Learning Winglish

The Physical Language Of Your Wing

Andy, a pilot, was kiting his wing one day, when he heard a distinct but soft voice saying "Hello." "Huh?" thought Andy. Emanating from within his risers and brakes, the wing's voice continued, "If you'll just listen a little more, I can help you merge with my fabric and the surrounding airflow. I'll teach you "Winglish", a physical language you've never heard before."

Momentarily stunned into deep contemplation by hearing his wing speak like this, Andy let it flop to the ground. Asking questions in his mind, he tried to talk back to the wing but there was no answer. He tried for quite a while but eventually gave up. Time for some more practice. To his surprise, as soon as the canopy was inflated, there it was again... "Hello buddy. I can only talk to you through the risers and brake lines, you know."

Kiting was always a struggle for Andy, as was anticipating things that might happen during flight. While learning the delicate art of kiting, his instructor had coached him on the use of brakes to keep the wing off the ground. Andy often didn't react in time as his teacher would say "left brake" a few times, while the wing moved to the left. For a while, Andy simply wouldn't react in time, and the wing would drop on the left side. By persistently trying to react quicker, he eventually learnt to catch the wing in time. However, he still didn't react quick enough on many occasions.

Again, Andy tried to kite the wing when suddenly he heard "You've got to use more than just your eyes, that's the key. Communication of Winglish only happens through the brakes and risers. You'll never hear it until you relax completely, all over, and feel the tension in your brake lines and risers. It's a physical thing, so listen to Winglish through your body."

Suddenly there was a gust, and a small change in wind direction. "Feel that change of tension in your harness!" said the wing. Andy did feel it, a definite change in how his harness felt. Now the wing started to move right, so Andy responded with some right brake. However, he was a bit late and also pulled too hard. So the wing went back over to the left and ended up on the ground.

A few moments later, Andy managed to get his wing airborne again. It spoke again, "Did you notice that I have a delayed reaction when there is a wind change? I can only warn you that I'm about to move in Winglish, through the risers and brakes. So far, you haven't been listening."

Up to this point, Andy had put great faith in his eyesight when it came to kiting. Wiser now, he tried to feel what was happening with his harness and brakes. Expectantly, he waited for another communication from his wing. Sure enough, he eventually heard "Hey, you're stiff all over because that's the way your arms are right now." Andy realized that this was in fact true, he felt quite tense. With a bit of concentration, he managed to relax a bit. Amazingly, the wing's voice became noticeably clearer almost straight away.

Again the wing spoke, "With your eyes shut, see if you can feel where the wing is." You've got to be kidding, thought Andy. But something made him try it, just to keep this incredible episode going. Initially, the wing hovered overhead but after a few moments it shifted. He felt it shift! Then came a question, "OK, so I moved, but which way?" Andy had to confess to having a quick peek, but it only confirmed what he felt. With a chuckle, the wing went on, "I'm sure you'll really get this one day. You only have to experience it a few times before your body starts to form a connection with me. In fact, your kiting has been more connected since you have been in a more relaxed frame of mind. Andy felt he had to ask what, specifically, would he feel through the harness as the wing moved sideways. Answered the wing, "Sorry, that's a bit hard to explain. Winglish isn't that simple! Just let your brain pay attention to what's happening, and your body will eventually pick up what it needs to."

For a few minutes, Andy worked on his kiting, carefully listening for more Winglish. He tried to relax, thinking of his arms in particular. Also, he tried to sensitize himself to the subtle strains on his harness and risers. Just before a sideways wing movement, the harness would whisper to his body. Even with his eyes closed, he realized he was now aware of which direction the wing was drifting. When the wing surged forward, he now noticed that just before it collapsed, it wasn't lifting as much. When this happened the first couple of times, the wing would yell out "Going, going, gone!" while it surged and then collapsed. Andy soon caught on, becoming aware of the reduced lift during a surge and resulting collapse. He could catch them in time now.

For the final time, Andy heard from the wing as it said, "Great! Now you can understand my own language! I'm communicating with you via your body, and those words you hear in your head aren't from that language. Whenever you are flying or kiting me, I'll keep on talking to you in Winglish. Just be sure to make full use of your senses from now on. That way, we'll take care of each other."

This is actually my paraphrase of the original article by Jeff Greenbaum, entitled 'Learning Winglish'. Jeff is the paragliding instructor behind Airtime of San Francisco.


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