Paragliding Wilderness, the Best View on Earth

paragliding in wilderness

While it’s undisputed that Wilderness, along the Garden Route in South Africa is one of the most beautiful places to go while visiting, it might surprise some to find out how many different ways you can enjoy this hamlet on the sea, inlcuding from the sky. If you’ve ever watched a bird fly and wondered at how it must feel, or marveled at how they catch the wind under their wings, or what the world must look like from their perspective, you can find out. There are few things that give you a sense of independence or freedom while taking in a view unlike any other than paragliding. To make that trip complete, with the sense of being completely in charge of your itinerary and how you want to live while there, be sure to call Wilderness on Sea which offers top of the line self-catering accommodation.

Paragliding is different from hang gliding, and from parasailing. Paragliding can be motorised or not, but it’s a free sail downward and the glider does not have the rigid frame or shape that a hang glider has. A parasail is similar to a parachute but you float behind a boat or other seafaring motorised transport. In Wilderness, there are two places you can go that will give you a ride you will never forget. Cloudbase Paragliding,which also conveniently has a live weather station and there’s Dolphin Paragliding who offers tandem options as well if you don’t feel like riding seperated from your loved one.  To get an idea for what it feels like to be on one, there’s nothing like being there, but watching a short clip may help.

Hang gliders and paragliders also differ by how you ride or steer them. A hang glider rides much like Superman flies, so you’re face down and strapped into a rigid frame, where a paraglider you sit like a swing with the glider above you, a mix between a kite and a parachute. A paraglider takes only 6-12 minutes to set up and can fly at an airspeed of 15 to 25mph and is better for beginners to the sport because it’s far more capable of being transported easily in a car within what looks like a large backpack, versus a rack on top of the car being necessary for the hang glider. Hang gliding began in the late 19th century, but it started to gain popularity in the 1960’s where parasailing started in Europe in the mid-80’s and saw a spike from 1988-1994, and continues to rise still.

The strict definition of paragliding is both a competitive as well as a recreational adventure sport of flying paragliders. They’re lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched aircraft gliders which possess no rigid primary structure. As mentioned before, the pilot sits in a harness resembling a swing seat, below a fabric wing made from a large number of interconnecting baffled cells. The wing keeps it’s shape through the suspension lines, the pressure of air as it enters vents in the wing, as well as the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside of the craft. A flight can last many hours without any engine, and cover hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers, but typically a flight lasts 1-2 hours and covers tens of kilometers.

There are a few related kinds of paragliding like powered paragliding where you have a small engine attached, speed flying, which is flying paragliders of a smaller size whose wings have increased speed but do not soar as with traditional gliders. The sport involves using skis to take off, and swooping down extremely fast, though they may also be used where there are high winds and the location would be otherwise unsuitable for a normal paraglider. There are places that offer courses as well so you can learn the sport for yourself. Due to the low cost of the glider itself and it’s easy portability it’s a sport that is worthy of investing into for solo soaring nearly anywhere.

In 1952, Domina Jalbert researched and completed successfully a governable gliding parachute containing multiple cells and controls for gliding laterally. In 1954, Walter Neumark wrote an article in Flight magazine where he predicted that a glider pilot would be able to launch himself by running over the edge of a cliff or down a slope. In 1961, French engineer Pierre Lemoigne made an improvement to the parachute design which led to the Para-Commander. It had cutouts at the rear and sides that let it be towed into the air and steered, the advent of parasailing. American Domina Jalbert later invented the Parafoil which contained sectioned cells in an aerofoil shape that had an open leading edge and closed trailing edge that inflated using the passage of air. He filed for a U.S. Patent on January 10, 1963. Patent # 3131894.

David Barish was busy around the same period inventing a single surface wing called a “sail wing” for NASA space capsule recovery. They performed tests using slope soaring, and after successful runs on Hunter Mountain in New York, he proceeded to promote slope soaring as a summer activity for ski resorts. There became a need for a flight manual with all these options becoming available for personal use, so an author named Walter Neumark wrote the first manual, “Operating Procedures for Ascending Parachutes” and he along with some of his friends who were also enthusiasts for tow-launched personal flight crafts, left the British Parachute Association to form the British Association of Parascending Clubs in 1973. The next manual to come out was written by authors Patrick Gilligan and Bertrand Dubuis called “The Paragliding Manual” in 1985, which was the first time the term ‘paragliding’ had been used and consequently, stuck.

June 1978 created what we now know as the universal paraglider by three men from Mieussy, Haute-Savoie, France. Jean-Claude Bétemps, André Bohn and Gérard Bosson were inspired by an article covering slope soaring in the Parachute Manual magazine. They speculated that on a suitable slope, a “square” ram-air parachute could be inflated by running down the slope. Bétemps launched from Pointe du Pertuiset, Mieussy and flew 100m. Bohn followed and glided to the football pitch in the valley 1000m below. From this point and into the 1980’s equipment has seen a continual improvement for safety and compact capability and the number of pilots as well as sites for paragliding has continued a steady increase. The first Paragliding World Championship was held in Verbier, Switzerland in 1987, though unofficial, and was followed by the first officially sanctioned FAI World Championship in Kössen, Austria, in 1989. Europe has seen the largest growth with paragliding, and in France alone – birthplace of the modern paraglider, there are 25,000 registered active pilots.

South Africa has the most World records held for paragliding in the following categories:

  • Straight distance: 502.9km, Nevil Hulett from South Africa – Copperton, South Africa in Lesotho on 14 December, 2008.
  • Straight distance to declared goal: 411.3km, also by Nevil Hulett – Copperton, South Africa in Lesotho on 14 December, 2008.
  • Previous straight distance to declared goal: 368.9km, Aljaz Valic, Urban Valic from Slovenia – Vosburg in Jamestown, South Africa on 7 December, 2006.
  • Gain of height: 4526m, Robbie Whittall from the UK, in Brandvlei, South Africa on 6 January, 1993


Book your wilderness accommodation in advance, as spots fill quickly during the season, and enjoy soaring like the birds do, enjoying a sport long in the making and seeing South Africa in a way that is completely unique and utterly unforgettable.

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