What is Paragliding?

Many people are under the impression that paragliding is jumping off mountains with a parachute or being pulled into the air behind a boat with a parasail. This couldn't be further from the truth. Paraglider pilots fly off mountains, they never jump off.

Mountain Launch

A paraglider is in essence an inflatable wing. The movement of air into the canopy inflates it and gives it its aerodynamic shape. The paraglider is soft and can easily be packed into a bag and carried around. Its portability is its main advantage.

Glider laid out

The paraglider is laid out on the ground at the top of the mountain on a gentle slope and facing into the wind. The pilot is connected to the paraglider with a special harness. The paraglider is then pulled gently into the wind, which causes the canopy to inflate.  The pilot then takes a few brisk steps into the wind and floats gently up into the air.


How long your flight lasts depends on the weather conditions at the time of take-off. If it is early in the morning or late in the afternoon there may not be much lift present and you will have a short glide to the ground. The length of this type of flight will depend on the take-off height. Taking off a 400 meter high mountain will normally give you a flight time of between 5 and 10 minutes.

As you pick up m ore experience the length of your flights increases rapidly as you learn to take advantage of rising air known as lift. There are two types of lift that enable you to stay aloft longer. The first is called ridge lift. This would involve flying near a mountain or hill, catching the oncoming wave of wind as it lifts to clear the ridge. Once you have mastered this art you can spend hours flying along the front of the ridge.

Pilots in Flight

The second type of lift is flying in thermals. A thermal is a pocket of hot air heated by the ground and rising quickly into the air. The trick here is to fly into this rising air, which will then carry your glider with it upwards to great heights. Flying in thermals allows you to start flying cross country. Using thermals, paragliders have flown more than 500km, climbed higher than 4km above the ground and been in the air for more than 11 hours. Many paragliding world records have been set in South Africa.



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