Locate an USHPA certified instructor you trust and who you are comfortable with. Make sure your instructor is a current USHPA member with an instructor rating. They can help you figure out if hang gliding or paragliding may be a better form of free flight for you depending on where you live and what your flying goals are. Instructors create their own pricing structure. Be sure to check with a certified instructor for pricing before heading out (Click here to find an instructor).
Once you commit to taking lessons, and before you and your instructor begin the training process, fill out the paperwork including the membership form and waiver (usually on the back of the membership page). Send it in to get insurance, the wonderful subscription to Hang Gliding and Paragliding Magazine, and voting rights in the national organization (see story about why ratings are important).
Take lessons. The most effective way to learn the sports is to link at least two consecutive days of training together. The beginning stages of learning free-flight focus extensively on new muscle memory, so the more days you can do it in a row the better. Practice ground handling as much as possible and immerse yourself in all aspects of the culture. One of the greatest parts of free flight is that existing pilots are almost always very excited to teach and help out new pilots. These sports can be hazardous if you’re not prepared and if you haven’t had proper instruction (see our safety tips here).
Hang out with other pilots. This is a great community of people with a wealth of great information and mentoring that happens every day through casual conversation. Having other pilots around you ensures that others will help you if you need it including: launching, towing, having a travel companion that shares the same passion, and sharing a long day of big smiles and wind in your sails. They also can clue you in to the best launching sites and amazing places around the country and the world that are worth visiting.
Buy the equipment. Once you know that this sport is for you—jump in with both feet. Owning your own equipment will increase your learning curve, and safety curve, exponentially. You should always buy equipment from the instructor who taught you. They will continue to be your greatest mentor and in order for them to be there for you over the years they need your support. Whether you are looking for new or used equipment, always consult with your instructor. There is a lot of used equipment on the market that is in all honesty a waste of money, and less than ideal in terms of safety. Without years of experience there is no way for a new pilot to know what they are buying. This makes it crucial to utilize your instructor’s expertise in the beginning of your flying life. Unlike other sports it is very common for students and instructors to have life long supportive relationships. Prepare to spend from $3,600 – 6,000 for all your equipment. This may include glider, harness, reserve, hiking boots, helmet and radio.
Learn about weather. Hang gliding and paragliding are governed by the rules of nature just as any weather dependent sport—like sailing, skiing, and hiking—it’s critical and fun to explore meteorology as it relates to aviation. It’s an exciting part of these activities to understand and respect the environment in order to enjoy its bounties. Your instructor will help you to a point, but your own observations and research will also be crucial in understanding when its good for flying. A couple of nice weather related books and videos are at the USHPA store.
Learn the lingo. There are all kinds of glossary terms to understand, and if you know them you can relate experiences more easily to others and get more specific tips and feedback. Learning terms is also a fun to try while parawaiting or hangwaiting.