Choosing a Paraglider
By Jordan Neidinger
We all want to save a dollar and sometimes when new students look into paragliding, some of the questions that come up initially involve saving some of those dollars. It then becomes my job to educate others on how to cut expenses without sacrificing important factors like safety and performance. Although Paragliding is just a hobby, it is definitely not one without risk and choosing the wrong gear can increase your risk substantially. Purchasing used gear that is damaged or of old design will significantly slow down a student's learning curve and can ultimately be deadly if important details are overlooked.
Of course most of us can conclude just by looking at the aircraft itself that one's life literally hangs by strings. As simple as that sounds, there's so much more to the safety and performance of the wing that may not be immediately obvious to a student. Factors such as ease of launching, stability in flight, maneuverability and recovery properties are all relative assessments based on experience with other gliders. Students simply do not have the experience to make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing used gear. Unless they have flown a new glider that is suited for their body weight and skill level, they really do not have a way to compare the lack of performance and increase safety risk of a glider that was purchased from a stranger.
Additionally, and unfortunately, used gliders being sold over the internet are rather like vehicles on Craigslist. Most people want to get rid of their old headache and upgrade into something newer. In other words, you are shopping around for other people's problems that they are trying to get rid of.
Well, what about old gear that is practically new? Older technology will contain design flaws which have been addressed and corrected for in newer models. Manufacturers don't spend money on R&D for nothing. Even if an older glider has 10 flights on it and has always been kept in a box in a cool dry place, the technology itself is outdated and makes the aircraft less efficient at tasks like launching and flying. Recovery characteristics will be better in newer models as well.
Another major factor is wear of the fabric material that has nothing to do with amount of flights or flight hours. Has the glider ever been in water? Saltwater? How long was it left in the Sun? Paragliders take enormous damage from exposure to UV light. The material fades by the minute and ultimately becomes more porous over time. If the air is able to pass through the fabric material too easily, then the performance of the glider suffers and it could even be dangerous structurally. They are not like motorcycles or other vehicles, they have a finite life and once it is over they are useless.
So at this point, if I've been successful in convincing the student that their life is worth more than saving a couple of hundred bucks, I then suggest purchasing a new beginner glider with the intention of selling it after a year or two. Because it is new at purchase then one would be able to ask a higher price at the point of resale. That way it doesn't represent a total loss like purchasing a used wing with almost no hope of resale. Additionally, a new glider will save money during training because students will be able to move through the process quicker using better technology. The ease of launching and kiting the glider on the ground is determined in large part by having nice gear. Learning on old ratty gear is like learning to ride a bike with two flat tires. Yes, it can be done but it will many times more difficult and unsafe in demanding scenarios.
There are so many ways to save money in life, but paragliding and brain surgery are probably the worst places to look for savings. Do yourself a favor and get with a trusted instructor who can put you into the right set-up. Most people have at least one area and their life where they demand excellence, quality, and perfection. This needs to be one of those areas. Since your life hangs in the balance, please give the aircraft the respect it deserves. Today's gliders are technological marvels and are making the sport easier to get into than ever before.
If you need help selecting a glider for yourself, get with a certified instructor like me! We are happy to help guide you towards an appropriate purchase that will help you begin your journey on the right foot!