Learn to Paraglide- Part 2

25 04 2011
Paragliding accident photo copied from Brian Stipaks’ paragliding safety page

 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.

Pinned in the Whataroa river

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.

Alto Parapente

Learn to paraglide part 1


Learn to Paraglide Part 1

20 04 2011

Have you ever lived somewhere or gone on holiday and been frustrated by the weather conditions? If you have ever lived in Wellington NZ you may will have been frustrated by how windy it is. Fair call, it really is one of the windiest cities in the world, the stats say so. You probably start asking your self questions like why it’s so windy and continue to get frustrated unless you are into sailing or kitesurfing.

Over 3.5 half years ago I was frustrated by having to drive 3-8 hours each weekend to get good kayaking. Rather than get frustrated I asked myself the question, what can I do right here in Wellington NZ, that will keep me entertained and give me Flow . Bingo, it is windy in Wellington and kitesurfing looks good.

Over 3.5 years have passed and a world record later, I am here in France chasing snow kiting. I have arrived at the end of a bad snow season, with beautiful blue skys, 20-25 degrees and perfectly still wind conditions. Now that sounds pretty good if you enjoy summer, but not if you are a snow kiter.

I have spent over a week up at the Col du Lautaret and unfortunately only managed one half day of snow kiting. I have however managed to meet some cool people up there and been hosted by The Kite Legende snow kite school . Great bunch of guys and a fantastic spot with good access. If you are ever in the area do look up Rémi Borgioli, he runs Frances oldest kite school, has good English, is an all round nice guy and has good knowledge of the weather.

So I am back in Lans en Vercors (Close to Grenoble) and am asking myself the same question as 3.5 years ago. What can I do in Lans en Vercors that can take advantage of the nice weather stunning scenery and that also lets me perform baby minding duties. You have probably guessed from the title that it’s paragliding. The idea has been eating away at me for some time now and was cemented but watching Dave Cornthwaite learning to paraglide. He has a great blog and an interesting series of adventures planned. Go check his blog out.

I have chosen to learn to paraglide with Parapente Alto who has been operating since 1995 and has a good safety record. My main concern was to find someone who can speak English, because I really am not keen on a lost in translation moment, while hanging from a bit of cloth, a few strings and dangling hundreds of feet up in the air. Thankfully they do have instructors that speak good English. We we, was that left or right you wanted me to go?

My next few blogs will be about the adventure of learning to Paraglide. I hope to be able to provide an insight into what its like and what I am thinking along the way. This will be an honest warts and all account. As a full disclosure I have been tandem paragliding passenger twice with my cousin, who runs Coronet Peak Tandems. He is based Queenstown NZ and has in the past has been the best performing kiwi on the world cup paragliding circuit, as well as 4 times NZ champion. Other than that I have no experience of paragliding other that being related to someone really good at the sport.

What have you thought about wanting to try, but never got around to it?