Improving your groundhandling skills is very
important for paragliding, both for your safety on the launch site, and for building your
confidence before you actually going to fly. What you’re looking for is 10-20km/h of
wind on an open slope. It’s better to try and do groundhandling on a sloping field than
on a flat field, because on a flat field your wing will sit back slightly from vertical,
and it makes it harder to get a real feeling of what a glider will do on a launch site.
Quite often if you go to a paragliding site early in the morning before the crowds arrive,
you could just go off to the one side and practice there. Stay back from the actual
launching area a little bit, so you’re more on the flat top of the hill, then you won’t
fly off the slope, but that gives you a really good real situation to try and learn what
the wing is going to be doing in a typical airflow on a launchsite.
Always remember to wear your helmet! It’s really important when you’re groundhandling,
because you’re very close to the ground. So it’s quite easy to get tripped over or
lifted up into the air and then bang your head on something. So put your helmet on.
Also use back protection! It’s a good idea to have a harness with foam in the back that’s
going to be available for you when you’re plucked and dumped on the ground. You don’t
need to fall from very far to start breaking bones in your back. So use your normal harness,
most of them have got back protection in. Also use your gloves, it’s easy to get line
burn! And use your boots! As you would for normal
paragliding, maybe you fly in trainers, but definitely not in sandals, because you’re
going to be dragged around across the ground, there might be some rubbish lying there; you
don’t want to mess up your feet. Use normal equipment, what you’d normally
use for flying, that gives you good practice, gets you familiar with the feeling of your
harness and your glider. If you’d like, we often have ground handling
wings and harnesses really cheap on our website, those are there for you to get hold of so
you can trash them. So if you’ve got an unfriendly field you’re going to be groundhandling
in, or it’s very muddy, or you just don’t want to damage your wing, then pick up one
of those. On to skills to try: in the beginning, just
focus on keeping it up in a reversed position. So do a reverse launch facing the wing, pull
the wing up, and just work on keeping it up. Nothing fancy, just moving under the wing
to centre it. Whenever it falls over one side or the other, moving your feet, keeping the
wing up. Try do small brake corrections, and big corrections
with your feet. But then mix it up. Do it the other way around, just so you can learn
what the inputs are doing. Use no foot input at all, just stay in one spot, try and do
everything on the brakes, and see how that changes the feeling of the wing and its responses.
Then turn around and face forward, doing the same by feeling alone. So you’re just looking
at the ground, you’re looking ahead, and you’re feeling what the wing is doing, which
way it’s pulling, responding to move underneath the wing if it’s pulling one way or the
other. Trying to feel what brake you need to put input in just to correct the yaw on
the wing and bring it back to centre. You can spend quite a long time just walking
around until you feel completely connected with your wing.
Then practice loading up the chest strap before running. This helps prevent the harness from
sliding up your legs, and it also gives you much better connection with the wing than
running upright. So try and load the chest strap up and then increase to flying speed,
covering the minimum distance. This can take you days to get this right. It’s just a
feeling of when you need to accelerate with your legs so you match the wing speed as it’s
increasing. So try and get it to launch you and get cleanly off the ground without much
of a pendulum, you don’t want to try and swing ahead of the wing and then the wing
catches up and dumps you. So practice on that: loading up the chest strap, increasing to
flying speed with the minimum distance covered. Then work on your transitions. So go back
from a reversed launch position. Turning without bobbing your head, trying to keep a low martial
arts stance so you can swing around to facing forwards and turn back to face reverse without
the glider being aware that you have actually moved.
Focus on getting a smooth continuous pullup, so from reverse position, bringing the wing
up, turning continuously and running with a short launch run, if you keep that process
really smooth you can get a nice short effective launch.
Then work on slowly bringing the wing up, so controlling that speed that it’s coming
up with a slow rise. You control the speed by your movement, so moving away from the
wing or towards the wing to control that pullup speed taking the power out of the wing to
bring it up as slowly as you can so it’s still coming up all the time and it’s not
dropping back. Then work on a slow descent, controlling the
descent speed by using your A’s. This will give you some control, develop a feeling of
the power in the wing, and also save your wing from being whacked down on the ground.
Then explore the stall point. Try and drop the wing back a bit either by walking towards
it, or using a bit of brakes, or both, and try and establish exactly where the point
is on the arc when your wing stalls. Every wing is different, it depends on the
wind speed and the slope you’re standing on, but it’s very good to get an idea of
when it’s about to stall, and just as it stalls, see if you can get it to refly. So
work with that, stalling it, letting it refly. You might need to grab the A’s to re-engage
it, to energize it again, it depends on the wing. But play with that and experiment with
more or less stall, so you really learn about that transition phase between the wing flying
and the wing not flying. Then explore the pitch forward, allow the
wing to search ahead of you on launch without checking it on the brakes, and see if you
can anticipate when it’s going to collapse. A sharp jab down on the brakes will catch
the collapse, but often it’s going to front tuck, then blow back behind you, you’ll
need to reverse pull up again. Do it over and over until you develop a feeling of what
the wing looks like and feels like just before it collapses in front of you.
Do tip touches to develop fine control on the brakes. Sending the wing over to the side
really slowly. Trying to keep your body position fixed, leaning away from the wing, so rotate
your body slightly so you’ve got a nice balanced position, and then use the brake
to just slowly fly the wing back up over head. Do it on both sides, this develops real fine
control on the brakes. It’s much easier to stall the upper wing tip when it’s over
on the side, so if you can fly it back up and put it back down again, you know you’ve
developed good control on the brakes. Then try some pullup variations. See if your
wing will pullup without the A’s, just leaning back into a stiff breeze, and if it does that
see if you can control the wing using the back risers only, so leaning back, letting
the wing come up and then controlling the pitch with the back risers.
Try both A’s in one hand, and the brake in the other, and swapping hands. That’s
quite a useful technique for thermic launches and when you’re not quite sure about the
wind direction or it’s changing a lot. Practice that, swapping hands, pulling the wing up,
keeping control. Practice hooking the loose brake with a finger
so you’ve got both brakes with that technique, that’s a nice variation, and also experiment
with the A’s and C’s launch, see if that works on your wing, what it’s like, how
much steering you’ve got. It’s all about learning about your wing, and your options.
There are lots of extra things you can try with groundhandling. If you’re bored with
those ten exercises I’ve given you, you can try skew launches, try aborted launches,
cobra launches. Try launching backwards, while still facing the wing in the reverse position
and then swinging out in the air. Try a ‘no control’ launch: that’s where you don’t
put any input in on the brakes, you try and do it all with body weight, just bringing
the wing up, balancing it, turning, running off, launching.
If you’re still bored, go and look for some turbulence, just like the crows, they love
to play behind something that’s creating rotor, well you’ve got that nice open slope
for groundhandling, go and find an obstacle and mess around behind that so you learn about
broken airflow and bringing the wing up from dead air into strong wind.
Put some obstacles out, run around them. Have fun!