How to Start Paragliding

Paragliding just might be the most fun you ever have. You'll never know until you try it...
Brett Kistler

Every pilot finds his or her way to paragliding in a different way. Many aspirational pilots’ curiosities are piqued by chance encounters: seeing a cross-country glider cruising overhead, driving randomly past a flight park or catching a glimpse of the sport on TV. There are so many roads to the sky.

Once a certain type of person sees free flight in action, a kind of alchemy happens: the idea of flying becomes a wild and restless imprint on the soul, cavorting through one’s head in a flurry of airborne daydreams, turning one’s eyes ever skyward. Here’s how to take that spark and develop it into a full-on nylon avocation.

Try it Out

Before the requisite investments of cash and time, you’ll have to face the biggest barrier of entry that any extreme sport presents: fear. You can generally rest assured that your initial (entirely natural – and, dare I say, good) fear of heights will become manageable in time. ​Think along the same lines as a new skydiver and consider your experience of fear to be yet another investment – just like time and money – that you must put on the books in order to emerge a paragliding pilot on the other side. (Quick tip: it’s worth it.)

If you’re not sure that you want to dive right into the sport, don’t worry: you don’t have to. Most schools offer a “taster” session that comprises of either a tandem ride or a one-day introductory course. Introductory sessions generally bring students out to the training hill for an overview that covers equipment, basic launch techniques, and landings. (Any flights that take place are generally of the straightforward launch-and-land variety.)

You can generally expect that the cost and knowledge of an intro course will go towards the P2 licensing course, should you decide to proceed; to be sure, however, check those specifics with your chosen school.

Proceeding to P2

The United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association sets out a number of ratings. This rating system begins with the P1 (Beginner) rating. The P1 rating, however, is sufficiently basic that it does not qualify the pilot to fly at most organized paragliding launch sites. For instance: it does not allow the pilot to fly without the supervision of a qualified instructor. In order to have enough skill and experience to fly at most launches, you’ll need to carry a P2 (Novice).

The P2 is earned by working through a lesson plan that requires a series of demonstrated skills and written tests. Many pilots, depending on the weather where they work to earn their ratings, can pass the tests and demonstrate the skills within two weeks. If time is an issue for you, be sure to ask your school about the best season to book your series.

Once You’re Certified

The P2 certification qualifies the bearer to fly alone – safely and confidently – at a great many sites around the world. The certification requires that you become a member of USHPA, which has the added benefit of 3rd-party insurance (which is required at many organized American launches). ​You can even look for a USHPA mentor.

Ask your chosen school if paragliding instructors welcome questions from their past students. If you immediately decide to pack your paraglider and travel, you may have questions that you’d like to ask your trusted teacher – and you’ll want to know that they’re willing to counsel you.