How to Learn to Paraglide

If you’re learning to paraglide or would like to learn to paraglide, then good on you! It’s a great hobby/sport/form of flight. It’s adventurous, yet somewhat relaxing and it leads you to spend time in some of the world’s most beautiful locations.

Decide if You Really Want to Paraglide

If you’re deciding whether paragliding is something you want to learn, it’s a good idea to try it in its most non-committal form. This is a tandem paragliding flight. Unless you have some good connections with a highly experienced pilot with a tandem paragliding harness, your first taste at paragliding will probably be tandem paragliding through a tourism operator.

You’ll get a good view of the experience of taking off, being in flight and landing. You won’t have the responsibility of controlling the paraglider and you won’t know the full thought process and decision making a pilot makes. But if you’re not focussed on the amazing view you’ll be able to watch and see what a pilot does. It’s a good opportunity to ask what your pilot is doing and how they fly to the conditions.

Most people enjoy these experiences, but how many act on this enjoyment and take up paragliding? Realistically not many – when most go home they go back to their regular lives. Ask yourself – when you return home do you still have a strong urge to learn to paraglide? Do you wish that on your tandem flight that you were in control and not just a passenger?

learning to paraglide

Paragliding Courses

If you said “yes” to both of these questions, this is when you should act on this feeling, enroll in a training course and commit to learning to paraglide. Most countries and popular paragliding locations have providers who offer training courses, particularly mountain or coastal locations. In comparison to other forms of human flight such as skydiving, the barriers to entry are low. Some courses can be conducted in as little as 8 days, where you are then free to fly by yourself.

Where not against these quick courses, as long as they’re taken with the intention of them being the first step in learning to paraglide. The advantage is that they teach you the basics and get you up in the air quickly. The downsides is that you are unlikely to experience flight in a number of conditions. Soaring, thermals, flying over water, flying in mountainous regions, flying in wind, flying when there is a lack of thermal activity, the list goes on. There are many conditions which require different skills. You could also experience changing conditions while you’re in the air – you need to know how to use your equipment and knowledge and make smart decisions while in the air.

It’s a good idea after your training to continue flying with some experienced paragliders. They can help recommend places to fly in your local area which are suitable for your ability. They are also good to fly with when flying in new conditions.

Many countries have paragliding clubs and associations where you can meet experienced pilots who are willing to offer advice. These include the USHPA in the United States, SAFA in Australia, and the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association in the United Kingdom.

It’s also a good idea to learn about meteorology. Learn about different clouds and their effects on thermals. Learn to prepare for your flight even before you’ve taken off. A sound knowledge of the best weather for paragliding will enable you to not only enjoy paragliding more, it’ll keep you safe so you actually can paraglide more!

Purchase Your First Paraglider

There are similarities in purchasing your first paraglider and your first car. If your first car was a Ferrari, you’d probably end up in a crash! If you purchase a paraglider wing that’s designed for speed, you’ll probably struggle to control it and be at a high risk of crashing.

There is temptation for those with a bit of money, to purchase a really good wing now and not need to buy again for many years. It’s recommended that beginner pilots start of with an EN Rating A rated paraglider wing. These are easiest to control and to regain control when it’s lost. It can be tempting to purchase a fancy intermediate level wing so you don’t need to upgrade as early, but really you’re putting yourself at risk and reducing your enjoyment.

One area you shouldn’t scrimp on is safety and equipment, make sure you get a radio, sat nav and reserve parachute.

Paragliding Licenses & Memberships

In most countries paragliding is considered a ‘self regulated sport’ with no licence required for solo flying. However, some clubs and associations may ask to see some form of certification stating that you have undertaken training before you can join.

Some paragliding launch areas will request all pilots have national accreditation (e.g. USHPA, SAFA, British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association etc) as well as the local club membership members or purchase a visiting membership. This is to ensure that pilots have adequate levels of skill to fly and manage the hazards at that site and not put themselves or others in danger. There’s no need to feel down about this or not want to take advice from other paraglider pilots, the paragliding community is a friendly and welcoming place. Meet new people, paraglide in new locations, challenge yourself in different conditions and enjoy!

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You are also required to abide by the laws in your country regarding restricted airspaces such as flight paths, airports and military bases. Pilots should also avoid flying too low over buildings, roads, powerlines and schools.

Everything you need to know about Paragliding in Cape Town

Humans, for ages, have had an innate desire to fly like a bird. The curiosity to feel what it might be like to fly high up in the sky drove us to invent our own ways to experience the soaring skies. Paragliding is one such sport which gives us that feeling of flight with just the help of a simple craft parachute.

