Two decades of paragliding

According to my flight log book, it was the first of April 2002 when I had my first flight on a paraglider as pilot in control. Prior to that I did a tandem flight as the passenger and a few days at the training hill.
Of course it all started much earlier. I wanted to fly for as long as I can remember. Lots of boys wanted to become pilots. I don’t know if that wish is comparable to todays kids wanting to become influencers. Whatever. I carried my wish to become a pilot longer than most kids. When I started an apprenticeship as a mechanic, the plan was to become a helicopter mechanic afterwards and to make the pilot license. The other common path was to become an electrician and specialize on the flight electronics. I also explored that path for a bit, but decided on the mechanic path. In parallel, I started in the selection process for army pilots. Also there I wanted to become a helicopter pilot. Every path was viable that would lead me to become a REGA helicopter pilot in the future.
I have known for a while that one of my eyes is a bit weaker. It was never a problem so far. But in the army selection process, that was the reason for dropping out. So I collected as much information on my options as I could. It would still have been possible to make the helicopter pilot license, but paying the 100k all on my own was just not possible. And even after that, it would have been nearly impossible to find a job. There were lots more pilots that wanted to work than there were jobs. It went even so far that many pilots worked for free, just to get the hours to keep the license.
Already during my school time, my mother and me wanted to try paragliding. Every time there were vouchers in the newspaper, we checked the dates, and most of the time either of us was unavailable. So one day, my mother went alone to a training hill, and promptly broke her appendix. That didn’t discourage me in the slightest. I knew that once I try, I would want to start the training. The problem was that first I didn’t have enough money, and then during the study I didn’t have enough time. As soon as the study was finished, I started the paragliding training. It was the second best option after flying helicopter. Flying close to the terrain is something best done with a helicopter or a paraglider.
The first years of flying were the most intense. I met good friends that I still see in my early flying years. There were years with more than 300 flights. My whole free time was organized to get the most and longest flights I could get. I started to participate in competitions to get better at cross country flying. Flying comps was a lot of fun. Imagine a week long holiday with a hundred like minded pilots, that are as eager to fly. The only thing to be cautious in comps is to not take too much risk. There were enough examples of pilots who were clearly flying over their limits. I would estimate it’s less than 5% of pilots, but those are the ones, people point to when they want to paint comps in a bad light. I always knew that I did it for fun and that winning is not worth risking your health. There is always risk in everything you do, but with competition flying you can learn managing it pretty well, if you want. There are different risks. The risk to get a bad result, the risk of landing too early, the risk of not reaching the next thermal, the risk to end up in turbulent and uncomfortable air, the risk to get injured and the risk of death. For each risk you have to know how far you are ready to go to reach the goal you want to reach.
When you are so fully immersed in the flying circus, sooner or later you start thinking if you can make a living off of it. Nobody can live off of competition flying alone. Also sponsors only get you so far, and are hard to find. Lots of the best comp pilots are test pilots for the manufacturers. That sounds like fun, but appeared too risky for me. If you want to become better at a hobby, at some time you reach a point where you have to decide if it is more important than job and girlfriend. I really wanted to get better, but I didn’t want to think about a job that I liked less, or breaking up. Leading a normal live and have a family was ultimately more important to me than becoming a successful competition pilot. I had some role models that managed to still fly comps while having a family, but when one after the other divorced, that was a wake up call for me.
At one point I started reading the theory books for becoming an instructor. I never wanted to do it full time. As an instructor you watch the students flying and don’t fly a lot yourself. Also if you want to work part time as an instructor, you can be sure to work on the weekends. I have been flying tandem as a hobby and earned some bucks to finance the equipment for many years. But also that becomes less pleasant, when it is the job that pays your bills. At least that’s what I think. And last but not least, I like my job as a software developer, and was not really ready to give it up. That’s how I kept my hobby, and still like to do it.
Cross country flying is what I liked most, but since it requires lots of time, I had to give it up for the family. I hope I can resume it, when the kids are older. Until then I enjoy the shorter flights. Three years ago I figured out a way to get some short flights without taking too much time away from the family. Since then, I often run half way up the Urmiberg in the early morning to fly down again before going to work.
In those twenty years I completed 2’523 flights in 21 different countries on 68 different gliders. Most of it was in the first decade, though. 416 flights were on tandem gliders with passengers. 535 flights were on competition gliders. 160 flights were on speed gliders. 211 flights were on single skin gliders. As mentioned above, there were years with more than 300 flights in the beginning. When the kids were smaller I had some years with only 40 flights. Now with the RunAndFly, I am at around 90 flights per year again.
I saw marvelous landscapes from above. I met many cool and wonderful people through flying. I learned a tremendous amount about the weather and nature in general through flying. I learned a lot about setting and reaching goals as well as managing risk through flying. I will never stop flying as long as I can walk on my own two feet.

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