Today Terra and I took Parapro up on their offer to NZAC members - $120 for an introductory course in para-gliding. We drove out to Cashmere hills early in the morning and I got some strong coffee to help with the hangover. We were taken to a dairy farm with low, gentle hills where we got to take our first short flights. We started barely on the slope, practicing our forward launch with our own paraglider - which simply means running forwards with the wing inflating behind like a kite. Once we could easily get the wing above us we started from further up the slope and learnt how to take off! We had a few short take-offs - flying at very low altitudes, to get used to the handling of the wing and learning how to land safely with a solid flair. As our skills progressed (or just as confidence leaving the ground increased) moving on to steeper and higher hills while being given simple instructions like “turn left”, “flair flair flair” and my favorite “RUN”!
After Cashmere we went out to Taylor's Mistake and got a quick go in a Flight Simulator before gracefully walking off the side of the hill! We wore radio's so the instructors could communicate with us. Even though it was my first real flight I felt like the instructor should occasionally just keep quiet as the constant stream of “left left LEFT, good, good, right... right, right, good” was a touch annoying. Unfortunately that one amazing flight was the end of the course but we had the oportunity to go for a second flight for an additional $40 - wasn't going to pass that one up so we drive back up to the top of the port hills. We went through the checklist and did a radio check and I took off, this time I didn't hear a single instruction. I assumed pretty quickly that they didn't suddenly trust me as a pro and that the radio was malfunctioning. Despite my desire to get the radio out and prove my technical competence by changing channel etc I decided that focusing on the task of steering my paraglider took precedence. I had an amazing solo flight down, turning when I wanted, going where I wanted. There was a line in the grass that I aimed to land on from the top, I managed to get within two meters of it and touched down with silky softness as I flaired the wings just before the line.
The instructor on the ground was rebuking me about the fact I hadn't been following his commands exactly but switched to being very concerned when I mentioned I didn't hear a thing. Another paraglider pilot who was there with him mentioned I'd turned the correct way and followed my approach pattern on about 80% of the calls anyway so that made me feel pretty good!
I'll put a couple of photos up when I get them, I also took a video from my helmet on the first flight - I should get that DVD in a week.
To get an idea of what I would like to try next take a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwWLnaME0CI