are under the impression that paragliding is
jumping off mountains with a parachute or being
pulled into the air behind a boat with a parasail.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Paraglider
pilots fly off mountains, they never jump off.
A paraglider is in essence an inflatable wing.
The movement of air into the canopy inflates
it and gives it its aerodynamic shape. The paraglider
is soft and can easily be packed into a bag and
carried around. Its portability is its main advantage.
The paraglider is laid out on the ground at
the top of the mountain on a gentle slope and
facing into the wind. The pilot is connected
to the paraglider with a special harness. The
paraglider is then pulled gently into the wind,
which causes the canopy to inflate. The pilot
then takes a few brisk steps into the wind and
floats gently up into the air.
How long your flight lasts depends on the weather
conditions at the time of take-off. If it is
early in the morning or late in the afternoon
there may not be much lift present and you will
have a short glide to the ground. The length
of this type of flight will depend on the take-off
height. Taking off a 400 meter high mountain
will normally give you a flight time of between
5 and 10 minutes.
As you pick up more experience the length of
your flights increases rapidly as you learn to
take advantage of rising air known as lift. There
are two types of lift that enable you to stay
aloft longer. The first is called ridge lift.
This would involve flying near a mountain or
hill, catching the oncoming wave of wind as it
lifts to clear the ridge. Once you have mastered
this art you can spend hours flying along the
front of the ridge.
The second type of lift is flying in thermals.
A thermal is a pocket of hot air heated by the
ground and rising quickly into the air. The trick
here is to fly into this rising air, which will
then carry your glider with it upwards to great
heights. Flying in thermals allows you to start
flying cross country. Using thermals, paragliders
have flown more than 300km, climbed higher than
4km above the ground and been in the air for more
than 11 hours. Many paragliding world records have
been set in South Africa.