Learning the Paragliding Basics

Paragliding is an exciting flying sport, but can anyone learn the Paragliding Basics? Well, yes they can, or at least anyone in a normal physical condition can. There are enough paragliding companies around, and many offer paragliding courses over the weekend. We booked such a weekend in the German Sauerland, and learned to fly in one day. Read this Paragliding tale, find a paragliding destination in your neighborhood, and off you go!!

For our yearly weekend with our friends, we always try to find an adventure travel activity. This time, our mind was set to learn the paragliding basics, but for this we had to go abroad, since Holland is too flat for this activity. The closest hills we could find, where paragliding courses are given, is in the German Sauerland, Winterberg to be more precise. After a 5-hour drive we arrived late in the Friday afternoon. We spent the rest of the evening and night exploring the small town, eating, drinking, and preparing for the course the next day.

Explaining the paragliding gear

Early Saturday morning we got a small explanation of the paragliding basics during breakfast. After this, we went to a field where we got our paragliding gear per team of 2 people. Main part of the gear is obviously the wing. It looks like a parachute, but it has two layers of cloth instead of one. In between those layers are connections, dividing the space up into a row of cells, which are open on the front side. By running (or flying) forward, the air comes into the cells and keeps the wing inflated. The rest of the gear is a harness, on which the lines from the wing are connected. It also gives support to the pilot while flying, with even a plank to sit on. The outfit is completed with a helmet.

Our first lesson was how to spread out the wing on the ground, with the open side of the cells facing up. Also making sure all the lines were correctly attached to both the wing and the harness. And then it was time to learn how to pull the wing above our heads. With pulling on the right lines, running and balancing we managed to get the wing from the ground. In this first exercise, the goal was to keep it above our heads as long as possible. Run, run, keep running, keep running. The exercise took all morning, but everybody managed to pull the wing up in the right direction.

After lunch, we got some more theory about how to steer the wing once we would be flying. Easy enough, one would say, but later that day we saw some examples of what can go wrong… We also learn how to land, an art in itself when you do not want your gear to be completely meshed up. And then, finally, it was time to head for the hills.

Run, run, keep running, stop already…

There we were, standing in a long line halfway up the hill, with our wings spread behind us on the ground. The instructor stood below the hill, and ordered us to come running down, one by one. He shouted “Run, run, keep running, stop already…” as one after the other didn’t manage to run fast enough or to keep the wing above their heads. Others felt how the wing began pulling them up, and try to sit down immediately. “Run, run, keep running, DON’T SIT DOWN, stop already…”, the disappointment in his voice was clear, those stupid tourists…

After each and every failed attempt, we needed to pick up the wing by the lines, and walk uphill again, to spread it out for the next attempt. Very tiring, especially when you have little belief in a successful attempt. But then, all of a sudden, one of us succeeded. Still running in mid air like a cartoon character, his wing pulled him from the ground and he was flying. Everybody applauded, and looked at the amazing sight of a paraglider in the hills. The flight was short, off course, but it gave everybody the boost to go on.

Flying, and non-flying Dutchmen

And one, by one, we all took off. Some kept on trying to sit too soon, or had trouble keeping the wing above their heads, so they needed some more attempts. But at the end of the afternoon, everybody had made at least one flight. Except for one, and he had to hear his new nickname for the rest of the evening: the non-flying Dutchman. Later, the famous soccer player Dennis Bergkamp (who is afraid of flying, and doesn’t play away games abroad) took over that nickname.

Needless to say, we had a splendid time that evening and night, excited about our flying experiences, and celebrating that. Some of us regretted that celebration the next morning, when we woke up early again to head for the hills for some more flights. This time, however, the wind had changed directions, and it was much more difficult to take off from the slope. Ironically, it was only the non-flying Dutchman how managed to fly this morning, so finally he could also be proud of himself.

Learning the paragliding basics is indeed possible over the weekend. And it is a great feeling to fly on a paraglider. Later, some of us booked an paragliding vacation in the French Alps, where they took a longer course to learn how to make longer flights, and make use of the rising air thermals to gain height. Since we all live in flat Holland, however, it remained a onetime adventure travel activity for most of us.

Want to learn more about paragliding? Check out Paragliding Tales and Reviews, an excellent resource for paragliders.

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