Shiggy paragliding the dumps in Pacifica, CA

What it’s like to paraglide

This year I got my paragliding license and I fell in love with it. Here is why.

Flying like a bird is a dream. There is no engine, no noise, only you and a wing. You can climb and stay in the air for hours with no other power than the wind on ridge soaring or thermals.

It’s the lowest cost aircraft you can own. Getting your license takes about two weeks (if you fly every day) and less than $2,000. Then you can buy your own gear for about $5,000 new and fly as much as you like for free. You have to change your wing after a certain number of hours so it’s not totally free flight forever but it’s very reasonable if you compare to flying a small aircraft.

You can travel the World with it. It fits in a travel bag you can check-in in any airline and in some cases even as carry-on luggage. I have flown in Maui HI, Pacifica CA and Annecy, France. It’s always a new and different experience. It’s also an occasion to discover a stunning landscape from above. I have had one of the best sunsets in my life over Pacifica near San Francisco watching whales and dolphins under me. I landed almost at night my eyes full of extraordinary images and moments. I already have a list in mind of the best paragliding sites in the World I want to visit. The Alps, of course, but also Mexico, Colombia, Brazil…

At home in Pacifica I can go paraglide for an hour or two, the equivalent of a French lunch duration. And it’s only a 20 minute drive from San Francisco downtown.

It’s real piloting skills. I have been flying small planes for 15 years and I really regret I did not start paragliding before. Starting to paraglide is very easy in beginner sites such as the Maui crater that has no wind and easy launch spaces in grass. You can get in the air by yourself in a few days under instructor supervision. I found ridge soaring very interesting as you can practice landing in the precise area you decided over and over again. The wind hits the cliff and takes you up with no efforts. I scared myself once already and learned a lesson not to fly when the wind is too strong and gusty. I kept going up and it took me five times to land.

It’s dangerous if you push it, not so much if you don’t. Humility is a must.

The next step for me is to learn what to do if things go wrong, like the wing collapses, stalls or one of the many other things that can happen to it. It’s called an SIV course and often happens over a lake so if things go wrong you just end up in water with your security parachute (we carry a second, smaller and non directional parachute). It’s like commercial pilots going to simulators to experience fire and engine failure.

I’m only at the beginning, there is so much to learn.

Paragliding is also a community. There aren’t that many paraglide pilots so anywhere you go you get to meet new friends who share the same passion and often stay in touch with. Many pilots already helped me so much in my progress or discovering new sites

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