WHAT IS PARAGLIDING?
Paragliding is the simplest form of human flight. A paraglider is a non-motorized, foot-launched inflatable wing. It is easy to transport, easy to launch, and easy to land. The paraglider itself is constructed of rip-stop nylon from which the pilot is suspended by sturdy kevlar lines. The pilot is clipped into a harness and oriented in a sitting position for maximum comfort. With a paraglider, you actually fly like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air called Thermals. Paraglider pilots routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, climb to elevations of 15,000 feet, and go cross-country for hundreds of miles.
IS PARAGLIDING THE SAME AS PARASAILING OR PARACHUTING?
No and no. Parasailing is what you do at a beach, in a modified parachute tied to a boat, often in Mexico after you've had one too many cocktails. You get dragged around the harbor like a sack of potatoes, not like a pilot. (If you want to offend a paragliding pilot, refer to their sport as "parasailing".) Parachutes are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground.
By contrast, paraglider pilots launch from gentle hillsides with their gliders already opened for flight; if the glider isn't flying properly, the launch can be aborted before leaving the ground. Since paragliders do not have to withstand the stresses of free-fall deployment, they are much lighter and aerodynamic and are designed to go up rather than down
HOW IS PARAGLIDING DIFFERENT FROM HANG GLIDING?
Paragliding and hang gliding are very similar in terms of the pure joy of flight. The sensation of flying either craft is very birdlike. Many pilots enjoy both sports equally, you should consider learning both. There are aspects that make each a little easier in some situations and more difficult in others.
A paraglider is a bit faster to set up and put away, it folds up into a 25 lb backpack in about 10 minutes and can be easily transported in the trunk of a car, where as a hang glider requires a roof rack for transport and takes at least much longer to set up and take down, they generally weigh 3-4 times as much as a paraglider. Pilots commonly carry their paragliders to the tops of peaks in the Cascades, Alps, Andes, and Himalayas, this would be nearly impossible with a hang glider.
Paragliding launches are not as "committing"; if you want to stop your launch, you just stop running and the canopy floats down behind you.
A hang-glider can be launched from smaller spaces, i.e. narrow openings in a treed ridge line, and more easily in higher winds.
Because hang gliders fly slightly faster, they can cover greater distances more easily and can fly up-wind more easily.
Paragliders, which have advanced rapidly over the last few years, can now cover distances almost as great and, due to their tighter turning radius, can often stay aloft in light lift when hang gliders can't.
Paragliders can more easily be landed back on top of a mountain or the side of a hill and use much smaller landing areas, This makes cross country flying less stressful.
A hang glider is controlled through weight shift and the feeling of carving turns is similar to riding a roller-coaster head first. A paraglider is controlled through weight shift and application of brakes which deform the back edge of the glider, there is a similar feeling of carving turns, but there's not as much speed and you're upright in a sitting position.
They both have similar safety records.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH A PARAGLIDER?
Paragliders are designed to soar. The longest recorded flight to date was 564km (~350 miles) and was just under 12 hours. In training you will start out just skimming the ground. As you progress and become more skilled and confident you will probably want to go higher and use the wing for its designed purpose -- soaring! Average recreational pilots, utilizing thermal and ridge lift, routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, soar to altitudes of 15,000' and travel cross-country for great distances. In addition, paragliders can be easily carried and launched off of most mountains. Paragliders have been flown off of almost every major peak in the United States and Europe as well as off of Mt. Everest.
HOW MUCH DOES A PARAGLIDER COST? HOW LONG DOES A PARAGLIDER LAST?
A new paraglider, harness and reserve will cost somewhere between $4,700 and $5,500, or you can purchase used gear for less. After about 300 hours of fairly active usage and exposure to UV light from the sun, a paraglider is generally in need of replacement. This of course varies with how you care for your wing. It's easy to test your lines and sailcloth for strength and thus determine your need to replace your paraglider long before it becomes unsafe. Harnesses and reserves should last many years with good care. Most pilots who get into the sport also purchase a two-way radio and a variometer (which tells you whether and how fast you are going up or down) for an additional $200-600 altogether. Good used equipment is possible to find if needed, though the long term value is often lower. In addition, because the sport is evolving rapidly, newer paragliders can have significantly better performance and behavior than older ones.
IS IT SAFE?
You can make paragliding, like most adventure sports, as safe or dangerous as you want. It is of course crucial that you receive instruction from a certified professional and use safe equipment -- professional schools will create as controlled a learning environment as possible. But paragliding is still an outdoor sport and Mother Nature is unpredictable -- the primary safety factors are personal judgment and attitude. You must be willing to learn gradually and to think with your head not with your ego. If you don't, then you can get injured or killed; if you do, then you can paraglide until well into retirement.
IS IT SCARY?
Paragliding is the simplest and most serene way to fulfill humankind's oldest dream -- free flight! The pilot jogs down a gentle slope and glides away from the mountain. There is no free-falling or jumping off of cliffs. The launches and landings are slow and gentle and, once in the air, most people are surprised by how quiet and peaceful the experience is. Even a fear of heights is rarely a factor, as there is no sensation of falling. The solo lesson requires more effort (physical and mental) than the tandem lesson, but it lays the basic groundwork necessary to become your own pilot. If the idea of watching the sunset from a comfortable seat in the air, supported by the buoyant evening air, with perhaps an eagle or hawk joining you off your wing tip, appeals to you, then paragliding is for you.
