This article has been written with the intent of teaching new pilots how to gain proficiency in this and also as a transition resource for the many pilots who learned kiting the Old School / Straight Handed style.
Kiting a Paraglider is managing and sustaining a Paraglider overhead in the wind. As a result of slight changes in the wind velocity and direction, the Paraglider moves back and forth above you and provides feedback through the risers and brakes. The combination of body movements and brake pulls enable a pilot to not only manage the wing, but to do a dance with it.
In the earlier days, most pilots learned to kite without the brakes set up for the turn. That is, they had to swap the brakes after or during their rotation from facing backward to forward. By the middle to late 90s, enough accidents had happened during the brake transfers that most schools began teaching some variation of preset hands to their students.
If you can consistently lift the wing to a solid and balance overhead position, you are ready to learn kiting. Kiting should not be attempted without the ability to consistently lift and check the wing in a stable position. It is far more difficult to begin kiting when the wing is not close to center following the lift. Mastering the lifting process will enable success to happen in each kiting attempt.
In a wind as light as a few miles per hour, one can do some kiting by backing up at a quicker pace. Some paragliders will kite stationary in as little as 7 mph of wind, while others need a solid 10. A steady 7 – 12 mph is ideal for learning to kite. In lighter winds (4 – 6), you can practice and work on kiting by walking backward into the wind while using standard kiting techniques.
Why Kite with Preset Hands
In the earlier days of paragliding, most of us learned to kite facing the wing and simply pulling the brakes on each side as we faced the wing. This was done with the brake on the same side as the hand, not preset (I like to call this “straight handed kiting”). In straight handed kiting, the wing is controlled similar to a two line kite (pull right hand, wing goes to right – pull left hand, kite goes to left etc. …). The major drawback of straight handed kiting is that when it is time to turn forward, the brakes need to be swapped. During the brake swap there is a loss of control. This is one of the most critical times in the flight and any loss of control when you are in such a situation is less than desirable.
There is a time and place for everything. On lighter wind days when the wind is steady and there is no threat of gusts lifting you into the air, straight handed kiting can be a great tool. It is easier to kite a in light conditions using this technique (There is no pull on the brakes if you need to re-lift the wing using the A risers).
For mountain launches and launches where a sudden gust or thermal can lift you into the air, the safer and preferred technique is preset hands. This is because if you get lifted into the air while reversed, you simply rotate forward and fly. There is no need for any brake swapping. Some pilots with very good kiting skills use straight handed kiting even in mountain or thermic conditions, but for most pilots it is safer to use the preset method.
Both straight handed and pre-set techniques can be combined with the A/C launch method. There are many benefits to the A/C or A/D launch techniques.
With preset hands, each hand holds the brake that will be on the correct side when you turn to face forward. This makes it a bit counter intuitive when you begin to learn kiting with the brakes held this way. To be clear, when I refer to the left brake, I am referring to the brake in the left hand and visa versa.
While facing the wing, the brake in the right hand will deflect the trailing edge of the wing on “your” left. Consequently, when you pull the left brake, it will deflect the trailing edge on “your” right side. This is because the risers are crossed and the brakes are preset for forward flight. This is the reason it takes some conditioning and lots of practice to get a good feel for kiting with preset hands.
Preset Hands Technique
The following steps will simplify the learning process:
- Learn how body movements effect kiting. Practice body movements by kiting the wing without using the brakes.
- Once you are moving correctly, add brakes and combine this with proper body movements.
- Learn to center the wing visually at first, later you can work on feel without looking to take kiting to another level.
- Learn to feel and anticipate where the wing is going or what the wing is doing.
The following exercise is taught to student without them holding the brakes. If there is a stronger wind, to abort, just grab the rear risers and pull hard to kill the wing.