Paragliding in South Africa offers a quirky experience for all daredevils looking for adventure. You can witness the country’s scenic landscapes from a very unique perspective. The beauty of South Africa lies in wild beaches, rolling mountains, majestic forests, wavy dunes, and lush green grasslands. The country embraces many ridges and mountain lines that run like great arteries throughout the countryside, making paragliding in South Africa both enchanting and challenging. But fret not, you can still enjoy the most beautiful routes in South Africa with tandem flight paragliding.

What is Tandem paragliding?

Tandem paragliding helps you to feel the gushing winds of the sky without having to learn how to fly. To enjoy this sport, you do not need any previous understanding of paragliding. Instructors will try to provide you with the longest and the most enjoyable flight possible. All paragliding pilots are certified by the South African Hang-gliding Association (SAHPA) backed by years of experience.

How to reach Cape Town and get to the paragliding locations?

There are many airlines operating flights to Cape Town, both internationally (BA Comair, airline, KLM, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines & Lufthansa) and some domestically (Kulula, British Airways, SAA & Mango). After reaching Cape Town, there are Hop-On and Hop-Off buses that take you anywhere in the city. There are loads of fantastic ridge soars and some excellent scenic spots for paragliding in South Africa such as Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Sedgefield, and Wilderness. In Cape Town, Lion’s head and Signal Hill are two mini peaks close to the iconic Table Mountain and are major sites to take in the views of the magnificent horizon of Cape Town. Taking half an hour out of Cape Town, you will reach Sir Lowry’s Pass. This is an excellent site if you’re hoping to enjoy some country sceneries that encompass mountains, vegetation, and open spaces. Porterville, just 140 km far from Cape Town, attracts paragliding enthusiasts from all over the world. You can simply reach this place by renting a vehicle from Cape Town and it would take four hours to get there.

Top operators for paragliding in South Africa:

  1. Dolphin Paragliding
  2. Attitude 4 Altitude
  3. Cape Town Tandem Paragliding
  4. Wild Sky Paragliding – KwaZulu-Natal
  5. Parapax Tandem Paragliding
  6. Fly-to-time Paragliding

Time duration for your paragliding flight:

A paragliding flight usually lasts for 30 minutes. Before starting the activity make sure you are relaxed and everything is clear. Don’t forget to ask your pilot any questions you might have. While flying it is possible to interact with the pilot as the wind is not normally too loud to talk over, and the pilot will likely give you details about the sites you are seeing below you or explain what they are doing to control or maneuver the glider. The expert pilots give you the most thrilling 30 minutes of your life hovering across the stunning city with clear and sparkling waters, native forests, and the staggering and beautiful Table Mountain.

Best time to visit:

The peak time for paragliding in Cape Town is from November to February. But remember, paragliding is entirely weather-dependent. So don’t plan this activity on the last day of your trip.

You can book this experience via Travelxp, and chat with our concierge today!

FAQS:

1. Is paragliding dangerous?
Paragliding is a thrilling sport, but it is safe when done with a qualified instructor. You can relax but need to focus throughout the flight and don’t consume alcohol before the flight.

2. What is paramotor / motorized paragliding, and how is the experience different?
The Paramotor is the foot-launched, 2-stroke engine (between 80 and 300cc), worn backpack-style, and designed to change a paraglider wing to a Powered Paragliding aircraft. It is effortless and amazing to fly; one even gets to do aerial photography of building sites, developments, natural areas, and events.

3. Can anyone fly?
Yes, anyone between 3 to 100 years old and weighs between 20 to 135kg can fly like a bird provided you have good physical and mental health. Children under 18 wanting to fly must be signed off by their parents to experience tandem paragliding.

4. What to Wear during paragliding?
Please carry closed shoes like running shoes, trainers, sneakers, and takkies. Mountain and hiking boots are even better. Clothing-wise, wear shorts if it’s hot. But generally, Jeans and a T-shirt with a windbreaker are the best. Other essentials needed for the flight (helmets and all flying equipment) are available at the flight site. Naturally, it’s best to drink lots of water and lather yourself with sunscreen lotion before arriving.

5. What are the charges for paragliding?
Charges vary from location to location in Cape town, from R1300(Rs.6159) to R1500(Rs.7106) for one person. In-flight photos and videos are additional, typically costing around R250(Rs.1184) to R300(Rs.1421). This flight allows you to explore the hypnotic views of Cape Town.

Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading

Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading

The best glider in the world is no use to you if it isn’t the correct size for your flying weight! In this third article of our Choose The Right Paraglider series, we look at paraglider weight ranges and the effect that wing loading has on performance, stability and handling, and how to decide what’s best for you.

First, join us in an investigation. Stuff everything into your glider backpack, exactly as you would walk up the hill, with your extra jacket and flying boots. Then stand on the scale! More than you thought, huh?

