How to deal with twist risers in paragliding

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Riser Twists

By Rob Sporrer for Paraglider Magazine

Riser twists are one flying configuration we hope to avoid. This event can occur as the result of a poor pre-flight check before launching, or from being lifted off the ground prematurely while still in the reverse position on launch. I have seen P4 pilots and tandem pilots hook in without crossing their risers (or spreader bars with a tandem) in the reverse position. This isn’t a riser twist; it’s an incorrect hook-in. This bogus hook-in put those pilots, and/or their passengers on a tandem, in an awkward, but usually manageable configuration of facing the opposite direction the glider is flying with no riser twists at all. These pilots all managed to land safely facing backwards, but one did throw his reserve when he found it difficult to manage the wing in turbulent conditions. Chris Santacroce actually flies solo in this configuration for fun, but there isn’t much Santa can’t do on a paraglider.

We also see riser twists occur after a big surge/dive of big asymmetric deflations over 50%. These usually happen on higher performance wings in turbulent air, or at an over the water clinic when you are doing acro, or exit a maneuver poorly. Let’s focus on the risers twists which occur at launch. I recommend getting to an over the water clinic if you want some insight from experienced pilots on techniques used to deal with riser twists induced from big deflations or other events you experience while flying.

There is really no excuse for having the incorrect riser on top before you launch. It’s common to feel a little nervous and be amped up before launching. We need to check in with ourselves, take a deep breath, and find our rhythm before every launch. This should be part of your pre-flight. You need to check in with yourself, forget about everybody around you, and find your center.

Part of your preflight check needs to be checking that the correct riser is on top. You want the riser connected to the right carabiner on top of the other riser if you turn to the right, and you want the riser connected to the left carabiner on top of the other riser if you turn to the left. Make sure that your risers are crossed and form an “X” so we can avoid the backward flying configuration that we will leave to Chris.

Having the wrong riser on top means we will have a full twist when we turn to launch in our designated direction. Students should learn to turn only one direction from the beginning of their training in my opinion. There is no significant benefit gained in being equally comfortable with turning both ways. One mistaken turn direction at launch could prove disastrous. We give all our first day students at Eagle Paragliding the turn direction they would use if they were to become tandem pilots. We ask students what their dominant hand is on day one. This is the deciding factor in choosing which direction the student will turn when launching from the reverse position. They can build from this if they decide to become tandem pilots down the road, and never have to deal with turning a new direction. When you fly tandem you will need to be a left turner if you want to throw your reserve with your right hand. If you turn the same direction your reserve parachute handle is located you risk brushing the handle against your tandem passenger when launching reverse. This could cause an inadvertent reserve deployment. If you’re right handed, you should be turning left. If you’re left handed you should be turning right. If you’re ambidextrous it doesn’t matter which way you choose to turn, but choose a direction and stick to it. By picking one direction to turn when launching, and checking that the correct riser is on top as part of your pre-flight will prevent this type of riser twist.

We can get a riser twist at launch is by choosing to launch when the glider is not level and turning during the pull up. Some pilots continue to attempt the launch when the wing is turning, and risk flying away from the hill sideways. If they make contact with objects close to launch they risk getting a twist or two in their risers as well as crashing into an object. We need to remember to “settle for nothing less than perfection” on our pull-ups and launches. If the wing is not coming up straight, and we can’t get it straight with our hand inputs and footwork, then bring it down and reset. Pilots who force an ugly pull-up often find themselves lifted off the ground out of control, which can lead to dangerous and sometimes bizarre events. One great thing about paragliding is we can minimize our risk by choosing to commit to launching only when the glider is straight, and free of tangles or debris in the lines. If you can’t bring your wing up straight on a launch you really don’t deserve to be flying. I’m amazed at how many P3 and P4 pilots show kiting and launch control skills of a new P1 student. It seems after we spend time practicing our ground handling and launches in the early part of our training we neglect this skill set by spending most of our time up in the air flying. We only get one launch and one landing per flight, and that’s not quite enough to keep our skills where they should be. I encourage all pilots to spend more time under their wing on the ground. We need to be ground handling masters if we hope to minimize our risk. It seems we owe that practice to ourselves, our fellow pilots, and the people who care about us.

