The reason I take to the sky is simple: I want to fly.
Just about every person on earth has wanted to fly at one point in his or her life. Maybe we envy our avian friends or maybe the ground has lost its charm, but something about leaving the earth appeals to us bipedal beings. So, why do so few of us ever actually take to the skies? Some say it’s too complicated to learn to fly; others say it’s too time-consuming, too expensive and/or too dangerous. But is it? While the vast majority of us will never own or operate a plane, there are other ways to leave the ground.
Paragliding is the cheapest and simplest way for humans to fly. It takes a fraction of the time and money that becoming an airplane pilot does and, while it’s not risk-free, it can be a relatively safe sport.
Paragliding is perhaps the most practical way to fly. The gear consists of a harness with a seat for the pilot that is suspended from a fabric wing. Weighing less than 50 pounds, this gear can be carried easily in a backpack. Pilots take off by lifting the wing over their heads and running forward down a slope until they lift off the ground. Using air currents to gain and maintain altitude, pilots can stay aloft for hours flying in predetermined patterns high above ground. Expert pilots even can fly hundreds of miles cross-country.
The reason I started paragliding was simple: I wanted to fly. I didn’t want to be flown with the aid of a vehicle. The freefall of skydiving held even less appeal to me. I wanted autonomy in the sky. I wanted to soar and swoop and glide.
All that fear vanished
So, when my roommate suggested we save up for paragliding lessons, I was more than enthusiastic. Even through paragliding is cheaper than other ways of flying, gear and lessons have their costs. It took me almost a year to save enough money. But our first day flying, the first time my feet left the ground, I knew it was worth the wait.
I have to admit I was scared. Heights have never been a huge fear of mine, but the idea of relying entirely on a large piece of nylon fabric and some small pieces of cord to keep me airborne was not reassuring. I had not been above the earth in anything smaller than a Cessna before, and I initially felt exposed and vulnerable in my gear.
All that fear vanished the moment I sat back into my harness. I began to feel entirely in control and completely safe. As I approached the ground again, I felt the fear return. I learned that taking off and landing are the most challenging and dangerous aspects of paragliding.
It’s important to stress that paragliding accidents are not uncommon and can be fatal. Anytime pilots change variables in their flying routines, the utmost of caution is called for. But if you fly only in stable conditions, at locations you’re familiar with, using gear you’re comfortable with, you could fly for decades with no more than the occasional sprained ankle.
The promise of flight is what first drew me to paragliding, and I can honestly say that if it hadn’t met my expectations, I would have given up the sport. Sufficed to say, it has met my expectations, and in many ways, surpassed them.