Often, when you tell people that you work (and play) in paragliding, they ooh and aah at how exciting it must be. This, though, is often followed by a furrowed brow and a tentative, “is that the one where...?”
The end of this sentence can vary, but the most common misconceptions about paragliding are that we:
- are towed behind a boat (nope, that one’s parasailing)
- Iie face down in a sling (afraid not, that’s hang gliding)
- jump off buildings (in most cases, we leave that one to the BASE jumpers!)
- have a “lawnmower” or “giant fan” attached to us
People who refer to the final example have seen people paramotoring, which is a powered form of paragliding, but not one that we at Mile High Paragliding choose to take part in.
It is easy to understand people’s confusion. Many tourist websites and local activity offices list parasailing as paragliding in their promotional materials, and paragliding has only relatively recently become a more prominent flying sport in the UK.
However, when someone has spent years perfecting their flying technique — learning to hunt down and stay in thermic air to increase their height and extend their flight, diligently working to hone their take-off and landing technique, and sitting for hours on top of hills waiting for suitable conditions — it can be infuriating when someone dismissively says, “oh yeah, I think I did that in Magaluf when I was 18.”
Parasailing uses a canopy wing, similar to a parachute, which provides drag but offers the passenger little to no control over their direction or height. In contrast, a paragliding wing is a ram-air aerofoil, which works with the oncoming airflow to create lift. It is made of a tear-proof fabric and has no rigidity in its structure, so on landing, the pilot can simply pack it away into a backpack and carry it to their next destination.
Manufacturers work tirelessly to improve the design of these wings, constantly looking to improve their performance without compromising safety. A skilled pilot can do amazing things on a paraglider once they have learned to control it. They may be able to perform exciting acrobatic manoeuvres, cover huge distances in a single flight, and judge their landing so precisely that they can touch down on a specific point on the ground.
Hang gliding is also extremely skilled, but in this sport, the pilot flies a foot-launched, light aircraft with a metal airframe. After leaving the hill, they will lie on their front in a fabric sling and control the hang glider with a bar. This is different to paragliding, in which the pilot sits comfortably upright under the wing in a harness and uses lines with handles on the end to turn and slow the wing.
Paragliders and hang gliders can often be seen at the same flying sites, sharing the skies. Take a look next time you see people flying. If you spot something that looks like a triangle with someone suspended beneath it, you’re looking at a hang glider. A wing that is more like an ellipse in shape will belong to a paraglider. If they have a motor behind them (you’ll hear it before you see it!), they are paramotoring.
You’re unlikely to see anyone BASE jumping in the UK, because although it’s not technically illegal, it often involves trespassing, which is!
We are the first to admit that we are probably a bit biased, but we personally believe that paragliding is the best of all of these options (disclaimer: we have not tried BASE jumping!). We would love your opinion though! If you’ve ever bobbed about in the sky behind a boat on a sunny European week away (parasailing!), come and try a tandem paragliding experience with us, and let us show you why it’s so much better!