2020 was a tough year, there’s no doubt about that. Largely isolated from friends and family, facing heavy restrictions for a considerable chunk of the year being just the tip of the iceberg for many. I have a very limited list of exciting and worthwhile memories from this last year, but I can quite safely say that flying my hang glider makes it firmly onto that list. I know that many people have found getting into the countryside for fresh air and exercise hugely beneficial for both their mental and physical health. So why not take it to the next step and get involved in a new sport, one which gets you out into the world, teaches you a multitude of skills and is fulfilling on a number of levels?
Here I’ve listed just a few of the reasons I think that you should give the incredible sport of hang gliding a try this year:
I find hang gliding to be an all-round booster for my general wellbeing. First off – it makes me fitter and stronger. Although you don’t have to be an elite athlete to fly a hang glider, you do need to have some level of physical fitness allowing you to carry your equipment and control the glider when flying. After carrying your stuff, flying, having the adrenaline pumping as you come into land and then packing up, you’ve had quiet an active day – so double endorphins for exercising and from the thrill of flying!
There are also huge mental health benefits to flying. Personally, one of my favourite things about flying is it takes up all your mental space and it’s all that you can think about. Many people find running a good way to clear their heads, but whilst running I find myself going over the day and stewing on my current problems. With hang gliding, as soon as you’re taking those steps into the air, everything melts away and you have total focus on what you’re doing. It’s honestly the best form of a mental reset, as well as the added benefits of getting out, getting exercise and getting fresh air.
Sense of achievement
Learning anything new gives a sense of achievement, but it’s enhanced when that thing is a skill as cool as hang gliding. As well as learning to fly (without the help of an engine!), to get your hang-gliding pilots licence you’ll learn about principles of flight, meteorology, air law and navigation. This increases awareness and makes you a more rounded aviator in the process.
Every flight is different, and every flight offers the unique opportunity to experience or learn something new. When starting out, you’ll see yourself progress further and further with every take-off and landing, eventually working towards longer flights which can see you flying 10’s (or eventually 100’s) of kilometres. When you’re confident with the basics you can enter competitions, racing around a set course helps you to learn a whole new range of skills and the sense of achievement never stops!
Adventure is guaranteed! What sort of adventure would you like to embark upon? A soaring tour along the South Downs or Yorkshire Dales? Dune gooning along huge beaches in Australia? A cross country competition in remote Guatemala? Cross border flying in Europe? Hang gliding can take you to many incredible places in the world, with some spectacular ones right on our doorstep. These trips can also be coordinated to comply with even the humblest of budgets. One thing I do know is that wherever you choose to go, there will be a friendly local pilot willing to help you with whatever you need.
It’s one thing hiking up to a mountain summit to see the views, but it’s something totally different to be soaring high above them. And even better? Waving to that hiker as you zoom over the summit on your way to the next mountain!
Although the photographs never quite do the views justice, I’ll leave this here to give you an idea of how spectacular the views can be…
Finally, the community, people always assume that hang gliding can’t be a very sociable sport because you fly alone, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. From hang gliding I have made friends (you could even say adopted family in some cases) throughout the UK and across the world.
Each flying day will include catching up with flying friends as you set up your kit, chatting on the radio as you share the same piece of sky and then recounting the day when you’ve landed. At the competitions, the norm is for everyone to meet up at the pub at the end of the day so you can hear about how everyone got on. I’ve always found the support of the flying community incredible. From those happy to help carrying kit and equipment up large hills, to those assisting with take-off or even the support of a friend clapping when nailing a perfect landing. The community spirit is second-to-none. Second hand equipment from others is just another fine example of this spirit so, if you decide to take up hang gliding, I can guarantee there will be plenty of experienced, enthusiastic and often eccentric pilots ready to take you under their wing.
If hang gliding, or paragliding, sounds like something you may be interested in then please visit www.bhpa.co.uk