The first step to find a flying site is to search online, then ask around at your flying club, other pilots, or in the various social media groups for the area.
Database & map
I created a spreadsheet, with permission, of Greg Hamerton's Fresh Air book, with info on most of South Africa's flying sites. This data I then exported to create: SA Paragliding Map (which you can view on your computer or phone on the hill). You can filter for BASIC or SPORT sites, and it also has a list of sensitive sites, where you shouldn't land. For now I'm only making the Western Cape sites visible.
Alternatively get Greg Hamerton's Fresh Air (book of the spreadsheet database above, this is still the most comprehensive resource of South African paragliding sites, even if it hasn't been updated since 2006; ask your club or instructor if a paper or digital copy is doing the rounds
Popular & tricky sites
I've created separate pages with most of the relevant information for some surprisingly tricky sites
- Lion's Head (LH). See: Lion's Head.
- Porterville (PV). See: Porterville.
Cape Town & Western Cape research
Ask on the Glen Paragliding Club's Whatsapp groups (one for flying-only discussions; the other one is a bit more general and chatty). Note that many of the sites require IPPI 5 (Sahpa Sport licence) and/or a briefing and sign-off (by someone formally authorised, not just some pilot on the hill). Lion's Head and Signal Hill can be extremely tricky with fast-changing dangers; both see a lot of accidents by visiting pilots.
- SAHPA site guide (some useful information, especially for the Western Cape's main sites, including a page specifically for Table Mountain National Park)
Western Cape windrose
The Western Cape Windrose shows sites that could be considered based on different wind directions:
Below are rough guidelines on surface wind speed for some Western Cape sites for licensed pilots. If you're a student, ask your instructor.
- Hermanus: Up to 18-20km/h (and even 22-24km/h, but you'll have to have good ground handling and wing killing skills)
- Porterville (PV: Dasklip, Pampoenfontein, Kardoesie): Up to 18km/h
- Piketberg (PB) Max 12km/h.
- Sir Lowry's Pass (SLP) Max 12km/h (but for beginners around 8km/h and below, since the wind creates a strong venturi at takeoff, will need to be on-point with your ground handling).
- Franschhoek (FH) Ideally 6-10km/h. Anything forecast in the double-digits means it will probably be PUMPING at launch (and makes bottom-landing a safer alternative), since the whole Franschhoek valley constricts at that point.
- Langebaan (LB) Max 24km/h (launch lower down the slope; one can fly and land in slightly stronger wind, depending on skill)
- Noordhoek Peak (NP) Strong SE not good, should be light S or SW. Add 8-10km/h for thermals and another 5km/h for wind compression. If it's close to 30km/h it's blown out.
Note that some launch sites may be on private land where you'll need to get prior permission from the landowners, for others you may need advanced certification (like a Sports Licence / IPPI 5 for Signal Hill in Cape Town), others may be completely illegal to launch from (such as unapproved launches from national parks), others you need a minimum number/hours of flying and a sign-off by an authorised pilot (such as Lion's Head). Ask.
Also, very important for foreign pilots visiting South Africa: you will need a SAHPA Foreign Pilot Permit to fly anywhere, otherwise you'll be in breach of the laws of the SA Civil Aviation Authority. Local pilots will need an up-to-date local permit.
Airspace & sensitive sites
Once you've left your takeoff, there are very important rules that you should be aware of and follow both in the air and for landing (non-compliance could be anything from some angry words to potential arrest and jail time). I created a separate page for this: airspace.
At the bottom of that page is a link, again, to the map called "Friends & Foes", a collection of places that are friendly (and very unfriendly) towards paragliders.
Acronyms & abbreviations
These are the common (and sometimes confusing) abbreviations, mostly used in South Africa: Acronyms.
Retrieves: getting there and back
For many sites you'll just fly locally and land close to your car (or take an Uber back to it). Other times, you might want the services of a retrieve driver (probably split between you and your flying buddies). Some numbers I've collected over the months:
- Janno (+27 84 540 1947) Based in Porterville town.
- Carina (+27 60 441 6158) Based in Porterville town.
- Gideon (+27 (73) 221-5431) Porterville
- Cassidy (+27 61 287 3529)
- Elo (+27 78 677 4997)
- Sybe (+27 73 034 5465)
- Andre (+27 76 731 1557) Based in Cape Town
- Mia (+27 663078978) Based in Cape Town; might have limited time from Feb 2023 due to studies
- Abdul "Manie" (+27 (65) 928-8250). Works for/with local pilot Scott Baker.
Other South African paragliding sites
Andrea 0791801488 runs Barberton adventures and will help organise permit and gate key access. Willie 0718063673 and Anton 0834621616 are local pilots who might give more info. Astrid does recovery trips back to the top +27 82 959 6670
Oubos. One of the best Eastern Cape XC spots. Hawkwind Paragliding Club manages access (day rate R100, annual rate R400, contact them for access & info). Ideally post frontal with SW flow. S to SE (with interior northerly component) causes low base and inversion. Best way is to judge the cloud formations from 10am, best takeoff around 12 and later.
Wilderness / Sedgefield
Reach out to the local schools for more information.
Books and online resources
The following books, apps, and websites might also be handy finding launches and routes:
- Paragliding map (web / iOS / Android)
- Paragliding Forum
Thermal Heatmaps is a clever project that shows you find probable points of thermic lift. It's of greater value to beginner XC pilots (an ace wouldn't need a map to find lift, they will look at topography and weather). It is a good starting point to find XC launch and lift spots, especially when visiting a new site.
In addition to analyising the flights that have a specific takeoff on (Paragliding Forum and XContest), you can use the Worldwide flights search feature on XContest to set a radius on a map and see flights that either took off, passed through, or landed in that area. It can be a little buggy sometimes, so it's best to select a small radius and do a search and then to edit that search to be larger (or more defined otherwise).
International flying sites
One of the best things about my paragliding kit is that it can fold up into a backpack that can travel with me; and it has helped me make friends on incredible adventures on the road. I created a specific page on the topic, which includes how to find sites on the road. See: Travelling.
It goes without saying that I have relevant and adequate medical (and casevac) coverage, as discussed in Emergencies.
I also do research (through the apps and resources listed above) and ask questions on Paragliding Forum. Pilots know pilots, and they'll connect you to the right people if you just ask.
I've heard good things about this book: Oliver Guenay - Best Flying Sites of the Alps (ebook / PDF / paperback).
I also try to leave a flight report / how-to guide if there wasn't good or recent information on the sites. Some of them below, but do a fresh search for up-to-date information.