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Total flying weight includes all the stuff you carry up the hill

> Your all-up / total flying weight includes *everything* you carry up the hill—everything that goes up into the air—including the wing, and you!

Your flying equipment and all the extras usually adds 14-20kg to your clothed weight (depending on the weight of your kit and how much other stuff you carry).

What does it matter? Well, they say that by loading a given wing with more weight you will increase all flying speeds, increase stability and get more responsive handling. But is it really true?

The effect of weight on speed

Top speed is a safety factor. But, as we shall see, you cannot change this much with either ballast or downsizing, and within a given class the speeds are very similar.

We tested the effect of adding 20kg to a pilot’s flying weight on an EN D wing with a weight range of 85-105kg, flying directly upwind and downwind and averaging the GPS speeds achieved.

Big Bad Ballast

> Big Bad Ballast. Don’t try this at home, kids!

Flying at 85kg: trim speed = 33.3km/h, full bar = 47.2km/h

Flying at 105kg: trim speed = 36.3km/h, full bar = 52.8km/h

Speeds also vary greatly depending on temperature, pressure and altitude. We have recorded 39km/h at trim and 59km/h on full bar many times, but the day of our tests was a ‘slow’ one – 15 degrees, 250m ASL, 1013hPa. As we are investigating relative changes it doesn’t matter.

Adding 20kg of ballast increased trim speed by 3km/h and top speed by 5.6km/h, or +10% speed for +20% weight. But 4kg is the practical limit of ballast – any more is cumbersome in your harness and upsets your balance. In these conditions, adding a big ballast bag of 4kg would increase trim speed by no more than 0.8km/h and top speed by no more than 1.3km/h or 3%.

Simple speed test

> Simple speed test using GPS speeds.

(We’ve been generous here as it’s not entirely linear: as you add more weight you get less of a benefit in speed as the drag increases at the square of the change in velocity. On earlier tests on a tandem, adding 70kg (a passenger) increased trim speed by only 7km/h, not 10.5km/h).

If you think a 1km/h advantage is going to win you a competition, remember that there is a sink rate penalty when carrying ballast, which will slow you down as more thermaling will be needed. Being slightly behind but faster on glides might be a strategic advantage, but either way it’s an incredibly marginal benefit.

For most pilots, adding ballast is a waste of energy. It will not make a strong-wind day flyable and it makes your carry-up a nightmare.

Downsizing

What about moving down a size onto a smaller wing? This can increase your speed slightly more than 4kg of ballast, theoretically by +1.5km/h at trim and +2.5km/h flat out.

Downsizing

> What about moving down a size of wing?

Taking a 95kg pilot off (eg) a 27m wing (90-115kg) and putting him on a 25m (75-100kg) has the equivalent effect on wing loading of adding 7kg ballast.

It might seem that you are much higher up in the weight range, but wings are often designed with reduced wing loading as they get smaller. Small wings are usually less efficient than larger ones and the speed change is likely to be lower than expected, and the glide performance might be degraded too. We don’t recommend chasing top speed by downsizing. There are more important factors to consider.

Weight and safety

We’d recommend being well-loaded on your wing to reduce the frequency of collapses, increase control authority and increase flying speeds. A loaded wing becomes slightly more collapse-resistant, but it will have more energy if it does collapse and your height loss might be more severe. But as long as you’re within the quoted weight range, all collapses are roughly within the norms and you’ll be able to handle them regardless of your weight – if you’ve already chosen the right paraglider class. At full speed on bar the wing deformation is worse on a loaded wing due to the force of air striking the wing making it pucker. There is a limit to how fast these things can go!

Weight and safety

> The safety of the wing is determined primarily by the wing design.

The safety of the wing is determined primarily by the wing design. What you can influence by changing the wing loading (within the certified weight range) will have little effect in comparison to the passive safety of the type of wing you choose.

Weight and performance

Optimum performance is found in a broad range. In the morning you need to be light; at peak thermal time you need to be heavy; then in the late afternoon light again for extended flying in weak conditions. So nobody is ever truly optimised.

There is a broad sweet spot for all wings, which is usually somewhere around 50-75% of the quoted weight range, although this varies depending on the manufacturer.

Weight and performance

> Optimum performance is found in a broad range.

If you fly in strong conditions (wind, thermals, tricky launches) you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’ll be heavily loaded. If you fly in light conditions (soaring the coast, floating downwind on flatland XCs, easy launches) you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’re lightly loaded.

Weight and handling

An overloaded wing feels ‘hard’ and doesn’t turn well (banks too much, loses height, feels like it is ‘grinding’ around the turn). An underloaded wing feels wobbly, collapses more often in a soft, floppy kind of way and doesn’t turn that well either (sluggish handling, difficult to turn back in when thermals push you out).

