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A Typical Paraglider Pilot? No Such Thing!
Only what is a typical paraglider pilot? The short answer is “there is none”. The slightly longer answer might be “well, a lot of them seem to be men in their 30s or 40s.” Surprised? Isn’t paragliding one of those scary, risky activities, excessively in vogue with the young and daring? No, not really, although there is some potential for danger as in any form of flight.
So don’t expect to go to a paragliding place and find pilots who fit some sort of Extreme Sports stereotype. Being more of an aviation sport, and relatively cheap and easy to get into, paragliding attracts a wide variety of participants. You can even learn to fly a paraglider and amaze your friends!
Europe is where it all started, and that’s where you’re most likely to discover some interesting extremes, umm, in sports. In that corner of the world, children’s camps sometimes include paragliding as an activity! At the other end of the spectrum, there are many older drivers. That is, those who have passed the retirement age! What better way to keep life interesting.
Heck, I even watched a video clip of a dog going for a ride, hooked into a special dog harness next to the pilot. Wondering how much flight time a German Shepherd needs to log before going solo. Hey, don’t laugh, paragliding is almost that easy!
Pilots from many angles
Just for fun, let’s do a quick check of some possible categories for paragliders.
Years old is one, of course. I have already mentioned how the young to the old can fly. Weight it’s another. Little men or slightly built ladies flying their bottom size XXS wings. Sounds like a shirt size isn’t it.. Just to people of substance who are too much for anything but a tandem paraglider. Yes, a wing actually built for two. What else? Nationality of course, since this is a world sport. Although it was born in Europe, and more popular there, every continent on the planet has its paragliding fanatics.
What about disability? Of course not! Oh, yes, some companies actively help people in wheelchairs in the air. All it takes is a pair of working arms after all, to use the paraglider’s brake toggles. Maybe just one more category, genre is an obvious one. As usual in flying sports, there are many more men than women in paragliding despite the gender not giving any special benefit to the flight. However, women are faster to pick up the necessary careful and precise style of using the controls.
That just covers the main angles on the variety found in paragliding pilots. Now for some real examples, some specific.
Especially in Europe, you can observe people in a wide range of age groups flying their paragliders. Even all the way in 1994 there were many young pilots. In that year, a 14-year-old boy in Bulgaria became its youngest paraglider pilot. He had 29 flights to his credit at that tender age.
In Israel, paragliding has some history, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Yair Shachar’s Zoom Club. In turn he taught a certain Baruch Gurwitz to fly, at the age of 70! In fact, in 1998, Baruch earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest paraglider pilot in the world. He was 77. That record didn’t last though! Since then, a short film has been made about the exploits of a 79-year-old Polish pilot. Miroslaw Dembinski produced the film, winning an award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
Being a pilot is one thing, but of course age is even less of a barrier when you’re just a passenger! I found a paragliding school that registered the names of two outstanding passengers. 95-year-old Hannes Taugwalder for one, and also a certain Zoe Schmid, a 2 ½-year-old lady!
Just to give you an idea of the weight range available to paraglider pilots, here are a couple of real paraglider designs to illustrate. First, the Nova Rookie wing is available in 5 different sizes. The smallest is the XXS. Extra extra small. Just right for a feather pilot, most likely female, weighing 55 kilograms (about 120 pounds) ready to fly. That’s right, that weight includes the harness, helmet and any other gear that may be carried.
At the other end of the scale, really big pilots can actually use a tandem paraglider that is normally used to carry passengers. So, in theory, Big Bertha or Gigantic Joe that weighs 200 kilograms (about 440 pounds), could put 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of flying equipment and go for a soft float in the Bio-Air Bi-Bio 42. This is a typical tandem paraglider.
Now for a bit of trivia. The largest sports paraglider of all time was a unique design with a wingspan of 20 meters (66 feet), used to film a car commercial! This very special reinforced wing had to carry 600 kilos (more than 1300 pounds), after being dropped by a heavy helicopter Lama. A real Audi A6 Allroad vehicle was filmed floating in the sky under this paraglider, against a spectacular mountain scenery.
Today, it is difficult to think of a continent that does not have paragliding activities. There are excellent flying schools and places to be found all over the world. Also, I know my paragliding website attracts visitors from over 60 countries!
Paragliding is particularly well known and visible as a sport in England, France, Germany and South Korea. Of course there are others, but these 4 have stood out to me so far.
Organized paragliding for the disabled exists in the UK, Australia, South Africa, the US and probably many other countries too. Not surprisingly, tandem paragliders are used a lot in this area.
The English seem to have done a great job of promoting paragliding for the disabled. Just look at the activities of Airways Airports, they are not difficult to find! This company sometimes uses specially modified paraglider “carts” to give access to flight to a wide range of disabled people.
Another notable company is Handiconcept, which provides a variety of activities for the disabled, including paragliding. They operate from a Swiss alpine resort and accommodate the physically and mentally disabled.
Moving to the United States, an innovative company called Team Thor has established itself as a public charity. Especially for the physically disabled, and they focus on coastal flight in tandem paragliders. Not just an old coastal fly, but the very impressive and well-known experience of ridge-flying at Torrey Pines, on the Pacific coast.
Paragliding offers no barriers to all female participants. The minor problem of very light weight, in some cases, is easily fixed with the ballast. Some of the larger paragliding schools also offer paragliding courses specifically for women. An example is Peak to Peak Paragliding which operates out of Boulder, Colorado in the United States
Especially in Europe, a select few women have reached the highest standards in the sport by becoming active competition drivers. Such is the participation rate here, there are also events for women in the CIVL sports calendar. CIVL is an international body that governs aspects of paragliding and paragliding, like the FAI in general aviation.
Now for a quick mention of 2 remarkable women in paragliding. First, Azar Mazru’ii Farahani from Iran is the director of the Tehran Women’s Air Sports Federation. A professional paragliding instructor, she glides through the air with the greatest ease wearing traditional Islamic clothing. It is different.
Second, one of the UK’s female drivers is Nicky Moss. She was good enough to win the women’s event of the British Open Paragliding Championship when it was held in Àger, Spain. Not only that, Nicky also holds a British paragliding record.
Maybe you never had the chance to become a professional pilot. But paragliding, even if only as a passenger, is definitely within your reach!
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