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What is Paragliding?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Paragliding is a sport of assisted human flight. A paraglider is a motorless, inflatable wing, made of rip-stop nylon and fixed with Kevlar® lines that secure a pilot's harness. The pilot sits in the harness and launches the vehicle by foot, running off inclines, hills, or mountains. He or she steers the wing by weight shift and application of brakes that changes the shape of the rear edge of the wing.

This flying device is made to soar on wind currents. The record for staying aloft is over 11 hours, and the distance record is 186 miles (300 km). The average flight for the everyday enthusiast is about 3 hours, with heights reaching 15,000 feet (4,500 meters).

Paragliders soar in the sky.
Paragliders soar in the sky.

One of the advantages of paragliding is that the entire wing and harness fold up into a 30 lb (13.6 kg) backpack. This makes it easy for a pilot to hitch-hike back from a flight, or to transport his wing by checking it in as baggage on a bus or even an airline.

People who are interested in purchasing a glider should make sure it bears certifications of quality, which the dealer should explain. Recommended additional equipment consists of a variometer or altimeter, which tells the pilot how fast he is rising or falling, and a two-way radio. For those who love the quiet peace of soaring bird-like through the inviting sky, the investment is worth the money.

A paraglider checks the lines connecting his harness.
A paraglider checks the lines connecting his harness.

Courses in paragliding are essential for anyone taking up the sport. Basic techniques and a solo flight are achieved in a two-day introductory course. Afterwards, if a person wants to continue with the sport, it's recommended that he get certified through more advanced training. When selecting a school for instruction in the US, individuals should look for instructors who are certified by the United States Hang Gliding Association. The association can provide more information about reputable schools.

This sport is similar to hang gliding, but there are a few key differences between the two. A hang glider is heavier and must be transported on a roof rack. It also suspends the pilot in a prone position, rather than sitting, and hang gliders fly slightly faster and can fly higher, up to 17,500 feet (5,334 m).

Parasailing and parachuting are very different from paragliding or hang gliding. A parasail does not soar freely on the wind, but is pulled behind a motorized boat, while a parachutist jumps from a plane to free-fall to the ground, as do parajumpers who jump from fixed objects like bridges, mountains, or buildings.

Discussion Comments


I've heard that there is something called motorized paragliding that allows you to glide in places where the wind might not be strong enough to carry you. This sounds cool, unless you are up there and your motor fails on you!

Also, it sounds risky, because the motor is gas-powered. So, you are wearing a motor filled with gas on your back. It just doesn't sound very safe.

However, it would let you paraglide in spots where you couldn't naturally go. You are supposed to only use the motor through the areas where you start to descend because the wind isn't strong enough, so you save power that way.


@seag47 – I understand your phobia, but you are missing out on an amazing experience. Paragliding is the closest thing to actually flying that I've ever done, and the rush is addictive.

I get absolutely lightheaded and giddy when I'm up there. It just seems like something that shouldn't be, because a person flying just goes against nature.

There is nothing quite as magical as drifting thousands of feet above the valley below. I feel like a soaring eagle while paragliding.


I have a fear of heights, so just reading this article and picturing myself up there in the sky made my hands start to sweat! Obviously, I've never been paragliding, and because of the intensity of my fear, I believe I never will.


One time he was injured pretty badly while testing, but he did admit he was showboating at the time. Over all, though, I believe it is a fairly safe sport.


Going paragliding for the first time can be a huge thrill. There is nothing like being off the ground without a machine around you.

I had always wanted to try it but found that the idea made me quite nervous. I was glad though when I decided to give it a shot.

The first day of a course is quite fun, and just like with skiing they have a bunny hill you use to get off the ground the first time. There is always someone with you and the instructors make sure your safety is a priority.

If you follow all of the instructions closely, you'll find yourself ready to fly solo in no time.


@indigomoth - If you are worried about weight restrictions on tandem paragliding you should browse around a bit. There is actually a huge range of paragliders and many can handle quite a bit of weight.

Most regular tandem gliders that are used at rental places go up close to the 500lb range for their passenger capacity (it is 242lbs per seat).

There is a new paraglider called the Bion, and it has a bigger weight range of 253lbs - 506lbs. I imagine as more and more larger passengers have the urge to try paragliding the industry will continue to respond by making more sturdy paragliders.


@indigomoth - I think it is fitness they are more worried about than weight.

If you check the websites of people who teach paragliding they often go up quite a lot and you can buy a special paraglider that can take people who weight a bit more.

It would be a shame to not do something you want to do because of your size.

I say try to get your weight down a bit, or look for opportunities to do it anyway!


@SarahGrove - I have always wanted to go tandem paragliding.

Unfortunately I think they have a weight limit particularly for tandem flights, just because there will be two people suspended and it's that much more dangerous.

I suspect I wouldn't be able to do it because I weigh more than average.

It's a shame, I think it would be a lovely feeling floating above the earth like that.


@ShellM89 - Sounds like your cousin has a lot of fun paragliding. Has he ever taken you tandem paragliding?

That is a way to experience the thrill without having to take a course or invest in the equipment. Some of my friends and I did some tandem paragliding in Los Angeles county last year.

We are planning on going again. It was a great ride. There seem to be more and more companies selling tandem paragliding rides especially in resort and vacation areas that have a good spot for paragliding.


I have a cousin that is an avid paragliding enthusiast. He has even tested new models of paragliders for different companies. He started with used paragliders and loved it so much that now he has several of his own.

When he was going to college he would teach a paragliding course in the summer. He always gets plenty of attention at our family gatherings especially the one time when he came floating in on his paraglider.

One time he was injured pretty badly while testing, but he did admit he was showboating at the time. Over all, though, I believe it is a fairly safe sport.

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    • Paragliders soar in the sky.
      By: toshket
      Paragliders soar in the sky.
    • A paraglider checks the lines connecting his harness.
      By: ueuaphoto
      A paraglider checks the lines connecting his harness.