One of the things that has held me back from learning paragliding up until now has been a question: am I going to get enough out of this sport for the amount of risk involved? I assess IT risk for a living and is something that I also talk about in my Brazil presentation. I talk about the familiar risks or things that we perceive we have control over that often gets us into trouble.
The first thing I look at when trying a new risky sport, is the accident statistics. It’s not that I want to freak myself out, but it’s more to understand what mistakes people commonly make and how I can reduce my risk. Ok, you might be thinking this is a bit of a morbid or geeky thing to do. Accident statistics and discussions, however, help everyone continue to learn from the experiences of others, and to constantly question peoples’ own perception of how much of a commitment to safety they are willing to make.
To give you an example, as a whitewater kayaker, I actively follow the accident statistics in this sport. One statistic which stands out, is that half of all white water kayakers killed are a result of being pinned on wood. I used to get a ribbing about carrying a pruning saw kayaking. People would comment “who do you think you are Crocodile Dundee” or “why do you need something like that”. Well, they were not asking the same question after incident on the Whataroa, where a pruning saw was vital to cutting open kayak and saving a life after being pinned by wood.
- I have thought for some time that the kitesurfing community could learn from paragliding. For a start there are really good yearly accident statistics, in addition to the safety and mindset being emphasised. I’m not trying to imply that kitesurf instructors are doing a bad job or that kitesurfing is unsafe. However, the best we have in the kitesurfing community are statistics from pre 2004. The gear in kitesurfing has become much safer and easier to use after these statistics were gathered, but did it really make us safer in our attitude? I have always maintained that mountain biking is far more dangerous than kitesurfing , but have never been able to prove it.
The first 2 days of learning to paraglide went well without incident. Yes, it turns out there are some real risks in paragliding especially for the over-confident pilot who wants to push the limits. Under the right conditions, paragliding can however be relatively safe. Quality of pilot decision-making, skill level, experience and quality of equipment are things that were highlighted in my reading of the risk factors. However as glider pilot Mike Meier has pointed out;
“More skill gives you a higher limit, as does more experience or better equipment. But safety is not a function of how high your limits are, but rather of how well you stay within those limits. And that is determined by one thing: the quality of the decisions you make”.
As with kitesurfing, launch and landings are the most critical moments where people seem to come unstuck in paragliding. The decision-making process does start well before you decide to get on the water to kitesurf, on a river to kayak or in the air to paraglide.
I am at the stage of making small (100m) flights after running down the hill. Now I am ready for a longer flight, but unfortunately the weather hasn’t co-operated for the last 2 days of the course. I am now researching other areas where I can learn cost effectively. My criteria for locations are consistent wind and high amount of flying days. An instructor who speaks good English, is safe and enables me to progress efficiently to a fully competent level are high on the list. If there is kitesurfing nearby for the windy days then that is a bonus.
So here is my honest opinion on the Alto Paraglide school where I have been learning to paraglide. The school is run by experienced and safety conscious people who also provide good kit to learn with. Alto also has a nice family atmosphere and I was lucky to have good competent fellow students who didn’t hold back the progression. Unfortunately English spoken by the instructor wasn’t what I was hoping for. We did get there in the end with a bit of translation, but it was not ideal. Pierre who runs the school, does have good enough English and is a very experienced pilot. If Alto were able to offer good English-speaking instructors, then I would have no hesitation in recommending them in the future to English-speaking people. If your French is good, I would have no hesitation in learning to paraglide at Alto.