What is paragliding?
Man has dreamt of flying for thousands of years. And about forty years ago paragliding was invented. Paragliding is the simplest and most serene way of fulfilling that dream of free flight. A paraglider is an inflatable fabric wing. It is light and easy to transport in a backpack. It doesn't need an engine and is not difficult to launch and to land. The pilot sits in a comfortable harness suspended by a system of lines from the canopy and steers the glider with two controls. With a paraglider, you can fly like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air. Paragliders often stay aloft for hours, climb to cloudbase, and may even fly hundreds of miles cross-country without an engine.
By contrast, parasailing is done with a modified parachute tied to a boat. You get dragged around and do not "pilot" a parasail. Parachutes on the other hand are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground while a paraglider is designed to be launched with the canopy already opened for flight and to stay aloft for an extended time.
What is the difference between paragliding and hang gliding?
The paraglider canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is suspended in a sitting position. A hang glider has a rigid frame maintaining the V-shape of the wing, with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. A hang glider has a 'cleaner' aerodynamic profile and flies at higher speeds than a paraglider but therefore needs more space to land. The total paraglider gear folds up into a 15 Kg (30 lbs) backpack in about five minutes and can be easily transported. The hang glider, due to its higher weight and rigid frame, needs to be transported on a vehicle.
How to get started?
The first step of the course includes 'groundhandling' of the glider on the lawn. You will learn how to control the wing in order to later launch it from a mountain site. The next step is short flights from a training hill (near Walkerswood) to practice launch and landing sequence. Once you show good control and are able to handle it safely, it's time to do your first flight under radio control from the big John Crow Hill in Malvern (St. Elizabeth). The last stage of training are certain air maneuvers to learn to control the glider properly.
At the end of the course, and upon passing a written multiple choice exam, a paragliding pilot's license will be granted. Course fees include the use of all training gear such as wing, harness, reserve chute, helmet, radio etc.
How long does it take to learn to paraglide?
From your first steps of groundhandling to first altitude flights from the Malvern site, it will take approx. 6 to 10 sessions followed by 20 flights from the Malvern site. The groundhandling on the lawn and the first flights from the training hill can be achieved in afternoon or weekend sessions according to your schedule. However, when it comes to real flying from the big mountain in Malvern extended 2-3 day weekend commitments are required to achieve a more concentrated and lasting training effect. (Note: If you have the means to learn abroad it will most likely take less time, but probably cost you a bit more.)
Is paragliding safe?
You can make paragliding, like most adventure sports, as safe or as dangerous as you want. Ways you can make it safe are to receive instruction from a certified professional and use appropriate equipment. You must be willing to learn gradually, use good judgement and have a mature attitude. If you don’t, then you can get injured or killed; if you do, then you can paraglide until you’re 90 years old.
In paragliding we do not free-fall or jump off of a cliff. Your launches and landings are slow and gentle and, once in the air, you will probably be surprised by how quiet and peaceful the experience is. Even if you have a fear of heights, it will rarely be a factor, since there is no sensation of falling.
Who can do paragliding?
Paragliding is about finesse and serenity, not strength and adrenaline. Women often do better than men because they don’t try to muscle the paraglider around. However, you want to be in good physical condition as the learning process especially in a tropical climate requires quite a bit of stamina due to heat and dehydration. Besides good physical condition, being mentally alert is important. To be a successful paragliding student and pilot, you need to be able to think clearly and to listen well.
How much does the paragliding gear cost?
A new paragliding set (incl. wing, harness, helmet and reserve parachute) is available from US$3,500. We give our local students substantial discounts on equipment! After 300+ hours of exposure to sunlight, a wing may need to be replaced. Of course this varies with how you take care of your wing. Harnesses should last for a decade with good care. Good second-hand equipment may be available for less, though it will have a shorter life-span.
Paraglider above Mona, Kingston.