Learning Experiences:

Paramotor Flights at the Beach

Beach Flying: Eager Anticipation Leads the Way!

I had always read about and heard of how great beach flying was… Yet I couldn’t identify though, as I had never done it… Until last week. At the crack of dawn on a day I happened to have off from work, I headed out to the coast… Yearning to experience the same nirvana I heard so many others speak of. I was to meet up with a friend who lived there, who is also a PPG pilot and who has experience with the particular nuances of flying at the beach.

In my eager anticipation, I had prepared the night before so all I had to do was hit the road very early the next morning. My thought was to arrive by 7:30am and get into the air by 8:00, typical of an inland flying mindset style. What I didn’t take into account was how different the wind was at the beach, at least in terms of it’s behavior, when compared to where I was used to flying ~ The usually stale air of California’s Central Valley. Once at the coast however, the wind didn’t pick up until 11:00am. Until then, it was light stirs here and there and a low, dewy overcast layer… Making sand launches for me all but impossible. Keep in mind, I’d never done this before. I mean, I thought it’d be rather simple… Right? Wrong.

In the end, it was Nirvana… And I tried to convey that in the short little video below that I made on the iPad while still at the coast…

A Rude Awakening…

I soon discovered that although subtle, beach flying demands it’s own set of discipline and self control that I had not learned anywhere else as of yet. For one thing, the sand can make forward launching for the inexperienced nothing short of a trip to hell and back, especially in no wind conditions. My first attempt ended up in the wing falling back, and on my second attempt I just about turtled as although there was barely any wind, the wind there was just happened to be strong enough to overcome any traction my feet were able to hold in the [seemingly] quicksand. Sure there were areas with packed sand, but they were too close for comfort to the water. To make matters worse, when the canopy came down it scooped a nice small shovel size load of sand into the wing! All this happened while almost 80 lbs. of gear was on my back, topping things off like a sour cherry on a melted ice cream sundae. I had been given a rude awakening, to say the least! After some careful (albeit brief) thought I made the decision to cut my losses and start over – Completely.

With the help of my friend who was quick to offer a chuckle and some much needed advice, I reset up the wing further down the beach in a much better spot – One he recommended… One that was free of most debris and with a great run length to the water. Ironically, these tips I readily took we’re all things I could of, would of, in fact, told someone else in my place had I not been the one in the situation… Which tells me the break was a much needed one. Ashamedly I realized I had let my over eagerness get the best of me. But in the process, I learned a whole heck of a lot about flying PPG’s at the beach, albeit via an ultra steep learning curve… But one I’d like to share.

The Wind – Study it Here Just as Much as Anywhere

Trouble lies where the wind changes, especially to an offshore breeze..
A big no-no where PPG is concerned as it can turn the ocean
into a venus fly trap

First and foremost I think the thing to emphasize the most about beach flying is the awareness one needs to have about the weather – Especially the wind. The great thing about flying at the beach is that most of the time, and I mean most of the time, you can count on the wind staying quite constant and the thermals staying quite tame. As the cool ocean breeze comes on shore, it cools the land… Sometimes up to 30F cooler then 100 miles inland where the thermals are popping off in 100F heat because of it… At least here in California. What all this means is that it’s not uncommon to be able to fly at the beach all day, as long as things stay consistent and tame. Trouble lies where the wind changes, especially to an offshore breeze, a big no-no where PPG is concerned as it can turn the ocean into a venus fly trap… Which brings me to my next point.

Beach Flying 3

Water Landings – To Be avoided At Almost Any Cost

Water landings (the last time I checked) still accounted for the second* most common reason behind fatalities in the sport, as pilots are unprepared once in the water to get unbuckled and away from the now 60+ lb. anchor and fishing net they’re essentially strapped into. So it cannot be emphasized enough – The third point I want to stress here is to make sure you have plenty of takeoff and landing zone when flying at the beach. In my haste I found myself counting on the wind to get me airborne prior to the water, not taking into account an engine failure as I would just be getting airborne, over the water. I had chosen that less favorable spot because I didn’t want to haul almost 80 lbs. of gear in the sand 250 yards down the beach to a much more favorable but albeit distant spot. Sure, there are more favorable beaches in general to launch from, but in this case this beach was the most favorable within a day’s reasonable driving distance considering other factors such as population density, overall access, and the like.

Of course, it goes without saying that while over the water, you should always have enough altitude to make it back to the shore in the event the engine quits. Let me say that again… You should always have enough altitude to make it back to the shore >>> WHEN <<< the engine quits!

It’s a Mine Field Out There!

Once at the new spot with plenty of launch zone ahead, I was pleased to see it had less debris, which brings me to my final point: The beach has a load of debris! And the funny thing is, unless it’s outright trash you don’t really notice it until you lay a paraglider wing down in the sand. The lines act like magnets, picking up every last piece dried seaweed there. You bring the wing up and… Wow! There’s now four large pieces of dead sea plant tangled up in your lines!

Yes I’d done a quick clearing of debris when originally laying
out the wing, but somehow these hard, twirly twigs know your wing is
above them and walla! Up they come from the sand like the walking
dead, clinging to your lines…

You have to get them out as they can, and will, create bigger problems for you once airborne. Another important thing worth mentioning is that where the sterility of the wing is concerned, sand counts as the single largest form of debris! It’s absolutely amazing how fast sand can accumulate inside a paraglider wing, almost as though it was meant to be there. Sure, most of these inconveniences can be the by-products of inexperience I admit, but even still… Sand can easily get into your wing if you’re not careful. Resultantly, everything I ending up doing towards the end of my trip with regard to ground handling seemed to be influenced around not getting sand inside the wing – From how I brought it out of the stuff sack to how I laid it out and how I built a wall…. All of it was done with the intention of keeping the sand out. Just one experience of having to manually remove the sand will do that to you!

Beach Flying 2

In the End, Beach Flying is Nirvana

So please, don’t let my initial experiences in beach flying discourage you from trying it – Day two for me was total nirvana! Even the end of day one was as well. The steep learning curve I experienced proved incredibly beneficial. I was able to get airborne on the first try’s of day two without getting any sand or other debris in the glider and have wonderful, Nirvanic flights. Like your first tastes of PPG flying, PPG flying at the beach is eerily similar in terms of what it will do for you where the insatiable desires to do it again and again are concerned. The breeze is cool, mostly un-thermic and constant, while the flying is simply best described as that from a postcard. I witnessed sea life like no one else that day at the beach could, while soaring overhead just like any one of the many gulls I was lucky enough to share the sky with. That is why any temporary heartache involved in getting there, both geographically and educationally, turned out to be way, way beyond worth it.

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