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Another type of riser twist scenario we need to discuss starts when a pilot is prematurely lifted off the ground in the reverse position. The glider may race into the overhead position during the pull-up. We realize the wing is moving toward the overhead position too quickly, we add a healthy amount of brake input to “check it” and keep the wing from moving too far forward. This brake input, combined with the energy the glider had on the pull-up, lifts us off the ground. This is a very uncomfortable feeling for most pilots. The carabiners have more of your body weight on the same side the rear risers are facing instead of the direction the A risers are facing. This causes you to fall backward as you are lifted off the ground. The falling backward sensation can cause us to instinctively put a hand out to brace the fall. The problem is we have a steering toggle in our hand when we put our hand out, which causes the glider to react to our input and turn.

If the pilot is lifted away from the launch into the air, the half twist will sometimes untwist and right the pilot back to normal flight. However, if the half twist does not come undone, the pilot can begin banking into a turn. The correct steering input to give at this point is counterintuitive. If we try to correct using the brake toggles, we often see the pilot giving the wrong input, causing the wing to bank steeper. This can lead to a severe impact into the hillside. Imagine yourself being lifted off the ground in the reverse position as you fly away from launch and the glider is banking into a turn. At this point, most pilots give the incorrect input in an attempt to get the glider flying straight and level. As we fly away from launch we are in uncharted territory with our adrenaline beginning to pump, hopefully we are flying straight and level. We may find ourselves beginning to bank into a turn immediately after leaving the ground. We need to get back to level and straight flying as soon as possible. While turning, we are not balanced in the center of our seat board, and our body leans off center the same direction the wing is turning. We instinctively give brake input to correct the turn, hoping to arrive at level flight. The problem is most pilots give the wrong brake input in this scenario and send the wing into a steeper turn. If we feel ourselves leaning to the right, our mind tells us to give brake with the left hand, which is the opposite direction we are banking. Close your eyes and picture the scenario. If you are flying away from the hill and are tilted to the right, it doesn’t seem like pulling brake with your right hand will be the correct input, but this is the input that will take the wing back to level flight. It’s tricky and counterintuitive to give the correct input with the brake here. We don’t find ourselves in this configuration until it is time to do the right thing in a real life scenario. So, we now know which brake to pull in this funky flying configuration. Realize this steering with the brakes technique may only work with a half twist, and we come to find out it’s better to not use the brake toggles at all if we can help it.

The best solution is to steer the glider above the twist with the brake lines or the rear risers. The direct inputs we give in this configuration are intuitive. So I’m suggesting that you avoid using the brake toggles all together. Using cross control with the brake toggles in the heat of the moment is counterintuitive, and may not work with more than a half twist.

In summary, if we find ourselves lifted off the ground in the reverse position flying away from launch, we need to control our heading. Theoretically, we could try to fly the glider with the brake toggles at this point with only a half twist, but we suggest you avoid using the brake toggles since the input could stick and giving the correct input is counterintuitive. Grab the brake line or rear riser above the twist and give direct inputs instead of cross controlling with the brake toggles. Fly the glider straight and level, and get oriented forward as soon as you have the wing flying level and in control. You may end up untwisting the wing as you attempt to get your body oriented in the correct direction, or you could end up with another half twist. It doesn’t really matter as long as we can stabilize ourselves and keep the wing level on a good heading. Once you have control and terrain clearance you can assess the twist and attempt to untwist yourself, while being sure to stay aware of your heading as you maintain level flight. You may try kicking your legs (run in the air) as you untwist. You will get to practice this if you attend an over the water clinic.

This premature lift off in the reverse position can happen for a couple of reasons. The situation can often be avoided if we know what to look for, and react soon enough. The pace the glider is moving toward the overhead position can increase because of a gust or big thermal release. We need to slow the pace of the wing down quickly when we see the glider picking up speed as it moves overhead. The best way to do this is by moving toward the glider. We can also decrease the load we are putting on the A risers, but moving toward the glider is the key. If you feel yourself being lifted off the ground as the glider comes overhead turn around and face forward immediately. We need to be quick like a cat when we feel this lifting beginning, and get turned around forward so we are oriented correctly. Once our feet have left the ground, we have no traction to plant and get turned.

