Let's face it, being a new paraglider pilot isn't easy! Your instructor helped you learn the skills and knowledge necessary to meet or exceed the novice rating requirements and pass the written exam. You've been cleared to go out and fly without your instructor and his comforting voice on the radio. You have taken in a bunch of new information and hope you remember everything you've been taught. There's a whole new world out there for you to explore and keeping your eyes, ears and mind open will help you tremendously in your journey.
Hopefully you are still friends with and flying with your instructor as well as meeting new flying buddies and slowly expanding your experience, knowledge and skill. That's the right direction for a newer pilot, but how do you know the pilots you are forming up with are the ones you want to follow? This article should be used by the novice pilot who doesn't have much experience and is no longer flying under an instructors watchful eye. There is a good chance you have and will make some mistakes during your time in this amazing sport, those around you have also made and will likely make more mistakes. The important thing is that you learn from and avoid repeating yours and others mistakes, we are all human and mistakes are part of how we learn and push ourselves to be better. Its also very important that you and those around you can bring to light and discuss mistakes, incidents and behavior that can lead to incidents and injuries in an open and constructive manner. The information contained in this article has been compiled by flying with many great paraglider pilots and instructors over the years, hopefully you will put it to use and find your place in your community of pilots we call the flock.
Becoming a solid paraglider pilot requires using good judgment and being able to make decisions that result in a positive outcome.
This behavior starts with your instructor early on and must continue to play a major role in every aspect of your paragliding future. Good judgment and decision making go hand in hand and is one of the most important qualities to look for in your flock. Good judgment and decision making have a lot to do with experience, knowledge and skill so it may take some time and many outings with pilots to figure out who you might follow. Now you've got your work cut out for you, good judgment and decision making isn't a "one size fits all" concept applying evenly to all, it varies based on the pilot. Your best asset is the flock as a whole, hopefully you find that the knowledge, skill and experience is vast and varied among instructors, XC gurus, acro freaks and regular Joe types. You have the task of evaluating and ranking all of the squawking and applying what you believe will work best for you.
As a relatively new pilot, you are digging into weather and starting to figure out what things raise Red Flags in your forecasting for each site you fly. When you meet up with pilots in your flock at a site, it should be very common to hear discussions related to the day's forecast, what's going on now and what is expected as the day goes on. Pilots in your flock should be open to sharing their wisdom and experience when it comes to weather forecasts and conditions as it relates to various flying sites. Ask them about what the Red Flags are and how to recognize them when it comes to forecasts and actual conditions observed at your flying sites. Ask them what weather elements have made for the best flying days in the past. If they don't know or can't explain what conditions or other factors related to a site result in a Red Flag or epic conditions, you should find another resource within your flock. Finding a pilot who is a good resource and one you can learn valuable information from may take a while, but it is well worth the effort. Most seasoned pilots enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences with up and coming newbies, so don't be afraid to approach them and ask a few questions.
You've likely seen many pilots launch, fly and land and you know for a fact that it takes lots of time and dedication to become a proficient handler of the stringed cloth on the ground and in the air. So what traits or mannerisms should you look for when determining whether to follow or fly on by? There's so many little details that go into creating a complete, well rounded paraglider pilot that is an asset to the flock. Let's start with some basic pilot etiquette and good procedures, then we will focus on the things to look for when launching, flying and landing. Procedures are a good thing when it comes to planning and executing a flight, it starts way before the launch run and doesn't end after landing. Let's talk about getting set up, where it should be done and why. If your instructor didn't teach you to gear up and get ready for launch away from the designated launch area, shame on him/her! Not only is it a safety issue, it's very bad site etiquette! The pilot who consistently sets up on launch, fiddling around, letting all the good cycles go by when others are ready to go, will quickly find his name on the SH** list. Seriously, getting setup on launch can lead to problems like:
- Forgetting to buckle your helmet
- Forgetting a buckle on your harness
- Forgetting to hook up speed system
- Riser twist from hooking in wrong
- Added anxiety or nervousness about the launch
- Rushing and overlooking things
There are exceptions to every rule and yes, there are times when setting up on launch isn't a big deal. Maybe its just you and a buddy and no one else around or a big, wide launch area where there is plenty of room for others. But remember, procedure is our friend and doing things the same way every time limits our exposure to distraction. Don't accept or make excuses for mistakes like hooking in wrong and having a riser twist, forgetting a helmet strap or overlooking the speed system hook up. Yes, usually it's not a problem and doesn't adversely affect the flight, but understand that you messed up and work hard to prevent it in the future. A pilot with a lax attitude towards small mistakes that are brushed aside as "no big deal" is a sure sign of someone you don't want to follow. So in case you missed it, a pilot that usually gets set up on launch, fiddles around, inflates the glider a bunch of times and lets all the good cycles go by isn't the best pilot to model your setup, pre-flight and launch mannerisms after. The pilot that sets up away from or to the side of launch, getting all his/her gear dialed in, getting themselves dialed in, raido/vario,GPS set, watching and timing cycles and then walks up to the launch area with the glider in a rosette, helmet on, harness all set, speed bar connected, totally focused and ready to go when the cycle comes in. Now that's a pilot you should be watching, talking to, picking up tips and advice from.
