Editor’s note: Last week, my friend David Shelton shot this spectacular video of mountain paragliding in Mexico. Tapalpa is in Mexico’s Sierra Madre region about 400 miles west of Mexico City. Here’s his report. –Paul Bertorelli

Last week, I enjoyed a fine week of soaring in Mexico, along with 16 members of my paragliding family. Each day featured four to six hours of cross-country flying, spectacular climbs to 12,000 feet and landings in unexpected places. What an adventure! This particular flight was about four hours. It was actually thermals, not ridge lift, but the thermals tend to flow up the ridges and release at the top.

I’ve been flying airplanes and sailplanes for 25 years, but I recently took up paragliding after moving to California. The view is second to none, and it is natural to leap into the air with your own two feet. Portability? Check! Paragliders fit into backpacks, so you can take them hiking, skiing, or bring them on vacation. Affordable? Yes! For the first time in my life, I can own the latest gear and fly as much as I like, without so much as thinking about the cost.

Most important, paragliding has a rad community and has managed to attract a very young and diverse demographic. That’s about all I can say about paragliding for now, because the weather is shaping up for a sunset flight. By the way, the intro drone shot was done with a DJI Mavic Air, which is small enough to bring on most adventures.

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  1. I agree. A few years ago when asked what was my favorite aircraft the answer was a paraglider.

    However, as I was hanging out with the local powered paraglider pilots yesterday in Pacific Northwest 3 degree C temperatures but a beautiful CAVU day with a few interesting clouds and local conditions I was happy to climb into an enclosed light sport plane with sunshine coming thru the bubble canopy for a local powered flight.

    Sitting on a Mexican beach with friends, a drink and a taco can make any prior flying that day get filed in memory as a great day.

    • It is certainly more dangerous than GA, but it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison because the NTSB does not track paragliding accidents. The risk level seems to be similar to skydiving, snowmobiling, SCUBA, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and other adventurous activities.

      Common accidents include mid-air collisions, CFIT (turning too close to terrain), and landing mishaps. There are also some drownings, caused by landing in surf at coastal sites. Drownings can easily be avoided by flying during low tide, when there is plenty of beach to land on. Additional hazards exist when flying in strong thermic conditions, because our wings can collapse or surge. Active piloting skills help to minimize these events, and the wings tend to sort themselves out rather quickly.

      We also generally fly with a helmet, and most harnesses feature an integrated reserve parachute, and airbag protection for the spine.

  2. Geez. Mixed feelings. I love this whole deal and bought a wing and harness a few years ago. But then life and my underlying anxiety got in the way. I just watched this vid in view of the back pack full of paraglider I pulled out to inspect and finally learn how to kite.

    R N, per hour the safety stats look something like those for motor-bikes. But within that cohort my expectation is that a subset of people have most of the accidents. Not all, of course, but most.

    • The paragliding community is extremely diverse, and some definitely have more risk than others. For example, some are self-taught, while most are trained and licensed by the National Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Generally speaking, the culture of paragliding is less disciplined, and less safety-oriented than GA.

      On the bright side, the equipment keeps getting better. USHPA has also done a pretty good job of promoting training and safety, much like PADI has done for SCUBA diving.