CAN I DO THIS?
Paragliding is about finesse and serenity, not strength and adrenaline. As in rock climbing, women often do much better than men because they don't try to muscle the paraglider around. In Europe, where the sport is immensely popular, you will see pilots as young as 10 and as old as 80. If you choose to hike to launch then you'll want to be in good physical condition, but you can also drive to most popular flying sites. More important than physical conditioning, is being physically and mentally alert and prepared. To be a successful paragliding student and pilot, you need to be able to think clearly and to listen well.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW WHEN PURCHASING MY FIRST PARAGLIDER?
First, you need to know how to fly. No would-be pilot should purchase a wing before learning at least the basics of paragliding. It is your instructor's job to help you select your first wing. Different paragliders have different characteristics and require different skill levels; your instructor will match the glider to your particular interests, strengths, weaknesses, and skill level. Develop a solid relationship with an instructor you trust before purchasing equipment. "Good deals" generally end up costing the naive new pilot a great deal of money. Most instructors rely on referrals and repeat business so they are very determined to help you make the right decisions. See our advice on buying paragliding equipment for more information.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Glad you asked! The best way to start is with an Introductory Course designed to give you a taste of real flying. Under radio supervision, you will fly solo from the training hill and progress to higher flights, all in two days. The basic techniques of paragliding -- launching, turning, landing -- are fairly easy to learn. The length of the course is designed to compensate for weather constraints and different learning curves. If after your introductory flights, you want to continue with paragliding, the next step is to enroll in a Novice (P2) Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc. You should try and complete the Novice Course in a concentrated period of time.
DO I NEED A LICENSE TO FLY?
Paragliders are regulated under the Federal Aviation Regulations Section 103 and therefore a license is not required to paraglide. In essence, paragliding is a self-regulated sport under the auspices of the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHPA) To keep it self-regulated, pilots and instructors alike adhere to the policies and guidelines of the USHPA. Local flying regulations may require the pilot to have certain USHPA certified ratings, such as Novice (P2) or Intermediate (P3) in order to fly a particular site. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified rating.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN TO FLY?
You'll be flying solo during your first day of paragliding instruction, which is one of the advantages of the sport. However, in order to acquire the basic skills necessary to fly on your own without instructor supervision, you need to take a Novice (P2) Certification Course, which generally takes a total of 7 to 14 days and a minimum of 35 flights. During such a course, you will complete the USHPA-mandated amount of ground-school time, flights, and flying days, and will learn about high altitude flight, advanced maneuvers and reserve parachute deployment. Whether you complete your training in consecutive days or spread out over several months is up to you, although the more concentrated your training, the better.
WHAT IS "THE RANCH"? HOW DID THIS PLACE COME ABOUT?
Aerial Paragliding operates on 2200 acres of privately owned land named Hay Canyon Ranch. The land was previously owned, in part, by a rancher who raised hay and cattle. Parapente USA, the first paragliding school to operate at “The Ranch”, as it became known as, rented use of the hills from the rancher starting around 1990.
In 1995, the school and landowner experienced financial and legal problems that stopped paragliding activities and threatened the future of the Ranch as a training facility. Recognizing that the Ranch was both an incredible asset to the sport and a unique open space for recreation and wilderness alike, two pilots stepped forward to acquire and manage the land. Over the next several years, the new owners acquired much of the surrounding land that was threatened with irresponsible development. These efforts earned them the USHPA “Commendation” awards in 1997 for preserving a flying site and contributing to the sport.
Dixon White, the first recipient of the USHGA Instructor of the Year Award, and owner of a successful paragliding school in Arizona, combined forces with the new landowners and AirPlay Paragliding was launched at The Ranch in 1997.
Denise Reed started lessons with AirPlay at the Ranch in 1998 and the following summer, was joined by Doug Stroop. Soon after they received their P2 Ratings. That winter they visited the school in Arizona, and after 3 months, Dixon asked if they'd like to apprentice to instruct for him. After a few years of operating half the year in Arizona and half the year at the Ranch, we separated the business, with Dixon focusing on Arizona.
We became Aerial Paragliding and have been operating the school at the ranch since 2003.
Tragically Dixon passed away from a health issue in May 2003. We lost a business partner, a mentor and a friend, and paragliding lost one of its greatest instructors who pioneered many of the techniques we still currently use.
Aerial Paragliding continued on at The Ranch and we’ve had many happy seasons teaching at this amazing location. Students and pilots that come to The Ranch are privileged to learn on spacious grassy hills in a serene natural setting. The Ranch is home to numerous deer and coyote, several species of snakes, as well as the occasional lynx, black bear and cougar. There are also over 50 species of birds, many of which utilize the same thermals as us. The soaring birds help show us where to find thermals and how to work them to gain altitude, though we will never match their skill, try as we might.
The Ranch is more than an amazing location for paragliding, it is also a place of peaceful beauty. We appreciate and respect it for both attributes. As the property is privately owned, it does have restricted access. Only those with a reservation are permitted onto the property, which is accessed through a gate with a sign for Hay Canyon Ranch. Please respect the generosity that makes use of the property possible and make sure to pre-arrange any visits. We look forward to sharing the wonders of Paragliding and The Ranch with you.