Instead of thinking about which brake to pull and thinking left or right, it is better to learn the feel of kiting by developing a relationship to the wing. Once you have lifted the wing to a point that is mostly or perfectly centered, keep the airspeed up enough to maintain the wing overhead. Watch the wing and if it is or drifts to either side, think, “Which side is the wing on?”. The next task is to learn to move your body under the wing. If the wing is on the right side, think of moving to the right, under the wing. If the wing is on the left side move to the left. In lighter winds, you will need to not only move under the wing. In fact, it is always helpful to add a little extra power as you move under the wing. Into the wind and under the wing is how you move.
Pilots new to kiting tend to have an instinct that tells them to face and pull against the wing. Instead, it is best to learn to move with and under the wing. To do this, it is necessary to turn your hips and feet towards the side the wing is on or moving toward. It is far easier to add a burst of speed by running forward. Also, the turn of the hips in this direction will help the wing come back to center better. In stronger winds, you can move straight sideways or sideways and back. In lighter winds, move into the wind with a slight veer toward the side the wing is on. In all situations, you need to keep the pull from the body constant.
Below is a video demonstrating kiting in a steady wind. Watch this when you have read that far and it will help you understand the proper use of feet and hips.
When the wing is close to center and not moving fast to either side, your lateral body movement will be faster than the wing above you. You can move your body right under the center of the wing. In a steady wind. Keep at the front of your thoughts, “move under the wing”. If the wing is leaning toward your left side, turn left and move quicker than the wing to the left. In lighter winds, at the same time, run under the wing but veering upwind. When the wing is centered, just move backward at a pace that will be enough to keep the wing powered overhead.
The goal here is to learn the body’s power to help the kiting. It will also teach you to turn toward the low side. This is much more intuitive than trying to get the brakes involved at the same time. If you make a mistake with the brakes, the wing can be down in the blink of an eye and this often leads to frustration. Instead, I have found that student can usually get pretty good with no hands kiting in a very short time with good wind. Once you have a feel for this (you can keep the wing up for 10 – 30 seconds), the transition to full on kiting will be much easier. Simply pull a little brake on the side you are moving toward. If the wing is a little on your right, you turn to the right, nove into the wind and under the wing and gently pull a little right brake.
Now, watch the following video for a better visual understanding!
Learning to kite is easier if you first learn to do it just with the body. It is simpler and you will learn to turn the body the right way. With this, just pull the hand you turn toward when you have the brakes…
Body and Brake Directions for Preset Kiting
Add brakes to the process
Once a pilot has learned some feel for centering, they can begin to learn how to add brake to this process. Set up the brakes correctly for a preset launch.
The start is exactly the same as before, lift the wing as close to center as you can. Now if the wing moves toward or is slightly on one side, you can pull a bit of brake on the side you are moving toward. So, if the wing has drifted slightly to the right, you will be backing up a little to the right. The magic here is that you are already conscious of which direction you are moving and you just need to form the habit of pulling a little brake on that side.
How much brake to pull will depend on how far the wing is over or how fast it is moving to the side. What you want to learn to do is to react quickly and sense how much brake to pull. With the combination of correct body use and correct brake usage, you will soon be on your way to fine tuning your ability to center the wing. The key is having relaxed arms and a light touch on the brakes. As you progress, you will learn to feather the brake so that the wing moves smoothly back to the center.
One of the more common issues for students learning to kite is pulling both brakes at the same time. This usually happens when a pilot has extra tension in their arms and upper body. When pulling one brake, make sure that the other brake is not also being pulled. If upper body tension is present, pilots can pull the opposite brake without being aware of it. If the wing is not moving back to center, check that your other (non pulling) hand is relaxed and releasing the brake all the way up to its pulley. Being relaxed is the starting point to awareness of the hands and where the brakes are. If just a slight bit of opposite brake is pulled, it will block the wing from moving in the direction desired. By being relaxed, you will feel what each hand is doing much better than when the upper body is tensed.
In stronger winds, the Paraglider will allow kiting further to the side and can come back to center more easily. In lighter winds, if the wing goes too far to the side, it will be extremely difficult or impossible to return to center.
