What would paragliding be like if it was done by 5 year olds?
I am perpetually amazed by my young children’s creativity when they play. And they’re learning so fast – recently I’ve begun to think there’s a link between these two, and we paraglider pilots might do well to follow their example.
As a coach, I often observe nervous or despondent pilots, wings stuck on the ground as they wait for the perfect moment to launch. If the air is too crowded, or the wind too light, then these pilots sit tight. When they finally go for it, they’re aiming for a perfectly symmetrical launch straight into wind, and then a series of regular beats back and forth to each end of the ridge – when they fail to achieve this, they feel disappointed with themselves or the conditions.
How might a playful child pilot do it differently?
Suppose they agree that the air is too crowded to play in – they wouldn’t just sit still waiting for it to change, they’d be playing ground handling games! Children at play are not too worried about doing it “right” – the aim is to experiment, to muck about and have fun. So instead of only pulling the glider up symmetrically into wind for a “perfect” launch, they’d be deliberately trying to pull it up too fast, too slow, or too off to one side, or with big ears, just to see what happens. And then they’d try to recover from these “faulty” launches. They’d be running around the hill, trying to balance on things (eg. a traffic cone) with the wing above their head. They’d see if they can touch a wingtip to the ground and then the other wingtip without losing control of the wing. And maybe they’d set up an obstacle course to race their friends all without wings touching the ground.
When conditions and confidence were ripe for a launch, the playful child wouldn’t force a rigid flight plan – they’d be inventing fun with what they have. Wind too light to maintain height? They’d be doing little two beat flights – off on the down wind leg, turn back and slope land as high as you can, and then run up the hill with the wing above your head, ready for another go! If the wind was reliably soarable, they’d be practicing spot landings on that traffic cone, or seeing how much height they could loose and still scratch back up the slope. As they grew in confidence, they’d be practicing stalls just off the ground, mucking about with pitch oscillations, and trying gentle wingovers (these last three can be risky, so approach with caution and consider getting advice from a coach – but don’t be put off).
This sort of playfulness is not only much more fun than regimented flying, it leads far more quickly to oneness and mastery with your wing. Sometimes the weather conditions are challenging and the thermals exhilarating, so we don’t need playfulness to keep us amused. But the playful child pilot will be much better equipped to enjoy those conditions when they come. So – connect with your inner child, play, and have fun!