Airplay has merged with Eagle Paragliding. Please visit the Eagle Paragliding Website for current news, information and products.

Dixon's Notes

13. Attitude and Sensibility

There's a big difference between a circus and a carnival. In the circus very little is left to chance. The athletes prepare both their equipment and their skills to perform difficult tasks - they would rather have skill than luck. When attempting something new proper safety equipment is put in place and many hours are spent perfecting the skills. In the carnival the participant is an unwitting risk taker without much, if any, preparation. He hopes to "win" something, using equipment (like rings thrown over coke bottles) that he's really not used to using, to get a result. He'd better be lucky.

How do you see yourself as a paraglider pilot?

A pilot, who barely survived a horrible accident while scratching a ridgeline a few years ago, recently said he emulates another pilot who often finds himself low in completely unforgiving terrain, i.e. over dense forest, and usually manages to make his way back to cloudbase. He said that he thought this pilot was a great teacher, he admired someone who puts it all on the line. A newer novice pilot was seen standing in his harness, over terrain, not water, in mid-day thermal conditions, because he wanted to try tricks seen in a video. An intermediate pilot barely missed a young child, the mother and me when attempting a "death spiral" while landing. He sheepishly apologized and explained that going to a lake to attempt these maneuvers was too much of a hassle, "boring soaring" could be relieved through a little excitement, besides, everyone is doing maneuvers over the ground. Just then we watched another pilot attempt a spin about 300 feet over the ground, which exited violently, and only through luck did the pilot happen to land without getting hurt, although dusty with a badly scuffed harness. They both said that they didn't have any medical insurance.

A very novice pilot, at a lake clinic (luckily), admitted to being coached into trying a never before used rigging to make B-lining easier. The student ended up using the reserve parachute before hitting the water. Novice pilot turned test pilot, what a leap in faith.

Very talented and well-trained professional pilots might push the envelope, but not without substantial practice and experience; AND they even make mistakes.

Last year I thought I'd push my limits of thermal intensity and chose to fly on a minus 45 thermal index day, just to see if I'd been too conservative flying in less than minus 35 thermal indexes. You would think that after over 6,000 flights I'd know better. What a ride, the glider and air had their own agenda. It truly felt as though I could easily be gift wrapped in my glider. No problem getting really high, but getting down was wild - I was lucky not to land in one of the intense dust devil releases that were abundant.

Gather intelligence from the experiences of others. Stop and evaluate how sensible your next move may be. Do you really need to repeat the mistakes of others and end up never getting to fly again? Each of us enjoys certain levels of risk, variety is the spice of life, but there's certainly a limit. Many folks think our interest in foot-launched aviation is pretty nutty, so just going after our sport is, for many, a huge proposal.

Enjoying most of your life before being dead, crippled or scared is an important consideration. We teachers are often dealt difficult hands in balancing the student, weather and lessons. Even teachers have trouble keeping the lessons from turning into a carnival, and we're the "experts". It's no fun seeing one of our students leave the sport, whether from an accident, fright or lack of challenge. Some would say that none of our paragliding activities are prudent, some would say that pushing the envelope to the very limit, sacrificing safety, is what they "need" to "feel" alive. To each his own, but take a moment to reflect on what you really want to "own". It's one thing to waste your life smoking pot in your apartment and another to put other people and sites at risk.

In any case, bottom line, if you're going to participate - be sure that your medical bills and family won't be "crippled" by your potential accident. At the very least, have medical insurance. There have been many hospitals stuck with huge claims when pilots have been injured without insurance. This isn't something simply absorbed, it has, in some cases, given reason for site closures. It puts pressure on lands management people to close a site when a community hospital has to find a way to absorb the cost of an uninsured accident.

The maturity of an individual can be measured by his ability to recognize the consequences of his actions. Are you flying "lucky"?