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Paragliding - Shredding the Air

by Kelly Vance on December 21, 2016

by Ambassador Kitty Egelman

My name is Kitty (also known as Red Arrow) and I'm a paragliding pilot from Holland. I love to fly and fall and I'd like to introduce you into my world: the world of a female paraglider. I want to take you through my paragliding life, my journey and the challenges I face. But before I can do that, I want to tell you what shredding in the air means as a paraglider.

You know that question that strangers like to ask when they first meet you? Something along the lines of, "And what do you love to do?"  Well for me there's just one simple answer; "I love paragliding." But while my answer might be simple, most of the time it raises more questions than answers. The reactions vary from, "Uhm is that like with a parachute?" to, "I would never dare to do that!"

Most of the time, those reactions are the reaction of someone who doesn't really know anything about paragliding. And I can't blame them. Where I'm from there are just around 1500 people who paraglide and even less that are actually flying on a structured level. There are amazing athletes with insane skills who participate in championships that are out of this world.  But the fact of the matter is, there are just not that many people who know what paragliding is and the different forms of the sport.

So for once and for all:

No, paragliding isn't with a parachute (as long as you do it right)

No, paragliding isn't a triangle you hang under (that's hang-gliding or delta flying)

No, paragliding doesn’t include jumping off something (mostly, we do however run and fall)

No, paragliding doesn't necessarily require mountains

No, being afraid of heights doesn't stop people from paragliding

No, paragliding is not a sport that kills you (well it can, but so can walking across the street)

Paragliding Wings versus Parachutes

Paragliding arose from skydiving and the first wings (that's what we call the paraglider) actually were very similar to a parachute. The difference between a paraglider and a parachute is that parachutes are made to go down (straight down), paragliders are made to go cross country (going down at an angle). We stay in the air using the rising air (thermals). As paragliding as expanded, different wings have been developed for different uses, from acrobatic (acro) wings to XC (cross country) wings, but they are all designed to help us stay up. We also carry an emergency wing, which is a traditional parachute.

How Do We Get in the Air?

Paragliders have a few options to get in the air. They can go to the top of mountain (in whatever way)and run off the mountain, inflating the wing. They can get towed up into the air with a winch. They can walk up a dune and use the wind that blows from sea on the dune to 'float'. The more extreme athetes also may jump out of a helicopter, hot air balloon or detach themselves from another paraglider to do a D-bag. When you fall/jump out your wing evolves and you fly.

Fear of Heights

A lot of people think that paragliding and being afraid of heights is a bad combination. The truth is that there are a lot of pilots who are afraid of heights, including me. The thing is that when flying people don't usually experience this fear. People have different theories about this, but if you ask me I would tell you that when flying, you don't experience height the way you do, for example, on stairs or a high building. You're not grounded with anything in the air, it's simply a whole other dimension of height.

Types of Paragliding

Paragliding is a sport that can be executed on several levels and inseveral ways. You can be a cross country pilot, an acro pilot, a soar pilot or a combination of those. You can do it as a hobby, a passion, a lifestyle and as an athlete. You can do it in combination with hiking, or even combined with a lot of other extreme sports like base jumping and wingsuits.  You can explore places with a school, with other pilots, or just be on your own.

Risk Factors

The risk depends on your own choices and behaviour. Yes, paragliding is an extreme sport and yes some things you do bring more risk than others. And yes, every time a paragliding pilot flies, he or she challenges the elements. Even when you know a mountain like the back of your hand, and have studied every metrological book that exists, nature can still surprise you, but a lot of the risk is in your own hands.  Bottom line: I do know someone who has died in this sport, and I have made stupid mistakes that could have ended in tragedy, but I will never stop flying!

The beauty of paragliding in the mountains.

And me? Well I do cross country, hike & fly, soaring and will start with acro this year. I live in a flat land but fly as much as I can in the mountains. Paragliding is my passion, my lifestyle and my one true love.

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