Learning Experiences:

First Fall on Launch

First Fall on Launch: perspective shotFalls Suck. Period.

Every time I think I’ve started to master this or that in paragliding, I’m dealt a rude awakening by the almighty. Case in point: I’ve been flying rather early as of late as the weather has been, for whatever reason, overly windy in the afternoons and evenings – By overly windy I mean 13mph gusting to 18mph or more. However in the early morning (sunrise to 7:30am) it’s been calm – Dead calm. Not great for getting airborne. Anyhow, I managed to get the wing overhead on this one particular morning, got airborne, had a good flight and landed, and had almost packed it up to leave when a friend of a friend drove up who was intensely interested in seeing what PPG was. I decided that since the thermals were still nil I’ll give it another go. I layed everything out, got strapped in, ran my check lists and lunged forward, surging every ounce of my body energy into getting that 30m wing up overhead again. It almost got there, and then sadly, it sank to the ground. Uggg… Not exactly the kind of performance you want with spectators, but never the less, that’s Powered Paragliding on calm mornings for you. I explained that, decided to give it one more shot, reset up, layed everything out, and got strapped in again. This time I took a step back, followed by another BIG step back. A bad decision on my part was to gun the throttle right off the bat though and… Walla! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WE HAVE A RECIPE FOR A FACE PLANT.

I say face plant but it wasn’t exactly that; Let me explain what happened. I felt NO resistance in the risers when shooting forward. Even on the first attempt in calm winds I had some resistance. Consequently, I was sent flying diagonally down to the ground, before I had time to stand up straight. My knees where the first to take the impact. Actually, my right knee and then my left knee. But it felt like my right knee exploded on impact. I felt what I truly thought were bones and muscles coming apart under the skin ~ 70lbs on my back with a 130lb push can do a lot of damage, and I’m sure the actual math on impact would be quite scary if it were figured out. Consequently, I laid there contemplating a full day in the hospital, a cast, being out of work, and finally, the medical bills. So I just kept laying there. My one lone observer came over to check on me. How embarrassing! But what the hell. It’s done. I was done. What more could I do or say. So, I just layed there. And then, gradually, and to my increasing surprise, I was able to get myself up without any help. The motor and cage had almost gone over me before and would have if it weren’t for the leg straps but never the less, gasoline spilled out through the vent line all over my left shoulder and arm, which I was now smelling profusely. But still I was standing. My theory on bone breaks is that it’s not broken if it supports you – Pretty simple. I’ve used this with ankles in other sports and it’s always held true. And next the best way to overcome the pain is to use it – If you can. So I did. Get those endorphins flowing. I managed to get myself, with motor on, over to the car 25 yards away and unloaded the gear. I didn’t even want to pull up my pants after seeing what the ground did to the outside of them, but I did and was pleasantly surprised to see some light black and blue, but nothing else. So I limped over to my wing, gathered it up into a rosette, brought it back to the car, told my audience I was ok (and would be back), buried my ego, and went home.

From there out I just had sore knees for a week, and now I’m fine. It’s miraculous. I feel very lucky and blessed, and I’m not even religious. I have no idea how I escaped serious injury to my 40 year old knees but I did, and that brings me to my next point. You don’t have to believe in the man up stairs to think he has a sick since of humor. People do it all the time…But you do have to believe in him in order to think he helped you out. In this instance I think he helped me out. I recommend Jeff Goin’s PPG Bible as your final authoritative source on forward foot launching techniques as I am not an expert nor an instructor… Just somebody like you trying to learn as much as I can. I figured after 40 flights flights with all successful forward inflations the possibility of this happening would have seemed remote  – But it still did. Contributing factors besides the calm wind were the observer / my wanting to make it look good, as well as the rush perhaps to get one more flight in. Lesson learned – The hard way.