Weight and handling

> It’s best to choose a wing where you are well-placed in the weight range in the first place.

There is an optimum range or sweet spot for ‘best handling’, often around 50-80% of the certified weight range (this too varies from model to model, even size to size, and also depends on personal preference and other factors). If you’re outside of the weight range, the amount of ballast you’d need to carry before your wing handling changes significantly is impractical – and what you’ll feel most is the counterbalancing effect of a weight below your body, stabilising the harness and making turning less agile.

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All in all, you must make an effort to choose a wing where you are well-placed in the weight range in the first place. If you’re outside the weight range altogether the wing will still fly. The manufacturer didn’t try to certify it at this weight because it is not an optimal loading to fly the wing at, and would probably result in a higher certification class (eg an EN B becoming an EN C). At this extreme point of low or high wing loading you will likely begin to notice a handling change.

Wing design

Every designer has their own idea of the perfect wing loading, which changes depending on their objective for the wing. If they want their target group of pilots to be impressed with the climb rate they make it larger; if they want it to get a reputation as nimble and fast they make it smaller. As the aspect ratio of the wing increases, so does the ideal wing loading because the wing is more efficient. This makes it hard to know what your ideal wing loading should be.

Wing design

> It can be hard to know what your ideal wing loading should be.

Manufacturers usually offer 20kg weight ranges, but the design/ manufacture/ testing/ refining/ certification process makes larger weight ranges and smaller overlaps more economical. And you might like a wing design but be in an uncomfortable place in the overlap between sizes.

As explained above, we don’t recommend ballast. We recommend getting the right wing. Be prepared to look at other brands to achieve this. This article is intended to guide pilots to choose the right wing at any time from any manufacturer’s range, which is why we’ve avoided using any model names.

When choosing your next paraglider, narrow it down to those that put you in the right place in the weight range to start with, and identify the ones that give you a wing loading that suits your flying environment. If you’re lucky you can get a trial flight on your size so you can feel the handling at its best.

Weight ranges explained

Some pilots may be confused by manufacturer’s quoted weight ranges, and these can sometimes be misleading. In short, almost all paragliders have an officially certified weight range (CWR) that accords with their certification. The glider has been tested at the extremes of this range and found to have acceptable characteristics for the EN/LTF certification level.

Weight ranges explained

> In light conditions you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’re lightly loaded. But in strong conditions the advantage is with a pilot flying in the upper end of the weight range.

Some paraglider manufacturers also state a recommended weight range (RWR) within the boundaries of the CWR. This means the manufacturer knows the wing flies at its best within the recommended range, even if the certificated range is wider.

Some manufacturers also state an extended weight range (EWR), often certificated at a higher rating. For example a wing may be certificated at EN/LTF A wing within its CWR (and thus its RWR too), but be an EN/LTF B or C at the limits of the EWR.

Weight ranges tend to be narrower the smaller the wing. A 22m wing may have a CWR of 50-70kg (a 20kg range), while the 31m size of the same wing may have a CWR of 100-130kg (a 30kg range). In this case the recommended weight range (RWR) will also increase with glider size.

Weight ranges tend to be narrower as the performance (and certification class) of the wing rises. An EN/LTF A wing could have a tolerant CWR of 75-100kg, while an EN/LTF D wing may have a much narrower CWR of 85-97kg.

Some paragliders with EN/LTF certification are also certified at higher weights for paramotoring (DGAC certification). These are self-certified by the manufacturer; such testing as is involved does not include recoveries from extreme flight conditions, or tests repeated at various trimmer settings. The BHPA doesn’t regard a DGAC declaration as an acceptable independent verification of a wing’s safety.

Finally, some manufacturers have a tendency to get their wings certified for the largest possible range of weights to maximise the potential market. In reality their wings only fly well within a much smaller optimum weight range. A pilot can end up with a wing that is very much the wrong size for them despite being within the official certified weight range.

How to decide

When choosing your next paraglider, narrow it down to those that put you in the right place in the weight range to start with and identify the ones that give you a wing loading that suits your flying environment. If you’re lucky, you can get a trial flight on your size so you can feel the handling at its best.

How to decide

> Nancy at Flybubble on the perfect size wing, giving ideal wing loading!

We hope this article and accompanying video (see below) help shed light on paraglider weight ranges and wing loading.

Flybubble offers a comprehensive range of wings. We’d be happy to help you make the right choice.

How to Choose the Right Paraglider Part Three: Weight Ranges video

Related reading

We take a closer look at weight ranges in our related article Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers.

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