3 Steps to Thermalling Like the Paragliding Pros

As thrilling as a gentle, point-to-point glide can be, it hardly compares to the experience of catching thermals and soaring like an eagle over expansive landscapes. This is what leads countless pilots towards cross-country flying, and why so many will happily spend a full day circling high above the city or countryside. Develop your paragliding thermalling skills, and you just might find yourself climbing upwards and drifting through the air with the ease of a bird.

thermalling

Paragliding-Gaggle

1)        Master the Art of Thermal Identification

Thermal pockets arise as a result of uneven surface heating from the sun’s energy, causing the warm air just above the ground to expand and rise. The first step in taking full advantage of these upwards-traveling columns is, quite simply, finding them.   There are a couple of ways to locate thermal pockets – some visual, some tactile. Because the rapid congregation of air brings together a lot of moisture, thermal columns are often topped with fluffy cumulus clouds, and these often make for a very good landmark to target. Large buildings and boulders often retain greater heat than the surrounding ground (which may be partially in the object’s shadow), and as such may host thermal columns themselves. Once you’ve entered suspected thermal territory, hold the brakes lightly and feel out whether there is increased lift on one side or the other. This will help you to pinpoint the exact center of your goal.

thermalling

Paragliding in the flatland with the Ozone Enzo

2)        Hone Your Control

Whether you’re circling a specific area or soaring far in a cross-country flight, the key to great thermalling is getting as much height as possible out of each pass-through by hitting the core. Learn to control the glider like an extension of your own body, and you’ll be amazed at the feats possible.   Remember that there are three primary ways of controlling your rig:   Braking – the glider’s hand-held brakes are perhaps the easiest method of control, and offer the primary means of control. Pulling these cords will not only affect speed, but also allow you to flare the wing.   Weight shifting – while it requires a bit more physical effort than braking, learning to weight shift is crucial in developing full control over your glider’s flight path. Adjusting the load on different parts of the wing allows for subtle changes in wing shape that can completely change your orientation.   The accelerator – also known as the “speed bar”, this is a foot control that connects to the wing’s leading edge (usually through a pulley system), allowing manipulation of the wing’s angle of attack. Used in tandem with brakes, speeding up or slowing down at the right time is key in getting the craft where you want it.

thermalling

Naviter-Oudie3

3)        Consider Investing in a Variometer

One thing that sets humans apart from our bird friends is the ability to directly sense altitude and climb rates: they’ve got it, we don’t. Instrument-free practice can hone your thermalling and altitude-maintenance skills quite impressively, but many professionals will make use of all the tools at their disposal to really maximize results – including the variometer (or “vario”). Invented in 1929, these are small devices – easily mounted on the wrist, arm, or elsewhere on your body – which indicate your vertical climb rate through beeps and/or a visual display.

Stephan Kruger
Follow

Stephan Kruger

Owner & Founder of Fly Cape Town Paragliding at Fly Cape Town Paragliding
Stephan is the owner of Fly Cape Town Paragliding. He is an avid tandem, competition and aerobatics paragliding pilot He loves to share the joy of paragliding flight with anyone who is keen...He is also a qualified paragliding instructor and a paragliding endurance athlete.
Stephan Kruger
Follow