As far as flying goes, look for the pilots that fly a lot and do it skillfully, with good technique and style. Look for the pilots that launch cleanly, with meaning and purpose and handle the wing with precision and seem to be one with the wing and harness. Seek out the ones that truly make it look easy and effortless, video them, take pictures, study the technique and body position. If you want to learn how to improve you ridge soaring technique, thermaling, kiting or landing, look for pilots in your flock that do those things often and make it look easy, cool, effortless and beautiful. If a pilot makes launching, flying or landing look difficult, scary, challenging or sketchy on a fairly regular basis, fly on by. Hey, It's best to be friends with everyone in the flock, but remember, you are in this sport for one person and that person is YOU! Hopefully you can learn many new skills and gain some very useful knowledge from those that are resources in your flock and continue to grow as a pilot. One day you might realize that you are the one, the one a fledgling pilot is keeping an eye on and choosing to model themselves after when trying to figure out Who in The Flock to Follow.
Below is a collection of tips and advice from well respected members of the flock. These pilots took the time to think about and put into words things they live by and practice in order to fully enjoy paragliding and keep themselves safe.
Chandler Papas (Advanced Instructor, P4)
- Go with a reputable instructor
- Respect your operating limitations
- Fly airworthy equipment
- Get good before you get fast (fly a wing that suits your experience)
- Stay active
- Fly with pilots who respect their limitations
- Know thy weather
- Do at least one SIV clinic a year
- Don't learn ACRO over dirt
- Be a driver once in a while
- Be active in your club
- Help Mentor pilots that need it
- Help regulate, preserve and open new sites
- Have Fun
Dustin Pachura (P4)
- Watch those that fly a bunch and have a few years of experience flying very regularly.
- Listen to those with the local knowledge on the sites, local weather patterns and how the topography comes into play.
- Those that talk the most, rarely have the right answer.
- Keep an eye on the quiet ones.
- Find the people that fly all the time (every chance they can)
- Be friends with everyone
- Listen and WATCH. Watching people and the different skills is huge
- Remember, Talk is cheap, everyone can give out advice for free
- Then, take a healthy dose of self respect. Fly as conservative as you can, especially when at a new place. You will miss a few "epic" days, but will learn quicker and have a better understanding of conditions. This will also lessen the risk of scarring yourself.
It's not the wing that will ever hold you back. Your ability to use it as a tool will take you where you need to go. Glide and speed alone won't get you to goal.
Jorge Arango (P4, T3)
- Hear everybody but question every word.
- Read, read, read and master the skills learned during training.
- Never attempt anything if you have doubts or even worse, ignore what the outcome of doing such thing can be.
- Learn to know yourself as a pilot and avoid inflating that self image.
- Don't let anybody push you to do anything you are not comfortable doing.
- To finish, always remember you are a mortal and a mistake can cost your life.
Carlos Madureira (Advanced Instructor, P4, T3)
- Accept the fact that paragliding can be very dangerous. However, you can minimize the amount of danger you are exposed to by choosing a very experienced instructor and/or reputable school.
- Listen carefully to more experienced and knowledgeable instructors and pilots. Know that you should listen to what they say and refrain from doing some of the things you see them doing.
- Attach yourself to a group of safe, competent flyers and get as much experience in judging conditions as possible. Be fussy about the weather and only fly when it looks really good. If you go to site and other pilots are flying, observe them for a while and figure out what's going on up there.
- Don't fly paragliders above your skill level just because your buddy flies one or you think it looks sexy or cool. Fly paragliders that you and your instructor have agreed is a good fit for you as far as safety and expanding your skills goes.
- Take all the sled rides you can in your early days of paragliding, they are what enable you to build good launch and landing skills.