Hang gliding is one of those incredible activities that allows a person the freedom to soar high over the world and enjoy the views, the freedom, and the inherent wonder that comes with this incredible hobby. Hang gliding has evolved through the years and become a formidable sport activity, with thousands of die-hard hang gliders taking to the cliffs and hilltops across the world every year in search of that perfect ride.
Hang gliding isn’t ideal for every day and is dependent on weather, especially the prevailing winds. Many locations near oceans and other massive waterways, where the wind is constantly rolling in from generally one direction, coupled with the high elevations that can be found hovering over the beaches, such as along the California and Oregon coasts, are ideal for hang gliding and attract thousands of avid enthusiasts from all around the world.
What attracts so many people to the sport of hang gliding is likely rooted in ancient tradition. Mankind is a land animal and throughout its history, men, and women, have looked to the skies with admiration and envy as birds would circle endlessly, seeming to merely enjoy the act of floating on the wind. As a result, mankind strived for millennia to figure out a way to match the bird’s movements and share some of that wonder and splendor, at least for a while. The result is known as the common hang glider.
Hang gliding isn’t something that a person can simply pick and do; it requires skills that can be developed over time. Without the proper set of skills, and the right equipment, a person can subject themselves to possible injury or worse. They can also subject those around them to danger without even realizing it.
Hang gliding can be learned by just about anyone. Even paraplegics are known the hang glide, feeling the weight of their infirm legs proverbially lifted away from their conscience. The feeling of freedom is intoxicating and understanding this incredible adventure can go a long way toward appreciating it and becoming adept at hang gliding.
Hang gliding does require some financial resources, from lessons to the equipment itself, but in life, most things do. The wonderful thing about hang gliding is that the glider itself can be dismantled and carried around without a tremendous amount of effort. All one really needs is a car, and the desire to take up this sport.
Getting Off The Ground
A hang glider will generate its lift off the ground through different means, depending on where a person is located. The common source of lift for a hang glider is from thermals. This is where the sun heats of the ground and, in turn, the hot air rises, creating an up draft of wind current. These columns are known as thermals.
Experienced hang gliding pilots can recognize land configurations that will generate thermals and use them to their advantage, allowing them to sail higher, farther, and longer. Also, experience hang glider pilots have the potential to stay airborne for hours simply relying on the natural energy that surrounds them at the right time.
Inexperienced hang glider pilots will likely have much shorter flights.
Another source of lift for hang gliders is known as the Ridge lift. This is when wind meets a mountainside, or a cliff. The wind that is moving steadily toward the mountain will hit the immovable object and be forced to change its direction, usually straight up. The lift generated by these winds can be intense and hang gliders that use ridge lifts also refer to them as a soaring slope.
Mountains can also create what are known as lee waves, which is essentially a pattern of rising and falling air, much like that found in the ocean. An experienced hang glider pilot can manipulate his craft through these lee waves and remain aloft for a long period of time.
The last type of lift that hang gliders rely on is called convergence. With convergence, two different air masses press against one another, bringing wind in one general direction. This is also known as a sea-breeze front. There are certainly other forms of lift that hang gliders use to become airborne and to stay there, but these four are the main ones.
Safety of Hang Gliding
As with just about any recreational activity, hang gliding is as safe as you allow it. With the proper training and equipment, you can enjoy a lifetime of hang gliding across the country. The key is to remain honest with yourself and others about your skill levels, as you move from one level to the next, and your comfort zone.
Some people feel pressured into extending themselves beyond their comfort level and this is the best recipe for getting into a dangerous and troublesome situation. At no point should anyone feel as though they need to do more than they are trained or prepared to do.
Getting Started: Learning the Ropes
Learning to hang glide is a process and requires the guidance of skilled experts. Some people will learn from friends or family members, such as parents, but for those who don’t have these experienced resources available, it’s best to stick with a certified hang gliding pilot.
There are many hang gliding schools throughout the country and around the world that will supply, for a nominal fee, hang gliders for training. They will teach you the basics of lift and controlling the hang glider. The more you seek out these types of instruction, the safer you will be in the long run.
When you’re ready to take your first flight in a hang glider, don’t expect to actually get off the ground. At least not in any significantly measurable way. Most instruction includes simply skimming one’s feet across the ground to get the feel for how the hang glider feels as well as how your body feels to be in the harness.
In time, when you’re more comfortable with these maneuvers, then you will be ready to get some air under you. There are those instructors who will fly tandem with their students, just as an airplane pilot learns to fly a plane. However your instructor chooses to perform his or her duties, don’t question them, but rather absorb all of the details from the lift to turning to landing.
First Solo Flights
When you take lessons and get the handle on hang gliding, then you are likely ready to take your first solo flight with your very own hang glider. The key here is to not allow yourself to get in over your head, and not to extend yourself beyond your abilities or your comfort zone.
There will be many temptations with hang gliding, from soaring higher and farther away than you may be ready for. If you plan on gliding with another person or in a group, make sure that they understand your limitations and ensure that they won’t take you beyond your ability to handle.
It’s easy for people to forget or not be able to empathize with someone just starting out, especially when that person has hundreds of hours of flight time under his or her belt. When this happens, they may inadvertently go beyond a comfortable range.
While this may not seem like much of an issue, if the person without experience begins to panic, then things can begin to go terribly wrong.
What Equipment Does One Need to Hang Glide?
Hang gliding can be considered a relatively expensive sport, or hobby, as most hang gliders cost between $3,600 US and $5,000 US. It’s important to have a quality hang glider and if you are not sure about the condition of the hang glider, if it’s used, then the safest best would be to purchase a new one.
UV rays from the sun as well as wind can wreak havoc on hang gliders and the fabric that they are made from. Over time, these materials can deteriorate, often invisibly so, to the point where they are no longer safe.
When in doubt, buy new.
Some pilots also prefer to use a two-way radio to communicate with fellow pilots as well as with the ground, if there are people traveling with them. Also, a variometer is a common item to have. A variometer tells you whether or not your are going up or down and how fast. When you are in the air and thousands of feet up above the ground, it can be difficult to know whether you are rising or falling and especially how fast. This can cause some problems, especially when flying at very high altitudes.
It’s important to note that at altitudes of 15,000 feet, which are attainable while hang gliding, the oxygen in the air becomes thinner and when there is less oxygen, the brain doesn’t function the same way. Mistakes can be made. Be sure to have the equipment you need to ensure that you remain safe at all times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can take part in hang gliding? Is there an age limit?
Young children shouldn’t be introduced to solo hang gliding, but other than that, anyone in decent physical condition, from teens to their seventies and eighties, can hang glide. If you can jog, even slowly, with seventy pounds on your shoulders, then you can hang glide.
Most of the time you are simply being carried in the harness, but if there is turbulence, then you will need some strength to hang on and maintain control.
How can I find out if hang gliding is for me?
Try an introductory tandem hang gliding flight. This is where you ride with a certified hang gliding instructor to get the feel for flying. That will tell you if it’s something you really want to do.
Hang gliding combines the best of two worlds: flying and soaring and it does so with the beauty and elegance of silent reverie. For those that hang glide, they will attest to the power and perfect simplicity in sailing in silence high above the rest of the world.
If you’re ready to try hang gliding, make sure that you find a reputable, safe, and reliable school to learn from first.