PARAGLIDE SOUTH AFRICA - The sky is your playground.

Freedom - a pilot soars on thermals high above the mountains - Porterville, Western Cape, South Africa

What's it like?

Imagine launching yourself from a high mountain peak, gliding out over the valley, not a care in the world. This is paragliding, and it is easier and more accessible than you think!

Paragliding began in the Alps in the late 1980’s, utilizing square parachutes for rapid descents from the peaks. Advances in manufacture and design have seen the paraglider evolve into a wonderful aircraft, capable of soaring for hours on the power of the wind alone. The current world record distance flight on a paraglider is 335km. A gentle breeze blowing up against a mountain-slope can provide smooth lifting currents. Or on a warm summer’s day, thermals lift from the ground and allow pilots to circle skywards.

The paraglider is simple to control, and has the slowest take-off and landing speed of any gliding aircraft. Low speed equates directly to safety. To further reduce the risk of injury, we fly with large foam-padded harnesses, sturdy boots, and helmets. Combined with the nurturing environment created by a SAHPA qualified instructor, the steps to mastering flight are simple, safe and good fun!

Although all participants have to be physically fit, paragliding does not require strength. It has far more to do with perception, the spirit of adventure and a developed feel for the flexible wing.

How do I get started?
Contact a school near you by enquiring at the South African Hang-gliding and Paragliding offices : call Louise on 011-8055429.

There's nothing like the exhiliration of your first flight.You could book yourself a tandem flight, begin an introductory course, or you could sign up straight away for a Basic License Course - comprehensive pilot's training taking you from ground zero to solo license level. Having completed at least 30 flights (probably 2 hours airtime in total) under instructor supervision, learning basic glider control, theory of flight, good airmanship, safety precautions and emergency techniques, you're ready to fly on your own at any Basic graded site.

How much does it cost?

Basic Licence course - approx. R5500, including all equipment during training.

Basic second hand kit (wing, harness, helmet) - R10 000 upwards

New kit, with all the bells and whistles - R30 000

Where can I fly?

A wide variety of flying conditions can be found around South Africa. SAHPA controls and regulates the sport, under the authority of the Department of Civil Aviation. Each site used regularly has a grading, allowing newcomers to avoid potentially dangerous sites until they have the required experience. It is considered polite to contact the local club before flying a site for the first time, to learn of any rules pertaining to the use of the land, and to arrange guidance.

The South African picture from the air
Welcome to the land of limitless skies. Most of the country is raised to 1000m above sea level on a large plateau. An escarpment of mountains separates the inland from the fertile coastal plains. The western third of South Africa has winter rainfall (June – August), and is dry and hot in summer. The eastern two-thirds has summer rainfall (November – March) - thunderstorms in the afternoon, especially around Johannesburg, make the peak of summer (Dec / Jan) unsuitable for flying. Autumn is mild everywhere. Winter is when the lowveld sites like Barberton (extreme north-east of SA) deliver the goods. Spring transforms the KwaZulu Natal province into an aerial playground – Bulwer is the centre of this heaven. Then we’re back to summer, and the consistent big distance-flying to be enjoyed in the Cape Province.

A focus on the Western Cape
There are sites for every possible wind direction, and for every grade of pilot. In the Cape Peninsula, the sites rely on the Westerly wind to provide gentle lift in dynamic soaring conditions. Sites like Misty Cliffs, Noordhoek, Llandudno, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill provide hours of blissful scenic intoxication. Table Mountain stands head and shoulders above the rest, demanding a high level of competence and commitment on its treacherous cliff-launch. When the wind swings to South Easterly, Lion’s Head alone is sheltered by the Table Mountain massif, and flying in the lee-side wind-shadow can be fun. Travelling out to Hermanus on the nearby south coast offers a nice blend of thermic and dynamic conditions, with safe landing areas and easy retrieve. On the way there, you will summit Sir Lowry’s Pass, which offers thermic xc flights.

To the north, along an almost unbroken chain of mountains, lies the legendary paragliding town of Porterville, where most of the xc flying in the Western Cape is enjoyed. A flight here could take you over the dramatic Cedarberg Mountain Range, or to the hallowed goal of the Clanwilliam Dam. It would take an epic flight indeed to reach the distant site of Van Rhyn’s Pass, another 200km distant from Porterville, but it is technically attainable. Van Rhyn’s Pass is the wildest, most remote thermic site we have, and is usually flown in autumn, winter and spring. It showcases the stark beauty of the desert – thorn-scrub, aloe, cactus and fynbos cover the harsh landscape, and the midday thermals roar. Six hours drive from there, and you’ve reached Kuruman to the east. In the heart of the Northern Cape province, Kuruman is the site of many world records for distance and altitude, due to the high wind speeds and high cloudbase encountered aloft.

Wilderness and the Garden Route
Flying conditions are mild, the ridges long, and the sea is warm. A holiday atmosphere permeates everything you see, from the rich green forests, to the golden sands, from the grassed launch sites to friendly, laid-back locals. Sites like Paradise Ridge and Map of Africa are not to be missed for hours of mellow soaring in the afternoon sea breezes.

Top 10 Hotlist of SA Paragliding Sites

1 Porterville Western Cape Oct-March Consistent distance-flying
2 Bulwer Kwa-zulu Natal Aug-Nov Fun flying
3 Eagle's Nest Gauteng Oct-Nov Regular thermals
4 Barberton Mpumulanga June-July Big height gains
5 De Aar Northern Cape Oct-Dec Big distance and height gains
6 Ngodwana Mpumulanga March-May Technically challenging
7 Graaff-Reinet Eastern Cape Oct-Dec Strong thermals
8 Wilderness Western Cape Sep-Dec Mellow soaring
9 Sir Lowry's Pass Western Cape July-Nov Scenic mountain flying
10 Lion's Head Cape Town Nov-Feb Beauty, beaches and babes

Cautions :
Coming from Europe and other mild climates, pilots often find the strong conditions of Southern Africa overwhelming. Take care! The air is different here, turbulence seems to be more unpredictable, the wind is stronger, and things do not work the same as in the Alps or England. Don't forget that temperatures can be very high in the afternoons, with low humidity - always fly with plentry of water, some glucose/energy bars, sunblock and a sunhat, as dehydration during walkouts is not uncommon. But for consistant flying and big distance potential, South Africa can't be beaten.

How to find these sites :
The Fresh Air Site Guide is packed with information : descriptions, flying tips, contact details, and directions to each of more than 120 sites. It has become the definitive reference for all paragliding and hang-gliding in South Africa, and offers cross-country flying instruction and aerobatic advice as well as colour photographs, maps and more. It is highly recommended. Read more about it on the Eternity Press website.

Are you ready for the adventure?