Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Selecting Your First Paraglider - Why it Doesn't Matter

Paragliding has changed my life. It was the form of aviation that I discovered after I graduated high school and it's given me so much more compared to any other form of aviation that I tried. I became more confident, more social, it put me in better physical shape, and it completely changed what I had planned for my future. Three and a half years after I started learning it, I'm now a co-founder in a tandem paragliding company near San Francisco and Napa called Elite Paragliding where people can go on amazing tandem instructional flights in the Bay Area.

I entered the world of paragliding a bit differently than most people. I wouldn't recommend it. As a result of my unconventional and stubborn approach, I ended up buying three paragliders before I found one that actually works for me. This article is written for those that want to get into paragliding or is new at paragliding, so that they don't end up buying three paragliders like myself.

Your First Wing Doesn't Matter

There's more than 50 shades of paragliders. There's paragliders that's designed for cross country flying, coastal flying and acro flying. There's wings (wing=paraglider, paraglider=wing) that have a lot of brake travel when you give it input and there's wings where you hardly touch the brakes and you're already upside down. Every wing behaves a little differently in the air.
I've been asked what I think is the best paraglider for someone entering this sport. The important thing to understand there isn't such a thing as "the best paraglider." As I mentioned earlier, there's more than 50 shades of paragliders and each shade is a little better or a little worse for every individual's personality, purpose in paragliding, desire in handling, etc. On the other hand, there might be a "best paraglider" for you. What are your goals in paragliding? Do you want a paraglider that's great at making flat, efficient turns (you loose less altitude in flat turns) or do you want a paraglider that's easier to dive towards the ground? Are you hoping to cover distance or do you just want to fly around your local area? Will you have to hike miles before you fly? Do you want to go upside down or keep the wing right side up? There are a lot more of these questions, but what's more important than any of these questions is that your first wing doesn't matter!

This was my first paraglider. It was a awful!
The problem in finding the best paraglider for you is that most people don't know the answer to all of these questions. They might have an idea of what they want, but until they have experienced paragliding for a while, they don't know. There's a lot of sensations pilots experience in the air that they won't experience anywhere else. Certain wings are optimized to enhance sensations in one area while dampening other sensations. Until someone experiences these new sensations, there's no way to determine what sensations they like and what sensations the want to reduce. It's impossible to know these things, therefore it's impossible to find the the perfect paraglider for you. I see too many new pilots wasting too much mental effort on something they don't even have the answers to.

My Second Paraglider - Too Big (Photo: Meeks Digital Studios)
The best advice I can give to someone looking to purchase their first wing is to find something safe and solid that's designed for beginners. Avoid the paragliders made out of lighter materials. Often times these lightweig gliders are advertised as "hike and fly" paragliders. Your first glider is going to go through a lot of abuse as you learn to fly and a lighter paraglider will wear out faster and tear easier (from ground handling/kiting). If one can find a safe used paraglider, they should buy one. They'll need the guidance of an instructor or a pilot friend to determine if the glider is in a safe condition and if it fits their weight.

Paragliding instructors are most often dealers for a paraglider manufacture or two and hate me telling potential students to find used wings. Despite it usually costing between $1,500 and $1,700 per student for training, instructors don't make a lot of money. Top Ramen gets old after a while and if you really like your instructor, buying a new wing through them is a kind gesture of support. Additionally, they will be able to eat burgers for a while.

Third Time is a Charm (Photo: Meeks Digital Studios)

Most pilots upgrade to another paraglider with more performance after their first flying season. When they get to this point, they'll have a better understanding of what their goals are with paragliding and will be able to the best paraglider for them. Until people are able to know what they want in a paraglider, they should ask these two questions.

  1. Is it safe?
  2. Is it designed for beginners?
These are both questions that a knowledgeable instructor or an experienced pilot can answer. If you're that person, save yourself the mental effort and find someone that can guide you through these two questions. If all else fails, you are always welcome to contact me.