In light winds, the wing will need to be managed as close to directly overhead as possible. When the wind is that light, if the glider starts to go over to the side, you can add power to getting the wing back overhead by using a technique called “bumping the wing”. Bumping is pulling back and moving under the low side of the glider with the hips as you give the correction. Pulling too much brake when the wing is on the side will result in the wing falling back to the ground as the high side of the wing (the brake you are pulling) will back up the most stable part of the wing. Bumping allows the pilot to avoid over-pulling the brake. With the bump, the energy to get the wing to react will be increased because of the increased airflow resulting from the pilot backing up and moving under the low side of the wing. The bump will also add power to the wing enabling it to stay overhead while adding enough brake to re-center it.
A common issue is for some students to turn to face the low side of the wing and pull in the opposite direction. Corrections will not work well with this, instead, it is best to keep backing up and move diagonally back slanting back under the low side of the wing.
Wings are different
Some models of paragliders need a moderate amount of brakes on both sides pulled when kiting in lighter winds to keep from moving too far forward and collapsing. Others tend to fall back and don’t need any brake. With the first glider, you will need to keep some tension on both brakes to keep the glider from over-flying, with the second, you would have to be off the brakes most of the time other than for centering. Play with your wing and you will get a feel for how it kites and what pitch characteristics it has.
Using Your Eyes / Sensing Feedback
At first attempts, you will kite by watching the wing’s movements overhead. If the wing moves to the right, you pull a little right brake to stop it from moving. Continue pulling the right hand enough to get the wing to begin moving back to center. Try to adjust the amount of pull based on what your eyes see. As soon as the wing begins moving back toward center, you can ease off on the right brake so that it does not pass center.
If the paraglider moves past the center point, pull just a bit of opposite brake (enough to stop it quickly) and try to lock it in the center. Keeping the paraglider locked in the center will make kiting much easier. This is because the most power is achieved with the wing in the center and the wing will react quicker as well.
After you have gotten to the point where you can kite using your eyes for your adjustments, you can begin to look for the feedback from the harness. The wing will give some feedback when the wind gusts on one side etc. prior to it moving. If you tune into these subtle forms of feedback, you can begin anticipating what the wings next move will be and what direction the wing is about to move before it begins to move in that direction. You can also feel a gust of wind before the wing reacts to it.
In stronger winds, it is important to squat down a bit in the harness to keep your legs firmly on the ground. This means, to bear most of your weight on the wing by sitting down a little on the harnesses seat area. When a gust comes along, if the wing lifts you slightly, your legs will have enough extra to remain on the ground during the gust. As soon as your weight is enough to lower the harness back down, do so.
In lighter winds, just find a comfortable and balanced position. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet, this will force you to keep your balance. If you find you are falling backwards repeatedly as you back up, it is likely that you are backing up on your heels instead of the balls of the feet.
When first learning to kite, keep it simple and do not use the hips. Later, when you can keep the wing up a bit, you can add in some help from the hips. If the paraglider is on the left side as you face it and you are backing up to the left and pulling a bit of left brake, you can also turn your hips to the left. By turning your hips this way, you are loading the same side of wing as the brake you are pulling. This gives it more power to use the brake on that side.
How to hold the brakes
When you first lift the wing, it is best to hold each brake at the bottom of the handle. It is important to not have the brakes engaged when lifting the wing. Once the paraglider has become stable, walking the fingers up to grab the brake where the line attaches will provide better sensitivity for the braking action.
The arms should be relaxed and supple to feel when each brake is pulled or fully released.
Note the fingers grabbing the brakes where lines connect …
Photo Credit – Andy Stocker
Now, watch the below video to expand your understanding!
Simple explanation of the hand and body mechanics for kiting a paraglider with preset hands.
Practice and More Practice
Once you have gotten to a point where you have the basics down, you will need to practice kiting in good conditions. Kiting is a fun and rewarding activity and, with good skills, will make your launches much safer. You can even practice in winds of about 5+ mph, by walking backwards in at a steady pace you can get to the threshold wind speed to keep the wing up.
Now, even better, watch the following video for some demonstration of these techniques:
And now, following is a quiz about ground handling and launching. This quiz includes material from other articles as well.