The 5 methods for great thermalling

The key to being a really great thermaller in all situations is to be adaptable. I like to think of 5 distinct methods for thermalling and choosing the right one will help you climb efficiently. Early in your flying career you will need to be very conscious of selecting the right method, but as you gain experience it becomes more and more automatic. That said, I know some really good XC pilots who seem to lose their edge in certain conditions; perhaps they need to look again at the five methods!

The basic principal is to aim to do 360s which keep you in the best lift, as much as possible. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Method 1 – “Count and Turn”
Fly into the lift, count for about 4 seconds, commence 360 turns. This is a straight forward basic technique; a great way to start your thermal career and always useful in strong narrow cores.

Method 2 – “Shifting Circles”
Gets you centered on the best lift, by building on method 1. If you notice that half of your 360 is in poorer lift, you shift the 360 towards the better lift. As you turn back into the stronger lift, straighten up for a second or two and recommence 360s.

Method 3 – “The Step Climb”

A really good for gaining height whilst staying over a major trigger such as ridge, even when the wind is blowing you away. A vital method for getting high in readiness for a big into wind transition. Instead of doing regular 360s, extend the into wind part of the 360 briefly before completing the next 360. The true step climb actually involves drifting for a few 360s before making a longer into wind glide to hopefully connect with the next thermal pulse from your chosen trigger.

Big steps for light wind, small steps in strong wind…

Method 4 – “The Flat Land Genius”
A miracle method for finding the cores in large thermals, which helps to stop you over-banking and losing efficiency. As you fly into lift, keep flying straight. As the lift strengthens keep straight, so long as the lift is even on both sides. If the lift is stronger to one side, gently turn towards it. As you reach the peak of the lift, get ready to turn or tighten up if you are already turning. Once the lift starts to lessen, tighten the turn; this has the effect of turning you back to the better lift. You should now be flying into better lift so open out the turn. This stops you turning back out of the best lift.

Method 5 – “Grim Determination”
The fall back method to try in really broken thermals, where you just can’t do 360s in lift, without falling out. The vital element is that you turn tightly on the best lumps of lift, even if it’s only quarter
of a turn. Straighten up in the sink; turn again in the lift. Constantly evaluate your climb using your altimeter or averager. Sometimes method 1 or 2 will beat it, sometimes not! Turning your glider efficiently
Staying in the best lift is paramount. So much so, it is nearly always worth sacrificing smooth flat turns, so long as you stay in the core. It is only in larger areas lift, that efficiency becomes really important.
The ideal technique will depend on your glider as well as the conditions, but as a starting point:

  •  Fly your turns a bit slower than trim but well above min sink. This will give reasonable maneuverability and keep you well away from the spin/stall point.
  • Once you are turning nicely, ease on a little outside brake. Note too much; just enough to take up the slack in the brake line plus a few cm extra. This will help reduce dive in the turn and keep you in touch with the outer half of the wing. If you want to tighten your turn, the easiest way is let up on the outside brake.
  •  Use a little weight shift into the turn, especially when you initiate the turn. Beware though;some gliders actually lose less height when you don’t weight shift.

Good luck; see you at cloud base!
Pat Dower (2012)

What is Paragliding?

Paragliding Photos Page Added

I just added a new “photo’s” page to the navigation bar and will be uploading pictures that we take during tandem flights to this page whenever I can. The page is actually automatically generated using a Flickr script so I am not quite sure yet how it’s going to work out but will give it a try and see. I’m also going to  create a link on this page back to my Flickr page so that you can download full-size images for printing. But since the photo page is automatically generated going to have to figure out how to do this in the source code and it may take a little while. For now if you would like to visit my Flickr page to download the larger size images please use this link.

Below is a photo of Michael and I soaring over sandy beach this last Sunday:)

Conditions at both Sandy Beach and Blue Rock have been fantastic the past month or so, so if you have been thinking about scheduling a tandem flight now is the  time to do it! Hope to see you soon :)

Paragliding Bay Area

The SF Bay Area is a wonderful place for paragliding. For people new to the sport looking to take lessons there are a number of reputable schools and instructors for you to choose from. Here are a few we recommend:

Sport Paragliding San Francisco / Sacramento CA
Para Cruzer
Paratoys Valley Springs, CA (PPG)

And for those simply looking for an amazing once in a life time weekend adventure there is the option of scheduling a tandem flight.









If you are already a pilot and simply looking to connect with other pilots in the area or need a site intro below is a list of resources.

NC Paragliding Forum  Yahoo group for pilots in Northern CA.
Blue Rock Twitter List
Paragliding Bay Area Map (coming soon)



History of Paragliding

Today thousands of people enjoy paragliding all over the world. Its origins date back to World War I when a parachute was first used for reasons other than landing. Volunteer parachutists were towed up behind a submarine at the request of the navy to observe lands in the distance.

The 1950s is when paragliding as people know it today really began to take shape. It began with the invention of the Paracommender that had an oblong canopy with vents in the back. The vents allowed some rudimentary steering capability.

Domina Jalbert is one of the paragliding pioneers who revolutionized the sport in the 50s and 60s. A native Canadian, he settled in Florida and established a business in researching and understanding aerology. He introduced gliding parachutes that can be easily controlled in 1952. They were much more technically advanced than parachutes of the previous years.

After Jalbert’s work in the early 50’s, people began to see the potential of his discoveries. They began talking about the day when people would be able to fly by running over a cliff or down a steep slope. Francis and Gertrude Rogallo finished off the exciting decade in the world of paragliding by inventing the Rogallo wing, which was originally designed for NASA. The technology came to be used in paragliders and hand gliders.

Domina Jalbert’s most exciting contributions were made in the 1960s. He filed the “Multi-cell Wing Type Aerial Device” patent in 1963. The technology became imperative in a number of air sports including paragliding, sky diving, and kite surfing. In 1964, he created the Ram Air canopy that achieved a wing shape when filled by air.

In 1965, David Barish was working on the Sail Wing that was meant for helping with the recovery of NASA capsules. After first testing it out in Hunter Mountain, New York, he called it “slope soaring” and began promoting it as a summer activity for resorts. David Barish is arguably the most important figure in paragliding history as it is thought that he was the first creator of paragliding as people know it today.

NASA coined the term “paraglider” in the 1960s, and the word “paragliding” was first widely used in the 1970s. The British Air Association of Parascending was the first established organization to put the spotlight on paragliding as a sport. In 1978, three French parachutists by the name of Jean-Claude Betemps, Andre Bohn, and Gerard Bosson perfecting the running and launching technique in Meussy, France. In 1979, paragliding was finally recognized as a world-class sport by Gerard Bosson at the hand gliding world championship. A decade later, the first Paragliding World Championship was held in Kossen, Austria.

Today, paragliding is a recognized sport thousands of people participate in all across the globe. While the Alps are the most famed paragliding spot in the world, paragliders can be found anywhere in the world. The majority of paragliders reside in Europe, but there are many places to get the most out of the sport in North America. Paragliding in the Bay Area offers some of the most spectacular views and an exhilarating experience. No matter where they live in the world, paragliders continue to carry the sport forward into the future.

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