Paragliding Day 11

This morning’s wind forecast showed a fairly stable 8 from the south so we prepared for a session on the southside starting up top with some kiting.

One pedagogical tool I found valuable was an “edge transition” in the wrong direction, in specific starting with properly bent knees and then deliberately locking them and experiencing the degradation of control.

I struggled in a familiar fashion launching the large wing up top but Ben caught a video that was extremely informative.

One longstanding curiosity has been why at the moment of losing my balance I generally fall to the right. This video made clear that, among other issues, I am failing to square my hips to the wing before launching and then trying to do what looks an awful lot like a skiing skid stop. Then when this inevitably fails and the wing whips me around I find myself leaning on the wrong brake handle which seals my fate. I need to work on having squared hips, a lower posture, and staggered feet to maintain the right contact with the ground. I also must strive to disconnect my brake inputs from everything else and rely on seat pressure to lift me, not the brake pressure my monkey brain wants to use as if it were a rope to climb. Lastly Ben introduced another degree of freedom, specifically the way my feet bottoms are engaging the ground, and I began thinking about digging in my heels versus being on the balls which leads to my getting levered over top of my feet.

Before heading downhill for some flights off the training hill we spent a few moments in the simulator, something that looks like a playground swing set gone horribly wrong. Here you can clip in your harness and hang as if suspended from a wing. We used this to work through how eventually I will be levering myself back into the harness’s seat post-launch and subsequently levering myself back to where I started in anticipation of landing. We also took the time to experience the ways one can maneuver the body to perform turns without the pressure of being airborne.

The first of my two flights had a slightly messy start, a smooth series of turns, and then a slightly messy landing. After spinning around from reverse-launch to forward position I got tugged rightward and found myself doing a fair amount of lateral movement before adopting a solid runway heading. As in previous flights the objective was to launch into the wind, veer leftward to aim at the cars in the parking lot, and then veer rightward to face into the wind for landing. It was all going smoothly during my turn to final approach when the wind decreased abruptly, I dropped a bit unexpectedly, and I aborted the last bit of the turn to align with my direction of motion. It was a little bit of a skidding affair but nothing particularly noteworthy. I realized my left knee was ever so slightly tweaked when I walked back up the hill for another flight. I wonder if I had locked my legs inappropriately and/or I ought have done a PLF even though it seemed like a fairly benign situation.

For my second flight Ben drew some “runway” lines on the hill with his foot and set as a goal for me to stay within them. After spinning around I put in a couple of hard pumps on the brake lines which worked wonders for imparting lateral stability to the wing. From there it was an easy and smooth affair to maintain a clean runway heading for the entirety of takeoff. My turns were smooth but where I got a little concerned was that shortly before my base-to-final turn I was hit with a gust that lofted me a good deal and seemed to threaten blowing me onto the gravel access road. The radio crackled with Ben remarking that landing on the road would be fine if the wind forced my hand there. I thought I might need to do so but some gentle symmetrical brake pressure got me on a path shy of the road. Then things got messy right at the end. My arms were extending and nearly at full flare when a the wind gusted again and I was suddenly up maybe twenty feet with my brakes already fully applied. Heeding the counsel never to take out brake once you have flared (much like your yoke in powered flight) I prepared for a hard landing by spinning a quarter turn clockwise, bending my knees slightly, and whipping my fists to my chest at the last moment. Contact felt smooth as silk and after a full cartwheel the only damage was a tiny scrape on each of the outside of my left calf and the meaty part of my left shoulder, soft tissue documentation of a successful series of contacts that distributed the force of the impact uneventfully.

You should never want to do a PLF, but it felt incredibly satisfying to do one uneventfully, the knowledge of having that insurance policy established deeply reassuring. I am grateful to have practiced that very thing the previous morning. It was also fascinating to me how automatic the whole shebang was. The time from gust to impact must have been around two seconds and so there was only time for instinct. The whole affair reminds me of the experience of slide tackling as a soccer goalie to shut down a breakaway, my signature move if ever I had one. Some deep and subconscious part of the brain is looking for a collection of parameters to align and then GO. I would not be able to tell you which leg I use for tackles except that the paint is always buffed off the right shin guard.

Neat.

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