First Commercial Skydiving Center in the United States
Published: April 24, 2017
Skydiving and paragliding are the two most practiced airsports in the world. Skydivers and paragliding pilots outnumber BASE jumpers, tunnel flyers and hang gliders by a huge ratio--but, despite the sports' popularity, the general public often confuses the two practices.
So what's the difference between skydiving and paragliding? Skydiving is the practice of jumping out of an aircraft and deploying a parachute to descend. Paragliding is the practice of launching a wing from a fixed object--usually, a terrain feature. Intrigued? Here are some of the other spot-the-difference hints in the skydiving vs paragliding game.
In paragliding, we have "free flight"--a phrase borrowed and translated from the French. There's no freefall or bodyflight--you use your wing to fly from start to finish. In skydiving, we start off with bodyflight and transition into parachuting at pull time.
In skydiving, the point of parachute descent is to GO DOWN as safely as possible. In paragliding, the goal is to catch lift from ridges and in thermals and GO UP!
The two sports' harnesses are different. The paragliding harness is kinda like an armchair, whereas the skydiving harness has you hanging more in the style of a full-body climbing harness. Don't worry, though--both are comfortable (if they're fit correctly).
When we're paragliding and our wing experiences a massive malfunction, we have to keep it. When a skydiver's parachute experiences a massive malfunction, we cut it away. (Buh-bye!)
Skydiving reserves are, as far as we're concerned, this-close to magic. If something goes wonky on the jump and we're unable to deploy the reserve under our own power, we have little gizmos called automatic activation devices ("AADs") that will deploy the reserve for us.
Paragliding pilots have no such thing. Their reserves are all hand-deployed--and tricky to get out, too. (Luckily, it's much rarer that paragliding pilots have to use theirs.)
Another big difference between skydiving and paragliding is the type of reserve that the two sports employ. All skydiving reserves are square. That means they deploy quickly and cleanly and are, most importantly, steerable.
The round reserves used by paragliding pilots are the direct legacy of the round parachutes that all skydivers used to have to use, way back in the day. They have to be round (or 'rogallo,' in some rare cases) because the paragliding pilot's main wing does not cut away, and two square (or square-ish) canopies open at the same time is a nail-biting situation. (Look up "two-out".) If we need a reserve on a paragliding flight, of course, we're happy to have it--but it's not steerable, so the landing is usually the opposite of fun.
Paragliders can traverse distances of hundreds of kilometers on cross-country flights--called "XC" by pilots. We can only travel very far horizontally under a skydiving parachute if we open at a high altitude and spot accordingly--and then we're only talking a handful of miles.
Weather is important for both skydiving and paragliding, but for paragliding, it's much more crucial, because the "go-up" wing exposes paragliding pilots to the subtleties of the weather for much longer, and subtle differences in the weather can make a big difference for our safety. (For instance: storm clouds can "vacuum" an unwitting pilot up into a dangerous situation, and air turbulence at launch and landing can throw a pilot around like a toy.) Novice paragliding pilots must learn a textbook full of information about weather.
Weather factors aren't as important in skydiving, as our skydiving parachutes are designed to descend. We have to avoid jumping through clouds and we observe ground wind limits, of course, but our considerations are a lot simpler.
Both sports are incredibly communal. Each has a passionate group of athletes that live and breathe the sport (and some of us belong to both!). In this discussion, there's no "better" or "not as good"--it's all about how you prefer to experience the sky.
We'd love to experience the sky with you! Give us a call, and we'll give you a taste of freefall that'll pique your curiosity about all the ways you can fly.