Everything we do with our hands and feet are dictated by what we see the wing doing on the pull-up. The longer you take to give the correct input, the bigger the input required to correct the wing will need to be. Try to focus on your wing and give it what it needs all the time with your hands and feet. Realize the slope angle, the altitude, the wind velocity, and the size of your launch need to be considered before every launch. Try not to be a robot. Make every launch fit the conditions and terrain for that time and place. Don’t be afraid to bring your wing down and reset if it isn’t close to perfection.

Rob Sporrer is the Chief Instructor at Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara, California.
Eagle Paragliding imports UP, Niviuk, Airdesign and Woody Valley paragliding products. He received the USHPA 2002 Instructor of the Year Award, and is a Tandem and Instructor Administrator, as well as a volunteer member of Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue.

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Paraglider Control: Active Flying (a vital paragliding skill)

Paraglider Control: Active Flying (a vital paragliding skill)

What does ‘active flying’ mean for paraglider pilots? We discuss this vital paragliding skill, and how to master it.

At its simplest, it means to react quickly to the movements of the wing, to calm it down.

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You are trying to return the wing to its most stable flying position – directly overhead.

How To Improve Your Paragliding Active Flying (part 1)

In our first video, we cover the basics and how to practice your active flying input. We show you how to induce pitches, and then to stop the wing pitching by dampening out the dive.

Practice this every time you go flying – a few swoops and some timely dampening helps to refresh the muscle memory so when you need it in a hurry, you put in the right input. It’s also lots of fun!

Take care to build up your pitches slowly, so you don’t surprise yourself with an oversized dive and frontal collapse. We’re not expecting you to do low-level SIV training, just push your wing around a bit so you build confidence with your ability to bring it back under control.

How To Improve Your Paragliding Active Flying (part 2)

In our second video, we use these skills to control the wing through some rough air downwind of the trees.

Notice that even though it seems we are far above the trees, the turbulence rolls up the slope (it’s got nowhere else to go) so flying at the top of the hill we still get bounced about. This makes flying here fairly risky in crosswind conditions, because there’s insufficient lift generated by the ridge and if you start sinking you are forced to slopeland in the worst place for turbulence: just behind the trees. Oh, the things we do for our viewers…

The active flying inputs are small, but they are effective if done quickly. It’s like balancing a stack of plates: the sooner you correct things, the easier it is to achieve. If you wait until you see the topside of your wing before doing anything on the brakes …. Well, it’s going to be like a Greek wedding.

Active flying is also required when flying fast, on speedbar. Notice that the rear riser control as demonstrated in the video works best on 2-riser gliders (so-called ‘two liners’): high-performance competition wings like the Niviuk Icepeak 6, Ozone Enzo and Swing Core 3.

On the more traditional 3 or 4 riser wings, rear risers control must be limited to a short pull only, because the B riser ‘floats up’ between the back risers and the front risers. If you have both the speedbar depressed (As pulled down) and the rear risers yanked down (Cs or Ds or both) the profile of your wing is warped – there’s a nasty kink over the Bs, across the whole span. So a bit of rear-riser control works fine, but if you feel the speedbar tension going soft underfoot, release it quickly to get the nose of your wing to rise and generate lifting tension again.

One thing we haven’t explored in the videos is active flying to avoid stalling. In strong thermals you might feel a sudden lack of airspeed and ‘spongy-ness’ in the brakes as you enter a really hard-hitting thermal. This is due to your wing having a temporary high angle of attack and being close to stall point. Some pilots believe you should keep a constant pressure in the brakes but this is where this habit will fail you. Pulling brakes to get some tension back when your wing is already at a high angle of attack will cause a stall.

