“When you start, Paragliding is 90% physical and 10% mental. But it becomes 10% physical and 90% mental” TJ is giving a pep talk to the students starting their first day training course and as usual I’m eves dropping to see what I can pick up.
My first flight was about a year ago, but the poor conditions in the UK meant my training never moved much beyond the 90% physical stage. Then in Annecy the mountains, thermals and ridge lift transformed my understanding of the sport, and opened my eyes to what paragliding was really about.
Sitting on launch sites feeling for the slightest changes in wind, looking at the hills and clouds and theorising about what might be influencing the airflow has become such a pleasure that it almost feels like the game is half over when I decide conditions are right for launch. In the air, pulling neat flat turns is no longer as important as deciding when to make those turns. The satisfaction of searching for and finding lift along a ridge after you’ve dropped below takeoff to nurse your way back up again with smooth flying and well timed turns, is immense. “I did that”, I tell myself as my perspective on the launch site comes level and then rises over it. Well me, and the wind, and my wing did that.
Arriving in Kamshet I was full of courage, but not confidence. I’d try launching my glider in strong winds, but I’d be nervous, relying half on luck and half on skill, that the inflation would go as planned.
Ten days later I’ve had great conditions to build up my airtime and practice ground handling; inflating and deflating my wing, adjusting my position for the best takeoff line and feeling for the nature of the wind before trusting it with my gravity. It’s the ground that hurts when you hit it, not the sky, so it’s often said you should practice ground handling for as many hours as you spend in the air, but in reality hardly anybody matches it hour for hour.
This week I almost did, and now my ability to launch in stronger winds has improved immensely. I’m no longer wracked with nerves before I pull on the risers to lift the wing above me ready for takeoff. My actions are now more intuitive than reasoned, and therefore faster and more effective.
I’ve even become an honorary member of the Temple Pilots flying team. My time with Avi, TJ, Tom and the others have given me confidence and skills to feel like I am a real pilot now, instead of just a guy ready to throw himself off a hill. I’m very proud of my progress.
Before each session Tom leads the instructors and students in a stretching session. In truth it’s a 10 minute yoga routine, but I’m too curmudgeon to admit I’m doing yoga so I call it a warm up. During that time Tom invites us to “visualise” us accomplishing our flying tasks. It’s the sort of voodoo mumbo jumbo talk I’ve always sneered at, but standing on the edge of a launch area 200m up, in 25km/h winds it really makes sense, and provides a meditative moment that calms and focuses me.
Watching an eagle effortlessly gliding a few feet along side me, I realise I have some way to go before the 10% physical/90% mental stage, but the weeks’ experiences have also convinced me that flying in the thermals and updrafts has a large spiritual component too. Once in the air, understanding how the air is flowing becomes less of an intellectual puzzle and more about feel. The privilege of playing with something as big as a mountain and all its forces is both elating and grounding. Nurturing that spiritual sense is as important as learning how to pull aerial manoeuvres.