I have been debating whether or not to write about paragliding for a while. Partly because it has now been a couple of years ago since I did it. But, more importantly, by far, is I unfortunately had a family member who was killed during a sky dive and a few friends who have been injured paragliding. So making the decision to have a go is filled with so many thoughts, questions and concerns mixed in with the excitement of trying something that I have watched for years.
Going back to 2008 I got my first taste of paragliding. I was out in Argentina on a ski trip where we heard of someone offering paragliding tandem jumps. It was near my birthday and I jumped at the opportunity. There wasn't a huge amount of lift that day so it was a fairly short flight but nonetheless it sparked an idea to try it again one day.
Fast forward to 2015 and I had my chance. Whilst on Baffin Island I had been listening to a audio book called Hanging in There by Jon Chambers. It's quite a niche subject but despite not knowing much about paragliding I enjoyed it as it helped pass the time away. It was interesting hearing about how they pushed the limits of technical skill and ability during the competition as well as inspiring me to have another go at the sport of paragliding.
Once back in the UK from Canada I had a look round and came across High Adventure Paragliding on the Isle of Wight. Finding a route over from Southampton was easy enough and I made my first journey over to the Island. Jumping on the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth. I sat on the top deck in the glorious sunshine as it pulled away into the channel not far from Christchurch where I had previously practised ocean rowing. I met up with Pad the instructor where he went over how we would progress and an introduction to paragliding. Outside the office sat a swing setup like a paraglider without the wing where we could go over some of the basics before we headed out to the hill.
Pad took the time to show me how to setup the wing as we laid it out for the first time in a small valley looking out onto the sea. I could see in the distance small white horses gleaming in the sunshine.The sea breeze channelled up this small gorge providing the lift for us to play on. He talked me through it bit by bit before showing me the first short flight of him lifting and dropping down safely. The main point being to concentrate on each section of the journey and breaking it down into shorter sections. The first bit being the take off. Wing primed it was a case of waiting for the right breeze before running down the hill. Bit by bit the wing would rise above before it felt like you couldn’t run downhill as it started to lift me from the hillside. Focussing on the direction I wanted to go i ran harder, i probably looked like some odd bird desperately trying to take off in a completely ungraceful manner. I was finally up and enjoying my short and sweet flight back down to the grassy slope beneath me as I was directed on the radio.
The day was spent making longer and longer walks up the hill, setting up under the supervision of Pad before waiting for his signal and taking off for a small hop down the field. The feeling each time was incredible with that small piece of weightlessness cruising down the field and landing. It is of course a big learning curve and I was trying to absorb as much as I could with the terminology and new technique. In the midst of all this I even forgot to about lunch which soon passed me by.
As conditions became stronger into the early evening it was time to call it a day. We finished up with a tandem ride. Taking off near one of the cliffs we cruised backwards and forwards on the sea breeze. It gave me a true feel for what it would be like to be able to paraglide by myself with nothing but the wind on my face. I even got a go at steering us along the cliff line.
We made our final top landing on the cliff before packing up. We made our way back to the ferry and I was excited about my next time already.
With me being a beginner and it being Britain that next flyable day took a bit longer than expected. But soon enough I was on day 2. This time from a slightly different location and a bit of a longer path to fly. I got to practise some reverse launches. This is where you get your paraglide to form a bank in front of you further up the slope as you fill each of the pockets. Once ready and with the wind at the right level towards you I would pull the paraglider up where it would ideally slowly rise above me before I would smoothly turn around and run down the slope. After I got the knack of remembering which way to turn around, the lines at this point are twisted over one another, I quite liked this method. It was a lot more visual and i felt you could see what was happening through each stage.
Again a lot of the day was spent marching up and down the hill. Each landing meant the packing up of the wing before quick marching back up the hill for the next round. Not wanting to miss out on potential flying time I marched up and down as much as I could. By the end of the day there was a bit more flying to do and a written test to complete the first stage. I managed a couple of more days in the UK each time heading higher up the hill side and getting more valuable air time.
At this stage though I got the opportunity for a week of intense paragliding.