Speed to Fly: A Complete Guide to Cross Country Paragliding

with Jocky Sanderson (sadly, this video is no longer available)
updated August 18, 2023

The excerpts here were taken from the video.  It is expert advice on thermalling and for doing well in cross country paragliding contests.

Had's note: You will never be able to thermal well until you learn to make tight, consistent circles.  First, practice this in calm air (having a paramotor is a great help).  Next, practice in lively air.  Keeping the circle tight and consistent is much harder when there is turbulence from a thermal nearby.  This skill must be learned!  In a useable thermal, there will be small "burps" (turbulence) and if you do not know how to react accordingly, you will fall out of the thermal.  Here is an example of a pilot going to 11K' MSL, following a thermal.  It was strong lift.  As he went higher, he explored the area for an even stronger thermal and found one.  At cloud base, he discovered a thermal core next to the cloud and got above cloud base, not an easy task!  The secret is being able to circle in turbulent air while moving the circles at the same time in the required direction.  It takes a lot of practice. 

1. It’s Ok to bury the brakes in the core of a thermal.

2. Always weight shift away from the hill for safety while looking for a good thermal near the terrain.

3. Thermals with better lift are almost always upwind – thermals drift downwind, especially if they are weak. The strong thermals will be upwind of the weak ones which are drifting back with the wind.  Had: Occasionally, you may fly away from launch into an area that has no thermal triggers.  In this case you may want to fly back to launch and look for the strong thermals there.

4. Stay in a weak thermal if it drifts.  At one point (at the thermal trigger), the thermal will break loose, pick up speed, and up you go!

5. When entering lift – WAIT for four (4) seconds and THEN turn. Four (4) seconds is the time it takes to do a full 360 degree turn to stay in the lift section.  Had:  See #10 below for exceptions.

6. When in the thermal, if you feel your wing drop, that side is near the edge of the thermal.  Fly straight for a few seconds to stay away from the sinky air and then turn back into the thermal.

7. Listen to your vario!  Learn its tune.

8. Never leave lift unless you can see better lift elsewhere and can glide to it.  If you see better lift, get there ASAP.  Had:  What Jockey means is that you will see better sources and triggers of thermals (and lift).  However, you may see the top of a thermal (a cloud) what indicates that the thermal is strong.

9. Avoid shade.

10. Strong thermals: Turn SOONER (<4 seconds) so you don’t fall out the back.

11. If you do fall out of a thermal, increase the diameter of your circle and you will have a better chance of finding the core again.

12. If you hit the core, it’s OK to bank hard in order to take the stronger lift.  Had:  That is, bring the inside brake down to the karabiner – "bury" it.

13. Focus when thermalling but chill on glide. We can only concentrate hard for about 20 minutes of every hour.  If you do not relax, you will never thermal well for long periods.

14. On glide – eat a snack.  If forces you to relax.

15. Use OUTSIDE brake to monitor your turns. Do not dive into the turn when thermalling/coring, be gentle on the brakes.

16. When hitting a HOT core, don’t be afraid or filled with fear – turn negative into positive:

  1. You are going up!
  2. The wing is more highly loaded = good.
  3. Give a good laugh – it’s a ride and it is safe fun. Fear is BAD!  Had: Talk to your glider, "Come on, honey - go baby!"  It helps to relax, as Jocky notes.
  4. Fly in groups.
  5. Breathe deeply! Assume an attack attitude and not a defensive one.

17. Fly straight when you reach cloud base – towards your next waypoint.

18. Working a good cloud has these features:

  1. dark base
  2. well defined size (sharp vs. soft edges i.e. a growing cloud vs. a dying cloud)
  3. vertical delta shape (base of delta is the bottom of the cloud)

19. Decaying cloud has:

  1. an upside down delta shape (tip of the delta is the bottom)
  2. wispy edges.

19. Spend time when on the ground studying the course of a contest.  It pays off later!

20. Patience is important!  NEVER say die!  Don’t get stuck – you will then be closer to the leaders in the contest.

21. Cloud streets – they are good because you don’t have to fly as high.

22. View competitors as LIFT MARKERS, not threats.

23. On glide, go STRAIGHT and don’t turn in weak lift, wait for the strong thermal.  Had: If the general conditions are weak, take whatever you can and turn in it.  At the end of the day, weak lift may be al that you can find.  I made goal one day because I took whatever I could find when everything was calming down.

24. THREE RULES OF GLIDER CONTROL (to minimize altitude loss):

  1. Course correction after a collapse – use the energy of the dive to roll yourself away onto a steady course. And then pump out the collapse, if necessary. Steer and clear!
  2. If the glider DIVES forward, brake it but then ease off the brakes.
  3. If you don’t know what to do, ease off the brakes and let the glider fly. If it dives, check the dive and then ease off the brakes.

25. Comfort is very important – you can’t compete if you are not relaxed.  Had: The more tense you are, the worse you fly.  Do what works for you to stay calm and relaxed.

26. Stanwell Park, Australia – fabulous place to fly. Smooth air for 100 km.

27. St Andre, France – another outstanding place to fly.

28. Valadares, Brazil – best place on earth to fly.  No crazy winds, just regular air most of the time.