Rather follow our simple principle: if your toes are rising towards the horizon, keep your hands up. As they sink from the horizon, pull your brakes down to shoulder height for 2 seconds, to dampen out the dive.

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Paragliding Accidents and how to avoid them

Judith Mole broke her back in a paragliding accident in March 2013. The accident was entirely her fault and was caused by over-confidence, complacency and a desire to impress the new boyfriend. Understandably she has since been mulling over how to be a safer pilot. Here she shares some insights and tips. What you will read in this article isn’t anything new or revolutionary, but might be a timely reminder of something that has recently slipped. Hopefully reading it will keep you just that little bit safer.

There are two ways of avoid accidents. 1) don’t launch, 2) if you do launch, don’t hit anything. It’s that simple, isn’t it? Since most of us do want to launch, there are a few ways to try to minimise the chances of hitting something – be that the ground, someone else or something else. If we take it as a given that canopies these days are safe – and they are, if flown in smooth conditions – then what makes the difference is the actions of the thing dangling underneath.

If you want to be a safer pilot, then the first thing to do is a self-assessment. Here’s a few things to think about:

Your kit

Apart from not flying kit that is completely unsuitable for you (like a CP pilot flying a comp wing), you should spend some time looking over your equipment and considering whether there is something you can do to improve it. For example, is your speed bar set up so you can get your foot tangled in it on launch or landing. If yes, go buy a different system, or fit some elastic to the edges to make it retractable and get it out of the way. Is your harness set up to get in and out of it easily? Similarly, do your gloves often get caught in your risers when using As & Cs for launching? Are your boots slippy? New gloves or boots don’t cost that much – is it worth a potential dragging?

When setting up your kit it is essential to develop a routine and to follow this strictly. On a hang glider this is easier because mostly the thing won’t assemble properly unless you’ve followed the steps to rig it in the correct sequence and then it’s up to the pre-flight check to make sure all the bits are in the right place. With paragliding, it is easier to get away with rushed assembly of the canopy and harness and you can also often get away with little mistakes – like having a brake twisted through the lines, or wrapped around the riser. A quick let go of the brake and fiddle will remedy it, but is it a good idea to be without your brake and fiddling just after launch?

You are safest when you follow a routine, so you know everything is in the right place and ready before you launch. There is nothing wrong with using reminders – like fitting some red tape to your flight deck to remind yourself to check that you have done up your leg loops.

Talking of kit… don’t make things more difficult than they already are. Adding camera mounts or extendable poles might make cool footage to show your mates, but less cool when they record your crash. Any additional item that can snag in your lines, trip you up or cause you to be less observant is a ticking time bomb…

Your knowledge

Many accidents in the UK are caused by changing conditions – usually wind picking up or changing direction. Because paragliders have improved in performance in recent years, it is possible to fly them in higher wind strengths. However, they still have an upper limit – particularly lower-rated paragliders. While it is tempting to take off in 20mph when others are flying, how sensible is that on a DHV1 wing? Not very.

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So an assessment of your knowledge at this stage is useful. How good is your met knowledge? Can you spot an approaching warm front – not on a chart or on the forecast, but on the hill, when it is actually happening? Do you know what will happen to the conditions when it does arrive and what the time-scales on the changing conditions are? Not sure? Best to talk to someone or get that Met book back off the shelf.

How much knowledge do you have of your canopy and how it works? E.g. point of spin and stall? What the trim speed of your canopy is? Thinking through what you know and (more crucially) what you don’t know will help you to decide which gaps need to be filled.

Your skills

The key to becoming a better pilot is to want to improve – all the time. If you look at top pilots you can see that they’re brilliant at ground handling, thermalling, assessing when to launch and go over the back, etc. They weren’t born with these skills… they put the time in. Goal setting is one way to check your current skills set. Think about where you want to be at the end of the season, in one year, in five years. Break down the skills needed to get there and then think about what you need to do to get there. Simple really. Then write yourself a list of the skills you need to practise and stick it in your flight deck and try to work on one each time you go flying. Oh, and book that SIV course.

