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Paraglider Kiting With Preset Hands

© Jeff Greenbaum

Paraglider kiting is managing and sustaining a paraglider overhead in the wind. In Europe, it's more often known as 'ground handling'.

As a result of slight changes in the wind, the paraglider moves back and forth over you and provides feedback through the harness and brakes.

By pulling the brakes correctly, you can balance the paraglider overhead. When you get really good at kiting, you can do it without looking at the wing.

The initial key to learning paraglider kiting is lifting the wing to a straight overhead position prior to beginning. If you can consistently lift the wing to a solid overhead position, you are ready to start learning to kite. If you are not able to lift the paraglider straight consistently, you need to work on this before moving on to kiting.

Some wings will kite in as little as 7 mph (11 kph) of wind, while others need a solid 10 mph (16 kph). A steady 10 - 13 mph (16 - 21 kph) is perfect for learning to kite. When it is on the lighter end (5 - 9 mph), you can practice paraglider kiting by walking backward into the wind while using standard kiting techniques.

Kiting With Preset Hands

With preset hands, each hand holds the brake that will be on the same side when you turn to face forward. This means that when you are kiting, the brake in the right hand will deflect the brake on the left. Consequently, when you pull the left hand, it will deflect the brake on your right side.

Some pilots use the old technique of paraglider kiting with the brake on the same side as the hand. This is good for light wind kiting, but the preferred technique is having preset hands. This is because if you get lifted into the air while reverse, you just spin with preset hands and do not need to do any brake transfer. With the old style technique, you have to swap brakes during or following the turn to forward. This has potential to be extremely dangerous when launching.

It would be way too hard to cross things up in your head, so the simple way to learn to kite is to begin by thinking, which side is the wing on? If the wing is on the right side, pull the right brake. If the wing is on the left side pull left brake. Because the wing will move in the opposite direction of pulled brake, it will move back toward center.

Besides side to side, you also need to manage the glider's pitching while paraglider kiting. Pitching is forward to back movement of an airfoil. If the wing falls back a little while kiting, you need to get it back to center and let the brakes up. If a wing is trying to get in front of you or a sudden surge happens, stop this by pulling both brakes enough to stop it from getting in front.

Paragliding kiting annotated photo.

How much brake to pull will depend on how far the wing is or over or how fast it is moving to the side and also, how much wind power there is. What you want to learn to do is to react quickly but to sense how much to pull by how much the wing responds. You should pull enough brake to initially stop the wing from moving over to the side any further. After achieving this, then pull a bit more to make it move back toward center. Eventually, you can learn to feather the brake so that the wing comes smoothly back to being centered above you.

When pulling one brake, you need to make sure that the other brake is not being pulled too. One of the biggest issues for students learning paraglider kiting is pulling both brakes at once. Because of upper body tension, they pull the opposite brake without being aware of it. If the wing is not moving back to center, check that your other hand, the one not being pulled for the correction, is relaxed and releasing the brake all the way up to its pulley.

Being relaxed is the starting point to receiving the feedback through the harness. If just a slight bit of opposite brake is pulled, it will block the wing from moving in the direction you are attempting to. By being relaxed, you will feel what each hand is doing much better than when your upper body is tensed.

In stronger winds, the paraglider will allow kiting further to the side and can come back to center more easily from such locations. When paraglider kiting in lighter winds, if the wing goes too far to the side, it will be extremely difficult or impossible to return to center.

Bumping - A Handy Paraglider Kiting Technique

In light winds, the wing needs to stay as close to directly overhead as possible to stay up. When the wind is that light, if the glider starts to go over to the side, you can add power to getting the wing back overhead by using a technique called bumping the wing. Bumping is pulling back suddenly with the hips as you give the correction.

Pulling too much brake when the wing is on the side will result in the wing falling back to the ground as the high side of the wing (the brake you are pulling) will back up the most stable part of the wing. Bumping allows the pilot to avoid over-pulling the brake. With the bump, the energy to get the wing to react will be increased because of the increased airflow resulting from the pilot backing up.

Wings Are Different

Some models of paragliders need a moderate amount of brakes on both sides pulled when kiting in lighter winds to keep from moving too far forward and collapsing. Others tend to fall back and don't need any brake.

With the first glider, you will need to keep some tension on both brakes to keep the glider from overflying, with the second, you would have to be off the brakes most of the time other than for centering. Ask your instructor for specifics on your wing's behavior.

Using Your Eyes, Sensing Feedback

On your first attempts, your paraglider kiting efforts will be guided by watching the wing's movements overhead. If the wing moves to the right, you pull a little right brake to stop it from moving. Continue pulling the right hand enough to get the wing to begin moving back to center. Try to adjust the amount of pull based on what your eyes see. As soon as the wing begins moving back toward center, you can ease off on the right brake so that it does not pass center.

If the paraglider moves past the center point, pull just a bit of opposite brake. Use enough brake to stop the wing quickly and try to lock it in the center. Keeping the wing locked in the center will make paraglider kiting much easier. This is because the most power is achieved with the wing in the center and the wing will react quicker as well.

After you have got to the point where you can kite using your eyes for your adjustments, you can begin to look for the feedback from the harness. The wing will give some feedback when the wind gusts on one side, for example, prior to it moving. If you tune into these subtle forms of feedback, you can begin anticipating what the wing's next move will be and what direction the wing is about to move before it begins to move in that direction.

Body Position

When paraglider kiting in stronger winds, it is important to squat down a bit in the harness to keep your legs firmly on the ground. This means, to bear most of your weight on the wing by sitting down a little on the harness's seat area. When a gust comes along, if the wing lifts you slightly, your legs will have enough extra to remain on the ground during the gust. As soon as your weight is enough to lower the harness back down, do so.

It is ok to move around a bit when paraglider kiting. If the wing is a bit on your left, while you pull the left brake, you can walk under the left side of the paraglider. That is, to your left as you face it. In lighter winds, this can make it easier to kite.

Using Hips

When first learning to kite, keep it simple and do not use the hips. Later, when you can keep the wing up a bit, you can add in some help from the hips. If the paraglider is on the left side as you face it and you are pulling a bit of left brake, turn your hips to the left as you continue to pull your left hand.

By turning your hips this way, you are loading the same side of wing as the brake you are pulling. This gives it more power to use the brake on that side.

How To Hold The Brakes

When you first lift the wing, it is best to hold each brake at the bottom of the handle. It is important to not have the brakes engaged when lifting the wing. Once the paraglider has become stable, walking the fingers up to grab the brake where the line attaches will provide better sensitivity for the braking action.

The arms should be relaxed and supple to feel when each brake is pulled or fully released.

Kiting - holding the brakes.

Note the fingers grabbing the brakes where lines connect.
Photo: Andy Stocker

Practice And More Practice

Once you have got to a point where you have the basics down, you will need to practice paraglider kiting in good conditions. Kiting is a fun and rewarding activity and, with good skills, will make your launches much safer. You can even practice in winds of about 5+ mph (8+ kph), by walking backwards at a steady pace. This way, you can get to the threshold wind speed to keep the wing up.

'Paraglider Kiting' was reproduced from the original article 'Kiting a Paraglider with Preset Hands' by Jeff Greenbaum, with permission. Jeff is the paragliding instructor behind Airtime of San Francisco.

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