Met a wonderful paraglider in Colorado this week. We went out on the adobe hills East of Delta, CO over the last weeks, and launched large paragliding kites off the edges of the hills onto the plateaus below.
It was a thrill! It was unlike any other activity I’ve ever tried. The kites are made of the same parachute material as normal airplane parachutes, but are thinner in shape, and have a curve to the ends more like an airplane wing.
The kite is connected to a harness that the pilot sits in, with many nylon cords connecting to different parts of the underneath of the kite. There are 2 straps connected to a cord, that when you pull one or the other it turns the kite. It’s harder than it looks! After 4 flights, I’m still struggling to lean enough on the cord to really turn the kite.
That’s because, once you’re launched, there’s a lot to be distracted by! The feeling that you are really flying in the air is pretty awe-inspiring. Then, there’s the whoosh of the wind past the cords. Piloting a paragliding kite is a very peaceful, Zen experience. It’s just you & the kite & the air, nothing else. The wind whistles past the nylon cords, and past your body. The flutter of your clothes is about all else you might hear…
Just realizing that you are in the air, and you’ll come down at some point, is enough to occupy even the calmest of minds. One thing I do remember, is how to land. Both pull cords come down, and your legs go out, as you prepare to gently step on the earth. Then keep running forward to make sure the kite lands on the earth behind you.
My last flight, however, was a much harder landing. Because I’m still struggling to learn the controls to turn the kite, I couldn’t get the kite to face more directly into the wind. When trying to land, if you are facing the wind the kite will slow much faster. If the wind is behind you or at an angle, the kite will not slow down very fast by the time your feet reach the ground. Thankfully, I used a harness with a wooden internal frame, and a big cushion on the bottom. My butt skidded to the earth without a scratch on me. Yay!
If you like flying in any capacity, give paragliding a try. It’s an incredible thrill. As a pilot, when I get up in the air, I’m entirely at the mercy of the wind & sky. Most of the time, that’s not a problem. Sometimes, it can be a scary adventure with your life on the line, like what happened to this champion paraglider in Australia.
With any new sport, it’s up to you, as the adventure-seeker, to make your own decision on whether to proceed with a flight, or ski, or climb, or whatever you do. Fortunately, my friend is great at coaching me through the nuances, like when the wind is blowing in the right direction for the angle of our launch cliff, etc. I’m learning when to make good choices about landings. As air blows over even a small mound, it starts to tumble & turn, sometimes making vortexes & eddies. It’s important to choose a landing area that is flat, so that the kite doesn’t hit a wind eddy while you are close to the ground.
Take lessons. Learn all you can. Give paragliding a try – you won’t regret it!