Your attitude

The most important factor by far in staying safe is your attitude. Have a look around you and assess which pilots are the good ones in your opinion… who do you aspire to be like? The balls-to-the-walls-fly-in-any-old-crap bravado merchants, or the quiet safe ones that know something, can pick the good days and stay up in nothing? There are people in every club who are accidents waiting to happen and we all have an idea who they are. They usually have the following characteristics:

  • think they know it all
  • fly in completely unsuitable conditions, get away with it and claim it was ‘peachy’
  • unwilling to learn/listen
  • accidents or potential accidents are never their fault.

A safe attitude isn’t about only doing ‘boring’ flights. It’s about watching, listening and learning all the time. Trying to improve skills and knowledge and pushing your envelope when you are ready to do so, i.e. when your skills and knowledge allow you to do this in a safe manner.

How current are you?

Paragliding doesn’t have to be an extreme sport, unless you make it so! The best way to stay safe is to practise, practise, practise. Like other sportspeople, we have to train to improve. If you fly a lot, your glider handling skills will improve, your muscle memory will increase and you will be more relaxed in the air. All helpful in avoiding accidents.

Learning from near misses

Everyone has near misses in flying. Some are more serious than others. The key is to see them as welcome warning signs which help you assess the gaps in your knowledge, skills or concentration. If it’s a near miss caused by poor pre-flight checking or equipment failure, go back to the first paragraph of this article. If it’s to do with flying too close to others, landing in the wrong place, landing badly, etc. then don’t just write it off or dismiss it. Think about the causes and do something about it!

Landing in the wrong place is a classic example… it’s not an accident, but it is indicative that something is amiss. Making excuses like “I couldn’t get down” or “It was a bit windier than I thought” shows that you don’t know how to assess wind or do an effective landing approach (so you may need to look for clues/look at your GPS/learn more descent techniques). Use these things as a learning experience and it will pay off in the end.

Analysing accidents – Not your fault? Give us a break!

So you’ve had a minor or major mishap. Now you need to analyse what happened so it doesn’t happen to you again or is more serious next time. BHPA accident statistics show again and again that one of the most common causes of accidents is errors in judgement. That is our judgement of the weather conditions, position, awareness of what’s going on, misjudging the airflow around the terrain and glider control. Yet some pilots blame external factors, but evidence suggests that there are hardly any accidents caused by faulty kit (that can’t be traced back to bad maintenance or lack of checking). Denying that the cause of the accident was most likely you is not making you any safer. All the judgement issues listed above we have some control over. If you are not sure about meteorology, go learn some more. If you are not sure how wind works then re-read your CP notes.

Showing off

Showing off is quite likely to end up in some sort of crash sooner or later. Don’t do it. Nobody is impressed with a badly executed wingover or splat slope landing. In the long-term your mates will be more impressed with your unblemished accident record. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that you are more likely to have an accident if friends and family are watching. They’ve come out to see this amazing sport you have decided to do and it would seem bad to disappoint them when they have waited on a cold and windy hill all day. You are more likely to be distracted in pre-flight checking if you have friends and family with you. Be aware that this situation requires you to be extra vigilant and if necessary, ask them to come back another sunny day.

What accident are you going to have?

You can play a simple game to improve your self-evaluation skills. Pick a pilot who you think is an accident waiting to happen and make an assessment of what accident you think they are going to have. Do they always launch in too strong winds? Don’t keep a good lookout? Then play the game with yourself. What aspect of your flying is most likely to cause you to have an accident? Bad landing approaches? No good at strong wind launches or slope landings? Whatever the answer is, make that your first priority to work on!

And if you are an experienced pilot, don’t assume that just doing an SIV course will prevent an accident. When you have been flying a long time, it can be the simple things that catch you out – not the big collapses. Over-confidence and complacency are some of the biggest causes of accidents.


It goes without saying that you should have insurance. If you do have an accident and need extensive medical care and rehabilitation, then the insurance cost will be the best money you ever spent. And a tip for something to do on a Sunday afternoon…video yourself walking from all sides. If you have an accident that involves a spinal injury, your physios will really appreciate seeing how you walked before.




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