I wrote the article titled “Learning Winglish” several years ago to enlighten new students about the roles of “feel and relaxation” while kiting.
With many years of teaching sports, experience has dictated how feel is the key to good actions and reactions. Stiff muscles block the connection between mind and stimulus. As simple as it may sounds, relaxation should be at the top of your priority list when ground handling a paraglider. The relaxation you learn on the ground will also transfer directly to how you sense and feel the glider in the air. In any critical flying situation calm and relaxed controls is the best way to manage the paraglider.
There are occasionally students who can achieve a solid level of kiting without being loose and light handed. To achieve a higher level of kiting, any pilot must find a way of relaxing his muscles to enhance touch and reaction time. The mechanical and technical moves that help a pilot center the wing come secondary to being relaxed. Each task needs to be executed with supple arms enhancing how much touch can be done with the hands.
Tight muscles override the feedback that the brain requires for feel. The cycle between stiffness and intensity during kiting can also be compounding. For example, when a wing moves to the side and the pilot becomes more intense and might react by becoming stiffer, losing the touch that provides awareness of where each brake is and how much tension each one has.
I add skills little by little when teaching kiting. The biggest progress is always when the student pilot finds how important touch is. So, the secret to kiting really is not a mystery, it is simply to feel “what does what” during practice.
Leave the stiff arms in your car and try to feel all the way to your fingertips. When you pull one hand to move the wing, make sure your other hand is not pulling at the same time. This is the biggest giveaway of body tension: when a student lifts their elbows and pulls the other arm at the same time they are pulling the intended brake. With light touch and continuous awareness of relaxed arms you will get it much quicker.
If you watch pilots launch and ground handle, the best ground handlers will always be smooth and relaxed. The ones who look awkward and often out of control are usually the pilots who have not learned to relax while ground handling.
The first step in developing feel is the awareness of stiffness. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to learn to eliminate the muscle tension part of the reaction. This is one of the Zen like parts of ground handling. The mind needs to learn to react to intensity and situations without tightening the muscles.
Different levels of intensity can trigger increased fear and tightness. A pilot might be able to achieve relaxation in a steady 8 – 10 mph wind in the park, but put him on a higher hill for the first time and his ground handling can fall apart. I have seen this over and over through the years and it is easy to see the mechanics go south as a result of intensity translating to muscle tension.
Learning to stay focused and relaxed during kiting transfers directly to flying situations. By learning to remove the transfer of stiffness to the muscles from your muscle memory, you will effectively become a more capable pilot. Freeze-Ups are just not an option in aviation.
Sometimes repetition and practice can take a pilot above the threshold of fear that creates the muscle tension. The problem is that without the pilot’s prioritizing relaxation, the muscle tension can become a built in reaction to intense launching and flying situations.
For anyone who joins my classes, it will become ultra clear in the first few lessons that my focus is mostly on keeping feel and relaxation at the top of the priority list. It is critical when learning a sport like this that you have to manage your wing regardless of situation, from launch till landing. When you are practicing ground handling, it is critical that the more intense a situation, the more important it is to find a way to relax and feel. For instance, when the wing is coming up to the side and pulling you hard both downwind and sideways, if you learn to relax you will develop the ability to get the wing back overhead in such a situation.
The basics of kiting and feedback will allow any student who is relaxed to receive the physical language of Winglish. I often say to the students, “I cannot teach feel, only the wing can”. Each student must find his or her own awareness of the muscle tension and how to release it. Once the awareness of this is there, learning to kite with relaxation ever-present is just around the corner…