglider to gain height and enjoy a breathtaking flight. You’re probably wondering where you can’t fly? Well, close to the airports or above cities. Flight conditions must also be right (wind direction and speed, the paraglider’s level, knowledge of the site and changes in the weather, etc.). France is a country where paragliding is increasingly popular. Other countries offer many equally incredible locations for paragliding.
The small bonuses of paragliding?
Travelling in a different way and discovering countries like you’ve never seen them before. Switzerland, Brazil, Germany and Spain are magnificent countries where paragliding is on the rise.
Learn how to fly with your own wings! discover the decathlon paragliding platform
Find: The best paragliding instructors are there to help you discover the world of paragliding in safety.
Book: No need to call, simply book the time and day that suits you best.
Fly: Find the best spots and join the community!
Tip 5: fly with your friends or family, it’s much more fun!
And to better enjoy paragliding, group flying, with members of your club, your family, or with your friends. The flight itself is, of course, done alone, but the discipline deserves to be learned in a group. Why?
– It’s easier to share your sport with others
– Share unforgettable moments
– Discover things together
– Interact with others and learn from them.
Being in a group contributes to safety, the challenge, learning or even practical considerations regarding transport and take-off and landing cycles. You might be wondering what take-off and landing cycles are? It’s very simple, you go to the take-off location in a 4X4, you get ready, you take off, you fly and you return to the take-off point. It should be noted that on a 25-minute flight, a full cycle can take one hour. Watch and you will rarely see a paraglider alone in the air; there is a reason for that. When you get started and take off, make contact with one of the hundreds of clubs or schools and don’t fly alone. Remember, paragliding is a sport that requires concentration, analysis and attention – a group will help you with this.
All paragliders are confronted with this undeniable fact: “it is better to regret being on the ground than regret being in the air”. So, be careful, pay attention to the advice of experienced pilots. Remember that 99% of paragliding accidents, as in all sectors of the aeronautics sector, are directly related to human error.
Jerome Clavel Discusses How to Get Started in Paragliding
In the US, paragliding has been steadily growing in popularity over the last decade. According to the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA), membership has spiked ‘as a result of the increasing participation in paragliding.’
Jerome Clavel is an avid paraglider and explains below how aspiring novices can get started in the sport.
Paragliding Membership on the Rise
The sport, which can be traced back to the 1950s, to French inventor Pierre Lemoigne, involves flying parachutes modified to enhance gliding. Jerome Clavel notes that paragliders do not use a rigid framework and instead rely on the fabric of the parachute canopy, specially modified to inflate as air passes through the wings.
Since Lemoigne’s invention, the hobby has developed into a sport that attracts thousands of participants each year. The USHPA reports that membership is on the rise, making it critical for participants to approach the sport from an informed standpoint.
How to Get Started
According to Jerome Clavel, there are five main steps to getting started in paragliding:
1. Choose an Instructor
Paragliding is not a sport that can be self-taught; new paragliders must find a school and work with an instructor. Resources such as the USHPA website can help new users find nearby training facilities.
Instructors can have a range of qualifications, including USHPA certification, Professional Air Sports Association (PASA) certification, or non-PASA certification.
2. Take Lessons
Jerome Clavel says new pilots must become comfortable with the glider’s motions before flying, so initial lessons are spent on the ground learning about equipment.
New pilots learn theory, witness flights, and learn about wind conditions and landing spots. The rigorous training program entails specific studies mandatory for gaining each level rating.
3. Spend Time With Pilots
New students should also spend time with other pilots to exchange information, build relationships and become involved in the growing paragliding community. Flying with other pilots also means that help is on hand to launch and tow.
4. Buy the Right Gear
Because of the growing number of people enjoying paragliding, the global paragliding equipment market size is also increasing. It was estimated to be worth $321.79 million in 2021 and projected to be worth $349.27 million in 2022 and $536.07 million by 2026.
Much of the cost comes from buying proper equipment. It is essential in paragliding to have gear tailored to each pilot, and the instructor or training school is going to be the best source for deciding what to get.
5. Learn About Weather
The wind is a paraglider’s best friend and worst enemy: without the wind, paragliders cannot fly, but if the wind suddenly changes direction or speed, it can cause severe, and even fatal, problems. Jerome Clavel says because of this, new pilots must learn about aviation meteorology.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storm intensity, duration, and frequency have increased over 20 years, making mastering meteorology ever more crucial.
Extra: 6. Find a Chapter
An extra tip for new pilots is joining a ‘chapter,’ a member-controlled group of certified paragliders.
What Equipment Is Needed?
The necessary equipment—sturdy hiking boots, a helmet, harness, parachute, glider, and radio—will likely set new pilots back a hefty sum. Buying new equipment through instructors is always advised as they work directly with trusted companies, and, as mentioned above, will steer you toward exactly what you need.
Faulty or sub-par equipment sold as new flood online markets. Buyers need to be careful as online fraud attempts in the US have increased by 25% on last year’s figure. Instructor consultation is advisable to avoid running into difficulties.
What to Expect on the First Lesson
Jerome Clavel says initial lessons focus on handling the glider, learning vocabulary, and studying up on meteorology. ‘Kiting’—the art of learning to handle the glider—is the foundation of being a safe and successful pilot.
It usually takes at least ten days of flyable weather before novice pilots reach the minimum standard required to fly unsupervised.
Key Places to Go
After new paraglider pilots gain confidence and experience, they can use hundreds of spots across the country. Often, national parks will have designated paragliding points that pilots can use following registration.
There are obvious risks that come with paragliding. Jerome Clavel notes that paragliders can fly as high as 15,000 feet and for as long as three hours, meaning that falls can be fatal. In 2019, there were 9 USHPA recorded deaths in the US.
The way to manage these risks is by studying thoroughly, checking over equipment before flights, and always following the safety procedures shared by instructors.
Looking to the Future
As paragliders gain experience, they can enjoy becoming part of a tight-knit worldwide community. Paragliding activities and competitions happen around the world and have since 1989, when the first-ever Paragliding World Championship took place in Kossen, Austria.
Jerome Clavel says those looking to get started in paragliding will be pleased to know that they are part of a growing community. With clear instructions on how to learn and improve, and with certified bodies running schools and chapters across the country, new pilots will be able to get involved in the sport safely and with ease.