Talk to your loved ones
Paragliding is considered by most people an extreme sport (most people outside the sport, that is). If this is the sort of thing that will upset your family and loved ones, you'll need to involve them from the very start. The more information they have, the less worried they will be in the long run.
Talk to pilots
Those with something to sell (like tandem operators, paragliding instructors, sellers of paragliding equipment) will have years of experience and very valuable information, but also 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 (short) preview of what flying is like. Tell the tandem pilot that you're interested in joining the sport and chat to them before, during and/or after your flight. They might even let you hold the controls a little.
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. Write them down and ask other pilots about these schools/instructors and what they liked and disliked. You might enjoy a militaristic style (say, being screamed at in front of others when you made a mistake), but perhaps a calm and assertive instructor is more conducive to your progress.
Some instructors will take you on more than the prerequisite amount of flights (one of the biggest benefits in my mind). Others will only do training at simple slopes close to their homes, leaving you completely unprepared to fly safely anwhere 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 after the fact.
Neither being the most expensive nor the cheapest will neccessarily make an instructor the worst or the best.
List of schools
Here is a list of the schools approved by SAHPA (the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association).
In the UK, the BHPA (the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) has a list of schools and clubs.
Again: by talking to people in the community, you'll get a feel for the instructors and schools that will work best for you.
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 injuring yourself or others or getting into crippling debt. Don't do it.
If you are strapped for cash, you can build a wealth of knowledge in the sport while saving up. Some suggestions:
- Read training manuals and books
- Familiarise yourself with the terminology
- Study the physics of flight
- Read about controling 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 $1,200 and $3,500, depending on where you live) and save up for a reliable, used kit (budget around $1,500 to upwards of $4,500 for an airworthy wing, harness, and reserve parachute), gear that will last you for many flights if you take proper care of it.
It's not a very expensive sport (in the way that snowboarding, road bicycle racing, or golf are) but after your up-front training and gear expenses, also factor in annual club and licensing/association fees and occasional site launch fees. 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 confidence. For cross country flights, there may be costs related to fuel and the services of a retrieve driver.
Note that in most countries, there is an implied assumption that you will buy your first wing and harness through your instructor / flight school. To me this is totally fine and part of a reasonable business model (they run a business that grows our sport, after all). Discuss this with them before starting, however, so you're clear on everything.
Some pilots spread their training over many weekends, others do it back-to-back in as little as seven days, most schools can be flexible with this. Talk to them and find something that works for you.
Some things that helped speed up my training (the SAHPA Basic Paragliding License in South Africa / international IPPI 4 equivalent), were focusing on the following from (or before) day one of training:
- Gear terminology
- Flight terminology
- List of required manouvres
- Logging every one of my flights, including ground handling (date, location, duration, wing/harness used, notes/questions)
- Getting curious about and reading the (open-book) test a long time before actually writing it
- Absorbing paragliding books and articles, watching videos
- Talking to other pilots, rookie and senior
Read some articles, books, and watch videos on Youtube.
Some useful websites, books, and channels
- FlyBubble (YouTube)
- Ari in the Air (YouTube)
- Fly With Greg (subscription site with a free trial, also free content on 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, some information, and they sell the SAHPA Paragliding Training Manual; also available from most schools)
- Paragliding: The Beginner’s Guide (only available in paperback)
- The PPG Bible (paperback and digital -- written for paramotoring, but much of it applies to paragliding)
- Mastering Paragliding Volume 1 - by Kelly Farina (paperback and Kindle book aimed at improving experienced / licensed pilots) and Mastering Paragliding Volume 2.