Up in the sky ― it’s an ajummaWon Yong-muk admits to being afraid of some amusement park rides. But paragliding is a different story.
That’s why, on a recent sunny afternoon, you’d have found him standing at a lofty 473 meters (1,551 feet) above sea level on Mount Jeonggwang in Gyeonggi province with other members of the Korea Paragliding School, preparing to soar.
“Paragliding is different from an amusement park ride because those rides involve a series of sudden drops and scary turns,” said Mr. Woo, 35, the school’s director.
A hybrid of parachuting and hang gliding, paragliding “is a sport that everyone can enjoy, except those who are afraid of heights,” Mr. Won said. The fear factor is minimized, he explained, because gliders move at a slow, gradual speed. Some compare paragliding to riding a chairlift.
The 40 people waiting at the takeoff stand are a diverse lot, including ajumma (housewives), young women and some older folks.
“The feeling of facing the wind through the clouds at an altitude of 1,000 meters is indescribable,” said Jo Gyeong-ju, a married woman with two children who has soared nearly 400 times since taking up the sport nearly two years ago.
“Since spring of last year, when I quit my job, I’ve gone paragliding on Mount Jeong-gwang almost every day,” Ms. Jo said. “Paragliding is very gratifying.”
Since taking up paragliding, Ms. Jo said, she’s lost 6 kilograms (13 pounds). Only six months after she began paragliding, in March 2003, she set a personal record by flying a distance of 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) for four hours and 45 minutes.
“I landed on rice paddies in Chungju, North Chungcheong province,” Ms. Jo said. “On the way back home aboard the bus, I was exultant.”
Older people are also experiencing the fun of soaring in growing numbers.
Jang Chung-ryang, a 63-year-old retiree, attended aviation school to become a pilot, but had to quit when he hurt his leg. That didn’t end his dream of flying, however; within three years of retirement, he was strapped to a paraglider.
“When I’m paragliding, I have a strange feeling of solitude and freedom,” says Mr. Jang. “I plan to continue as long as I am healthy.
Over three years, Mr. Jang has flown 180 times, averaging two flights a week. His longest flight lasted 90 minutes. He’s soared as high as 1,800 meters on an ascending air stream.
Paragliding allows people to fly with minimal equipment. A glider consists of an elliptical nylon canopy, 150 strings and a harness. A radio and helmet are also de rigueur.
At the intermediate level, gliders use an altimeter and a global positioning system. Together, all of the equipment weighs about 15 kilograms.
“After training once a week for four weeks, a beginner can usually start paragliding,” said Choi Hyeon-cheol, an official at the National Council of Sport for All, a sports advocacy organization. “Those at the intermediate level can stay up in the air for one or two hours by flying on warm air currents.”
To control the direction of flight, a person adjusts cords on each side of the glider. But unlike in parachuting, one does not experience a knee-jarring landing. On Mount Jeonggwang and nearby Mount Yongmun, and Daebu island in the Yellow Sea, it’s easy to spot paragliders dotting the blue sky.
Paragliding is a fusion of parachuting and hang glider. Gliders descend at speeds ranging from 13 to 44 kilometers per hour, slower than either parachutists or hang gliders.
A total of 22 paragliding schools are certified by the Korea Hang & Paragliding Association, though there are more than 300 paragliding clubs.
Training involves learning to take off and land on the ground. It’s dangerous for beginners to use equipment meant for those at the intermediate level, because it’s devised to increase speed and calls for more specialized techniques.
Strong winds are the biggest challenge; in such cases, it’s important to be accompanied by a certified trainer. Paragliding should be avoided in gusty conditions.
Korea Paragliding School
Nalgae Club (02) 927-0206
Free Flying Club (02) 402-3098
Parao School (02) 478-4123
Songgolmae Paragliding School
National Council of Sport for All (031) 765-1582
Paralove (031) 702-1078
Best Fly Paragliding School
Hanbuk Paragliding School
Ryu Yong-tae Paragliding School (051) 804-7230
Davinci Paragliding School
Seahawk (062) 675-8722
by Choi Joon-ho