If you are looking to get into the sport, first off welcome! You are in for a real treat!
Over the past ten years as a Powered Paragliding Instructor, I have felt the sharp edge of the double sided sword of ‘no license required’ in paragliding. On one side it is amazing to be able to soar the skies without having regulation on what you can and can’t do regarding your freedom of flying. On the other hand there are numerous instructors with very little experience or qualifications whom are not regulated, which is not good either.
I have trained students that have put paraglider training ads on their truck before their first flight. I recently trained a gentleman and his student who was made an instructor after only five flights by an equipment supplier in California. He came to me as he realized he had no real experience and his student saw that. So this is the double edge part of no license required.
Thus, this leaves the burden on the student to find training that is correct, and more importantly, safe.
Like any sport considered extreme you may run into some pretty big egos. The funny part is our sport is only as extreme as you make it.
As a jump master in the American Army or as a paragliding instructor, we have plenty of egos the size of Manhattan. In choosing an instructor sometimes you have to try and look past that and find out what they know, and how they treat you as a fellow human.
Are they answering your questions?
How long have they been flying before deciding to instruct?
Where have they flown? Have they ever free flown or just paramotor? This will tell you their glider experience.
Are they giving you details about gliders and equipment? Or just telling you that different brands besides the ones they sell are “unsafe and unfit for flight” ?
Fact is there are lots of great brands and instructors.
Watch out for the “I am a USPPA instructor” as many get their certifications just by selling gear that a USPPA professional sells. How long have they been a USPPA instructor? Some are great and have been around a while. The USPPA have great intentions, however many individuals often claim USPPA status, and are not really qualified to teach.
Most professional instructors should have videos or promotion material on Youtube. How old are they when were they posted? Did they just start posting last year?
What experience with other gliders do they have?
How old is their website? Does their website look legitimate? Or do they even have a website? Be cautioned by trainers without a professional online presence, as they are likely just looking to train you to make a ‘quick buck’.
Find out if their equipment supplier is also a training administrator?
Do they have gear you can use to learn on? If not, they are likely a pilot, not an instructor looking to teach you some basics for money.
There is a very big difference between a fellow pilot, and an instructor. Instructors are trained to teach you the key safety points and proper technique in flying. If you wouldn’t trust your brother in law driving your car, you probably shouldn’t trust him teaching you how to fly.
Does the instructor have any references? May be a good idea to phone references.
Example: Our school references would include taking the president of the USPPA on the first USPPA tandem class offered! USPPA president Jeff Goin was our passenger 6 years ago.
Look to see if the instructor knows any other instructors in the sport. Chances are, if are good, they have contacts in different regions of the country.
Example: Eric Dufour, one of the best instructors I know in Florida, or Andy Mc Avin of TX fly sports both are good friends of USParagliding.
What kind of training facility do they have?
Do they supply housing as well?
Have they invested in themselves or are they requiring you to bring all the gear? These are very important things to know. Are they going to train you inland or just put you on the beach in California in laminar air then send you back to your home state with one flight and no real knowledge. Fact is, it’s really up to you to be safe, take the time have some patience look carefully at gear and training verses hype.
In the end nothing trumps experience.
A person should fly several years which may only be a hundred hours before even thinking of pinning on the instructor badge. All too often it’s “I got five flights now I am going to open up my own business.” How would you feel about a home contractor expert with only five jobs experience, or being a doctors first surgery ever? How about a mechanic with no tools to fix your car but he has a written test exam saying he or she is certified. I look for personal investment in any thing I do. I pick machine shops based on time experience, references, and how nice their facilities are. You should do the same when it comes to aviation.
I hope this information is helpful in getting you safely into a great sport of powered paragliding.
Feel free to call and ask questions any time.
Ashton Brunner, founder of USParagliding.com & FlyGreenEagle.com