Paragliding FAQ

The Basics:

How do you steer?

Steering a paraglider is like steering a horse. You can tell it which direction you want to go but you're never really sure you're going to go that way until you actually do. This is true for the beginner who doesn't know quite how to persuade their glider to turn, all the way to the highly experienced pilot getting whaled on by the elements.

How high/far can a paraglider go?

In the back of your car a paraglider can go vast distances, and frequently does. Most people fly around in circles and land near where they launched. Other people fly tens, sometimes hundreds of miles and land at a place they would otherwise have zero interest in visiting. 18,000 feet is the highest we can legally fly. It can be easily argued that anyone who flies higher than they're willing to fall is not operating with a full deck.

How long do flights last?

As a beginner you can time your flights with a stopwatch. After you've ruined a couple pair of jeans you can launch from higher places with somewhat longer flights. Eventually you will find yourself so indoctrinated into our little cult of death that you'll be willing to throw yourself off of windy cliffs where your flights can last anywhere from a few seconds (bad) to many hours (good).

Where can gliders launch and land?

You can launch from any elevated slope where you won't hit a tree, get shot by a landowner or arrested. Just make sure it, and you, are adequately insured by USHGA. Some people get towed by boats or a long rope with a motorcycle motor and a drum. You're first impression is correct, those people are loco.

How safe are paragliders?

Come on, do you really have to ask that question? They're not. You're talking about dangling yourself from a bunch of tiny strings, thousands of feet in the air hanging from a square of synthetic fabric, for crying out loud. We're all nuts.


Is lots of wind necessary to launch/fly/land?

No. But if there is wind, it helps if it is blowing in the right direction.

How do gliders gain altitude?

That's a secret. Cough up a few grand, sell your house, buy all the latest and greatest equipment, alienate your wife and all your non-paragliding friends and family, don't forget that real nice SUV (you'll be living in it), and maybe we'll tell you.

What sort of temperatures are encountered in flight?

In the USA the temperatures are usually Fahrenheit. In Europe they are Celsius. If you're a brainiac they may even be Kelvin or Rankin.


Is paragliding physically demanding?

Hell yeah. Try hauling a 40lb backpack up a training hill all day in the middle of the summer, or struggling with your glider on a windy launch, or hiking back to your car at the top of the mountain after neglecting to make retrieval plans. If you're a 40/50ish, overweight couch potato, suffering from a severe case of mid-life crisis, good friggin' luck.

Do pilots need to be of a certain age, gender, weight or size range?

If you have to ask your parents permission, you're too young. If you can't handle the physical exertion, you're too old. If you're a chick, by all means, step right up! Mars needs women. Paragliding needs `em too. Sumo-wrestler or NBA player? Consider something else.

Do pilots need to be licensed to fly paragliders?

No, although USHGA (U.S. Hang Gliding Association) might want you to believe otherwise. Any dumb-ass can strap themself to a glider they purchased off eBay (real cheap!) and try and kill themselves. It's a free country.

How does a student go about learning to fly?

How do you learn anything? Go to school! In this case paragliding school. You can try to teach yourself, but paragliding is not conducive to mistakes.

How much does all this cost?

That all depends on whether you get sucked into our cult of self- inflicted pain and torment, or not. If you come to your senses during your training hill period, you may find yourself out only a few hundred dollars. If not, kiss your bank account good-bye. This stupid sport is more addictive than crack.

Based on the Hang Gliding FAQ by Rodger Furey

Peter Jennings