What is Parapente?
Parapente (paragliding) exists as a sport since the mid 80's. Although it is a relatively new sport, it has been developing very fast all around the world, as it is easy to learn and relatively low-cost, and offers safety and satisfaction. Greece is especially suited for this sport, due to its favourable climate and terrain conditions.
Paragliding, or Parapente from its French name (para for parachute and pente = hill), fulfils an ancient human desire: that of free flight. It gives almost anybody the opportunity to fly like a bird and live a unique experience. The equipment needed is a special parachute (wing), which allows taking off from a hill of any altitude, (if the weather conditions are favourable), without the need of any type of engine.
The launch takes place from the ground, with the pilot running down a hill and detaching from the ground. The flight is made possible by the forces of gravity, the wind and the air drafts and, of course, the pilot's contribution. As the parapente wing is not a flying machine, it is naturally expected to lose height after the launch, due to the force of gravity. However, due to its airfoil shape and special construction, it creates uplift, causing it to move forward with a low rate of descent. The rate of descent (i.e., how many meters it descends per minute) varies with the category, the construction, the weather conditions and the experience of the pilot. The equipment is designed to use the wind and the air drafts to its advantage, to allow staying in the air as long as possible. Taking all these into account, the flight can last from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the conditions and the pilot's effort. The parapente equipment weighs about 10 to 15kg, one person can collect it easily in a few minutes and it fits in a backpack.
What is the difference between a parapente wing and a regular parachute?
The latter is normally used when jumping from a plane ("normally", as it can also be used in the extreme sport of Base jumping) and it is purely a rescue device. It is constructed to withstand the sudden opening during the descent and the resulting jolt. Its shape in the modern days is a parallelogram and has limited manoeuvrability.
A parapente wing, on the other hand, is a parachute launched from the ground, being already open. The pilot has the choice to cancel the launch without any consequence, if this is desired. It is constructed in the shape of airfoil, allowing it to travel forward while loosing much height. It offers much greater manoeuvrability and its pilot can steer it with a great degree of accuracy to the desired location. It is larger in size and volume, with smaller size ropes (suspension lines).
What are the different categories of parapente wings?
Depending on the performance, the parapente wings are divided into training, touring and racing types. The more advanced the category, the more knowledge and experience is required for using the wing. It is advised that beginners do not try a wing beyond their capabilities.