Paragliding in Wales

What does a paragliding course entail? What sort of things do you learn? Is it fun? Is it hard? These are just some of the many questions I had before we started….

Disclaimer: This blog is in no way associated with this company, I just really really enjoyed the training and wanted to share it with you!

A few years back my mum drunkenly decided that she was not going to be afraid of heights anymore, and that to conquer her fear she was going to go tandem paragliding with my friend Martin, who was a guide in Austria where I lived at the time. The next morning we expected sobriety and the cold light of day to have damaged her resolve somewhat, but to give her credit she was just as determined! Soaring high over the Kitzbuehel Alps she decided that she loved it, and her ear-to-ear beam when she landed marked a new era of non-fear!

As this was a fair while ago and she’d never gotten round to having another flight, for christmas this year we bought her the first session towards getting her solo flying licence which was something she has talked about now and then. Because I’m a good daughter and wanted to keep her company (I really wanted to try it!) I went along with her.

It took quite a few tries to be able to book a suitable day for the flight – the weather never seemed to be quite right. Obviously you can’t learn to fly if it’s too stormy or windy, and apparently it’s sometimes not possible if it’s too hot either because of the thermals, so be prepared to have your dates changed a few times. Stick with it though because it’s worth it! Eventually the day arrived and off we set! Located in the mountains of Wales near Abergavenny, the flight location was a gradually sloping hill overlooking the moors and valleys around – flat at the bottom and ending in a very steep rise at the top for the more experienced fliers!

Our instructor Steve was the owner of the company, and was the most laid back and lovely guy. I have to say he made the day even more enjoyable because of the ease with which he explained it all, and the constant direction he was giving as we bumbled about trying to get the paraglider to do what we wanted! Needless to say, it didn’t always behave!

To begin with, our session was started with an in-depth lesson on flight mechanics, wind directions, emergency landings and general safety stuff where we went through the course-book, Steve checking along the way that we understood it all. We then had a hilarious session on how to fall properly in an emergency landing situation, which thankfully neither of us needed! This involved a padded mat laid out on the ground, and us taking it in turns to lock our ankles and knees and do a sideways roll, flopping our legs over our heads to deflect the power of the landing. Hilarious when mam couldn’t work out which way to roll and ended up like a turtle on her back! (sorry mam!) The first of many times when we were doubled up laughing at ourselves.

Carrying our kit up the hill a little way so that we had an incline on which to practice take offs, we laid both paragliders out and went through a full maintenance check, learning what to look for and how to ensure that it’s safe to fly each time. You don’t want to find out that there’s an unexpected hole somewhere after you’ve jumped off a mountain after all!

Once both sets of kit were deemed safe, it was almost flying time! Sat once more on the grass, we learned how to inflate the canvas, how to get it in the air, and then how to land and deflate it. I was very impressed at how thorough Steve was, and how well he was able to explain the more technical aspects, breaking it down into easy to understand chunks. Harnessed up I had a moment of slight nerves, but I needn’t have, and they were very quickly dispelled – we spent a decent amount of time practicing inflating the glider above our heads, a very physical move that involves you running as hard as you can like a sprinter out of the chocks, except rather than moving forward you find yourself running on the spot for a few steps, just like in the cartoons when someone is being held from behind by their braces. Slowly though the paraglider rises up behind you, and as soon as it does you are able to run forwards until you feel it gently tugging you into the air. At this point, we practiced bringing the brake cord down to your waist, causing the chute to deflate behind you. Handy to know for when you find yourself actually up in the air an hour or so later – flying is all well and good but you definitely want to know how to land the thing!

I have to admit, while I loved every second of the day, it truly is physically exhausting! While I’m not currently at my fittest, I still class myself as relatively fit and strong, but the power needed to fight against the paraglider to get it to rise, running in the heat of the day (to be fair we did it on an exceptionally hot day), and carrying your equipment back up the hill after every single flight really took it out of me! By the end of the day I was a sweaty mess and absolutely exhausted. In a good way though. While I’m fairly solidly built, my mum is pretty tiny, and she really did struggle. Despite her best fight to get the paraglider up in the air she was more often than not pulled backwards off her feet by it – the pic below shows Steve hanging onto her harness straps to help her get the thing off the ground. She’s very fit, but simply lacked the strength to do it and so despite managing it well a few times, she eventually called it quits – at some point she had tweaked her back and it wasn’t worth carrying on and making it worse. It was a shame for her even though she did really well, but it also meant that I had a camera woman on hand for when I finally got into the air!

That feeling when your feet first leave the ground is simply indescribable. You become instantly weightless, everything becomes calm, and I’m pretty sure I even “whoop”ed out loud! As the slope is so gentle you don’t get that much height, no more than a few metres, but it doesn’t matter because regardless of how high you get, you’re still actually flying! As hard as I tried to stay in the air for longer, gravity unfortunately took hold and I landed on the flat (fairly gracefully for a first go I might add!) before having to bundle the paraglider over my shoulder and do the torturous trek back up the hill. This was probably the hardest part as the grass was tumpy and knee high, and the equipment is fairly heavy, probably to be sturdy enough for hopeless newbies to drag along the grass and crash land on! I’m sure it would be a bit easier on a cooler day though.

My next go was fairly disastrous as the wind pulled me this way and that, and despite a few hilariously bouncy attempts to stay on my feet as I was thrown about down the hill, I finally very ungracefully collapsed onto my hands and knees mid take-off. Needless to say I forgot to do my well practiced roll landing from earlier in the day! After that though I got three absolutely stupendous flights down before I had to call it a day at around 6pm, as I couldn’t physically carry my kit up the hill even one more time! Little boast: in my final flight I executed a perfect landing which involves hitting the ground feet first, pivoting to face back up the hill, and collapsing your paraglider gently back onto the ground in front of you. Cue cheesy air punch and another “whoop” from me!

All in all this was an absolutely astounding day out, and I enjoyed it far far more than I ever thought I would. Despite mainly going along to keep my mum company, I now can’t get it out of my head and am sorely tempted to keep going until I get my full licence!

Check out https://paraglide.co.uk or facebook.com/axispara for more info.

Originally written by Mick for wanderwomanadventures.co.uk

Photo by Rafa Tecchio – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40643297

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