It’s one of those perfect paragliding days. Air is going up everywhere. Hitting lift is like hitting fish in a barrel. You’re going cross country with a gaggle of your buddies and your goal is in sight. 6 hours in the air, but then … the sky shuts down. You have to land. You miss your goal by 2 miles. The perfect day ruined?
As we progress in our sports and hobbies, we can lose sight of a few things. So I’d like to try and give you some perspective from a newly qualified, low-airtime CP point of view.
Why We Fly
Like most of us (I imagine), I’ve dreamed of flying for longer than I can remember. Family holidays where I was just as excited about looking out the aeroplane window as I was to arrive. All the way through to studying Aerospace engineering at Manchester University. But, knowing the theory wasn’t close enough. So, I needed to be up there. I needed to feel it for myself.
The form of flight that captivated me the most was the one that seemed the freest. Paragliding has no cockpit, no windshield, no runway. Carry your backpack to the ridge and just step into to air, free as a bird.
The Turning Point
In May 2018, I Finally had the chance to begin paragliding tuition. So, I took the plunge and signed up for a day taster session at Airways Airsports in Derbyshire, UK. I talked a little about what I hope to do with this in my other story here.
My fear was a similar fear to that of meeting your heroes. Is it everything that I had ‘bigged it up’ to be in my mind over the decades? Also, would my fear of heights cut my dream short?
Yeah, I’m really not crazy about heights!
However, from that first moment when my feet left the ground, I was in love. I was besotted. I knew taking up paragliding was literally life-changing.
I immediately signed up for a full course that would take me to CP (tow) qualified.
From this point, paragliding consumed my interest in a way that nothing else ever had. If I wasn’t flying, I was thinking about it, I was reading about it, or I was talking about it.
The Paragliding Road Of Trials
As I found out, and all of you will probably know, paragliding is all about the weather! So, fitting in flying with my family commitments and also threading it between poorer weather days in the UK means it can take some time to build up flights and experience.
This can lead to you urgently wanting to “get your flights in”
On the course I took, we used a tow winch to get into the air. I liked being able to build up your altitude and confidence gradually. It Made it less likely that you would scare yourself off on day one.
One thing, though, is that you have to wait for the lines to be towed out and for other students to have their turn. This means you may only get 4 or 5 flights in an entire day. Each flight is only a couple of minutes long, too. So, the temptation is, when it is your turn, to want to just GO! The conditions may be a little questionable for a student pilot, but you don’t want to wait another second!
The instructors won’t let you go when it is unsafe, but your motivation is to get into the air.
This led me to two personal revelations.
My instructor told me this.
“It’s more important knowing when NOT to fly, then when to fly”
He went on to explain how, sometimes, the weather would look perfect, others would be flying, but he didn’t feel right about it. So he would go back down. His mind wasn’t in it.
A Mental D.I. (Daily Inspection)
This advice rang true with me a few sessions later. Whilst waiting for the tow line and for other students, I started to get annoyed. Things were moving slowly, others weren’t ready to go and I was. When it was finally my turn, the air became very “sinky”. We weren’t getting high enough to complete any tasks.
My thoughts were, “I’ve waited all that time, for this?!” I was getting annoyed.
Then, his advice came back to me. I shouldn’t be flying today! Even though there was an entire afternoon and I could complete some more flights towards my qualification, I decided to pack up early and head for home.
There will be other days.
My First Big Sign-off?
Over the next few sessions, I completed the required tasks and paragliding exam papers. I went to Andy, the CFI at Airways for him to sign me off as a CP (tow). However, he checked through my flights and recognised that I hadn’t completed enough of them. On one hand, I had done the tasks. On the other hand, I’d done them in a very short period of time. So, I needed to complete at least 10 more circuits before he could sign me off.
Now, I would be lying if I said this wasn’t frustrating.
When you think you are at the peak, and there’s another one appearing beyond it, it’s a little annoying. But, I respect the experience and opinions of the instructors. They’ve been paragliding a lot longer than me. Also, I’m thankful that they won’t sign students off until they are capable enough.
He then gave me a little piece of advice that has changed my entire approach to this great sport.
“Don’t be in a rush. You can’t rush aviation”
He was referring to how quickly I had got through the tasks, but I see this as applying to every aspect of a paragliding pilots progression.
I can see this happening when we start to build up our flight times. Chasing numbers, time, distance and getting downhearted at flying ONLY 5 km and not the 10 km we were aiming for. Don’t get me wrong, goals are great and essential to a solid progression. But, we should try to remain stoked with the fact that we are flying. Not get frustrated that the figures don’t always match our aims.
Theo Warden, European and British Nationals winner 2018, talked about this in an interview. To fly far, you have to have fun. So, getting into a flow and enjoying yourself leads to smoother, more efficient flying. You also make better decisions when you are enjoying yourself and not stressing out.
Onwards And Upwards
There will always be that next peak: CP (tow), CP (Hill), 10-hour novice, tasks towards Pilot, cross-country miles, 100 hours, SIV, etc, etc. And, along the way, there is so much enjoyment to gain. However, chasing those milestones shouldn’t get in the way of being airborne, looking out to that horizon and feeling completely free.
Three things I hope to keep in mind as I progress:
Know when NOT to fly. Having your mind prepared is as important as having your kit in good condition. Do a Mental D.I.
Don’t rush aviation. There is no peak, stay humble and the journey is all that matters – enjoy it.
Forget the figures, remember you’re flying. That was the dream for many people, for many years.
The Wrap Up
I don’t mean to sound like any kind of expert. My hope is to remain humble in this sport and avoid getting over-confident. So, the aim of this article is to provide a little perspective to pilots that, maybe, have lost sight of where this all started for them. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll do my best to help. Also, for more of my photography on this, check out my Instagram and YouTube channel.
If you are a content creator or love capturing and telling stories, consider signing up to Friends Of #J below for extra, see-it-first content.
So, thanks for reading this far, have a great day,