Friday, 20 March 2015

Harder Than It Looks!

Our paragliding training days (with Chris Grantham of Fly Above All) melded into a somewhat predictable pattern. Up early, long coffee/breakfast; meet at 9:30 or 10 at the training hill at Elings Park in Santa Barbara; light winds and several flights off the training hill in the mornings; tacos and smoothies for lunch; higher or changing winds and kiting practice in the afternoons. If we were lucky, the winds would calm again and we’d get a couple more flights late afternoon. We usually wrapped up about 5 or 5:30 pm. The long and hot days meant we were usually exhausted by the end of each afternoon.

Due to wanting to get the flights in while the winds were good, we often didn’t take a lunch break until about 1:30. As most people know, I tend to get a bit (a lot??) grouchy on an empty stomach so I quickly learned to pack emergency rations in the pocket of my harness. I was convinced Chris was trying to starve us! And of course I teased him just a little bit about this. 

After the first couple days I was covered in bruises. On my biceps from doing forward inflations and fighting with the glider, on my calves from the stirrup and speed bar banging into them, and at the top of my thighs from the leg straps of the harness.
Seriously, Chris. My arms don't go back any further than that!
My neck and shoulders were stiff and sore from looking up at the canopy while kiting and from being totally tense the entire time. “Relax!” was a frequent piece of advice. My arms and legs were sore from hours of doing somewhat different motions than any other activity I normally do. I had grass stains on the knees of the pants I was wearing on one particularly long and tiring day from falling down on my last three flight landings of the day. Ibuprofen was my friend!

In addition to Andrew and I, there were several other students during the two weeks we were there. Bill, an 84-year-old retired ER doctor who was learning to paraglide after hang gliding and sky diving in past years (Georgie, his feisty little wife, was an avid spectator); James and Bianca, a pilot and flight attendant for United Arab Emirates, who presently live in Dubai; and Mel, a pretty southern girl from North Carolina who was great fun to spend time with! Her Italian boyfriend, Lorenzo, is an experienced paragliding pilot and often helped out at the training hill and was trying to get a few more tandem flights in to earn his tandem pilot rating.

With all these people, plus students from another paragliding school and local pilots out training, the van going up & down the hill was often packed to the rafters! We even had "star sightings" a couple days as Cedar Wright and Matt Segal (professional rock climbers) were also there learning to paraglide. 
People and paragliders! (Photo: Melody Isenhour)
Kiting seems like it should be easy and more experienced people made it look effortless (i.e. Chris and Lorenzo on a day that the winds were too strong for us beginners to kite).

Lorenzo making it look easy.
Reverse kiting involves totally counterintuitive motions. For example, if the glider is tilting one way, it seems to me the logical reaction would be to pull the opposite direction to bring it back, right? Wrong!! Because you’re holding the opposite brake lines (i.e. reverse), you actually move and pull in the same direction the kite is tilting. Sounds easy, right?? Not!!!!

Thankfully for our own sanity, we improved every day. I know the exact time the light bulb came on for me. Craig, one of the assistant instructors, was standing behind me giving directions as I was kiting and suddenly I said, “I get it!” I knew and understood what I had to do to keep the glider in the air.

Unfortunately, the bulb has a dimmer switch on it and there were still several ups and downs. Times when things totally clicked and times when . . . well, they didn’t.
Chris helping Andrew learn to kite.

As the days went on, we practiced various in-flight maneuvers required for our certification, had a “ground school” discussion about wind, clouds and other need-to-know topics and wrote our P1 and P2 level exams. All this, in preparation for our mountain flight . . . all the while praying for the stars to align and give us the right weather, wind speed and wind direction, before we had to head home.  

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