Our desire to fly is the reason we learn to paraglide but having a community to share those experiences with keeps the passion alive. When you join this sport, there is a built-in group of like-minded friends who you can learn with, fly with, travel with and grow with. Ideally this bond begins with the student’s school and then gradually extends to the greater community. Pilots in this network are often conversing, sharing ideas, goals and accomplishments. Friendships are created and new experiences are shared. When you’re in a +4m/s climb across from a friend, shouting and whooping as you both climb to cloud base, you have shared an experience you’re not likely to soon forget. These amazing shared experiences forge the bonds that grow our paragliding community. There are many benefits to being in the community including going on trips with friends, sharing and testing gear, discussing the technical aspects of the sport, etc. but sometimes, there are also some inadvertent hazards.
As is natural with any friendship and relationship, not everyone grows in the same linear path. Some students may excel in one skill while another may struggle. It’s natural to compare skill sets and want to keep up with “Jonses”, as they say. As pilots, it is imperative that we do not let this affect our decisions. To remain safe, the only factors we should consider are judgment and skills when making decisions about where we are in the sport. Some examples of actions that can lead to injuries or unsafe flying are climbing the P1-P4 ladder as quickly as possible, stepping up in gliders too soon, switching to a pod too soon, or flying tandem passengers. All of these examples have a place in our sport and can be enjoyed safely but if rushed they can become dangerous. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive.
Many of us admire top pilots and want to emulate them but we may forget what it took for them to reach that level. Top pilots have spent many years and thousands of hours of training to have the ability to fly some of these gliders and conditions. There is no real shortcut to years of experience.
Social status and fear of not having the most advanced high performing wing often cloud judgment.
From the very first flight, you realize that you are responsible for your own decision. Sure, your instructor may be piping out instructions to you when you’re learning, but only you can act on following those instructions. You alone must learn how to maneuver your wing. You’re the only one in control of your aircraft and only you can make the decisions, whether good or bad. Remember, only you can fix a cravat and only you can toss the reserve. Your status or how cool your wing is means nothing, your judgment and skills mean everything. You hold your life and wellbeing in your hands, and if you’re too filled with pride to make a safe call, YOU will be the one to pay.
Paragliding is a solo sport. The beauty of that is that we have some control over our destiny. Impeccable judgment is one of the hardest things to teach, and one of the best ways to stay safe in our sport. One poor decision to launch in bad conditions, one kilometer too deep into a canyon, one decision is all it takes, and nobody forced you to make it. Recognizing that conditions are above your abilities and opting out of flying is one of the hardest but smartest things you’ll ever do. Nothing worse than being in the air, wishing you were on the ground. Every launch is optional, but every landing is mandatory.
Flying communities all over the world have these same hardships, but when we recognize the problem we can move towards a solution. Fly for fun. Fly for yourself. Fly because it feels good. Maybe leave the GoPro at home. There’s a special feeling when it’s just you and the wing, and you can shed all the status, and politics and just be in the moment. There is nothing like feeling the air through the brake pressures and to hear the airspeed and the whirr of the lines. These are the only things we need and the real reason we all decided to paraglide.