Getting started

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This page is for people who aren’t paragliding pilots (yet).

Licensed pilots can head to www.wernervanrooyen.com/wiki or toggle the menu, above, for more relevant articles.

Talk to your loved ones

Paragliding is considered by most people to be an extreme sport (most people outside the sport, that is). This is the sort of thing that may upset or worry your family or your loved ones, so you’ll need to involve them from the very start. The more information they have, the less concerned they will be in the long run.

Talk to pilots

Those with something to sell (like tandem operators, paragliding instructors, and sellers of paragliding equipment) will have years of experience and very valuable information to tap into. Just don’t skip the conversation with people who don’t have a financial incentive; those who are just doing it for the love of the sport.

Contact your local paragliding club, follow them on social media, go to your local hill, and talk to a mix of beginner and experienced pilots.

Go fly with someone

Go on a tandem flight! You’ll get a front-row preview of what flying is like. Tell the tandem pilot that you’re interested in joining the sport and chat with them before, during and/or after your flight. They might even let you hold the controls a little. Ask them all the questions you have!

Get the best training

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t ignore it is this: get the best training available.

By talking to other pilots and attending paragliding events, you’ll start to hear the names of reputable schools and instructors repeated. Write them down and ask other pilots about these schools/instructors and what they liked and disliked. You might enjoy a militaristic, drill-sergeant style, but I certainly don’t and a calm, assertive instructor is more conducive to my progress. (I’ve witnessed nervous students getting screamed at for making normal student mistakes, having them make even bigger mistakes as a result 🤷‍♂️)

Some instructors will take you on many more than the minimum prerequisite amount of flights required to get your license; only letting you jump out of the nest when you are actually ready (one of the biggest benefits in my mind). Others will only do training at the training hill conveniently close to their home, leaving you mostly unprepared to fly safely anywhere else once you’ve gotten your license. It’s not efficient paying for an expensive course only to find out you dislike them or their style of training afterwards. Most instructors worth their salt will allow you to tag along for a day to just see what they do (or charge a small fee for a one-day intro course).

Neither being the most expensive nor the cheapest will neccessarily make an instructor the worst or the "best"
List of schools

Most countries with a sizeable free-flight association or club will have a list of recognised schools. By talking to people in the community, you’ll get a feel for the instructors and schools that will work best for you. There’s no need to rush it.

Here is a list of the schools and instructors approved by SAHPA (the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association).

Licensing costs and time

It’s illegal in most countries to fly without a recognised paragliding license. It’s also very, very stupid and there is an immense risk of death or injury (yourself or others) or getting into crippling medical debt. Don’t do it.

If you are strapped for cash right now: you can build a wealth of knowledge in the sport on the ground while you’re saving up to get in the sky.

Some suggestions include:

  • Read paragliding training manuals and books
  • Familiarise yourself with gear, flying, and weather terminology
  • Study the physics of flight
  • Read about controlling the wing on the ground and in flight
  • Brush up on airspace rules and laws
  • Find out how to look for a new or existing paragliding site
  • Become great at weather prediction
  • Talk to other pilots (who generally can’t shut up about the sport)

All these things will probably cost you very little other than the time spent doing them.

Save up until you have money for the best training you can afford. Budget somewhere between $1,000 and $4,500, depending on where you live. It could be more cost-effective to go to a place like beautiful South Africa for a few weeks, get your licence (and international APPI card) and transfer it to your home country (depending on where you are from, of course).

Save up for a reliable, used kit. Budget around $1,500 – $2,500 for something used-but-still-airworthy and upwards of $10,000 for a top-of-the-line wing, harness, and reserve parachute. Note that new gear won’t make you a better pilot, only practice will.

It’s not a very expensive sport (in the way that snowboarding, road bicycle racing, or golf are) but after your initial training and gear expenses, you should factor in transport fees, annual club and licensing/association fees, and the occasional site launch fees (but most of them are free).

After getting your license, you may want to pay for a few more flights under the watchful eye of a senior pilot or instructor as you gain more confidence. For cross-country flights, there are other costs like fuel and the services of a retrieve driver. Gear depreciates at a reasonable rate, so you won’t need to replace everything all the time, and there’s a pretty good second-hand market for it.

Note that in most countries, there is an implied assumption that you will buy your first wing and harness through your instructor or flight school. To me, this is certainly fine as part of a reasonable business model. They’re running a business that grows our sport, after all, and the more the sport grows, the better for all of us. Discuss this with them before starting, however, so you’re clear on everything. Get a second (and third) opinion on used gear and always get it checked by a professional for line length, porosity, and so on. It doesn’t cost much to get your gear inspected, and it very well might save your bacon.

Some pilots spread their training over many weekends, others do it back-to-back in as little as seven days. Most schools are flexible with finding something that works for everyone.

Media resources & links

Read some articles, books, and watch videos on YouTube! Here are some useful websites, books, and channels with hundreds of videos, ranging from beginner to advanced:

  • Fly With Greg (subscription site with a free trial, also free content on YouTube)
  • FlyBubble (YouTube)
  • Ari in the Air (YouTube)
  • XCMag (website and magazine)
  • BHPA (website of UK association, but has free resources and a free PDF training guide)
  • SAHPA (website of South African association, limited information, but they sell the SAHPA Paragliding Training Manual; also available from most schools)
  • The PPG Bible (paperback and digital — written for paramotoring beginners, but much of it applies to paragliding)

About me

Werner van Rooyen

Formerly Business Development and Marketing at Luno (where we went from eight nerds in a tiny office to hundreds of people spread over three continents) and before that Marketing at PayFast. Currently investing, paragliding, and doing research, mostly in Mexico.