Speed to Fly: A Complete Guide to Cross Country Paragliding

with Jocky Sanderson (sadly, this video is no longer available)

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

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 way to practice this).  Next, practice in lively air.  Keeping the circle tight and consistent is much harder but this must be learned!  In a decent thermal, there will be all kinds of small "burps" (turbulence) and if you do not know how to react well, you will fall out of the thermal.  Here is an example of a pilot going to 11K' MSL, following a thermal.  It was strong.  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.  This is not an easy task!  The secret is being able to circle in turbulent air.  It takes a lot of practice.  Most pilots want the thrill of climbing out without investing in the skills needed to do it. - Had

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

2. Always weight shift away from the hill for safety.

3. Better lift in thermals is 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 launch into an area that has no thermal triggers. The triggers may be at or near launch. In this case you may want to fly back to launch and look for the strong thermals there.

4. Stay in the weak thermal if it drifts. At one point (the thermal trigger), the thermal will break loose 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.

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 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.

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.

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 Jockey notes.
  4. Fly in groups.
  5. Breathe deeply! Assume an attack attitude and not a defensive.

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

18. Working a good cloud,  It 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 on the ground studying the course. It pays off!

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

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.


  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.