Three tips to fly your first 200 km (and beyond)

Three tips to fly your first 200 km (and beyond)

Next Post Previous Post

When we first start our free flying journey, our minds are baffled just with the idea of being able to climb inside a column of rising air to the cloud base. The experience of leaving the ground using only the energy of the sun is more than enough to keep us amused for quite a while. For many of us the experience of the bird view and the feeling of freedom related to it remain as big enough motivation for the rest of our flying careers. However, quite early we become exposed to the idea of leaving the familiar launch hill or towing field behind and we start entertaining ourselves with the idea of cross country flying.

Transition from a local pilot to a cross country pilot might take years, months or just weeks after the first flight, depending on personality, ability to adapt new skills, motivation, flying environment and maybe mostly the social environment. Even the cross country pilots seem to divide to different paths early on. There are the adventure seekers, longing for the great unknown and spending weeks in remote mountains. Majority of us are the hobby pilots, seeking an occasional adventure and thrill of manageable XC flights and enjoying the nature and maybe escaping the pressure of work life to the cloud base from time to time. And then there are the competitive souls, trying to maximize the days potential and challenging themselves in measurable way against their own previous performances and also often the other pilots in competitions or online leagues.

I spent a good few years flying just local flights and easy, few hour XC flights in a range of a short lift or walk from the car, never really bothering about distances or flight durations as an accomplishments. “I count smiles, not miles”, I used to say. I still think the joy and awe are the biggest factors why I fly, but the last few years there has been a new dream, new idea, new path to follow. I started to see paragliding more and more as a tool to improve as a human being, as a way to get to know better my strengths and weaknesses and as a challenge that forces me to face my own mental and physical limits with no excuses. Like active meditation with a hint of adventure. And that’s where another transition took place for me, from local xc to flights that start with the first climbable thermal, lasting to the sunset.

So many things need to be different when you change your flight plan from trying to maximize the joy for a few hours to trying to maximize your flights duration. Bigger flights bring some discomfort in play. You can reduce it by honing your wing management skills and figuring out your equipment but 99% of the change needed has to happen between your ears. The wing choice has also played a big part on my journey for 200 and beyond. I want my wing to perform well but not take too much mental bandwith from more important decisions. Nova Mentor- series have served well for this purpose for many years. Here is my take on what matters most.


  1. Set a goal and stick to it

    Sometimes big flights require certain commitment to unlandable terrain, at least here in Finland. Be sure to make your choices about risks involved before taking off and sticking to the plan!

For me the goal has never been to fly x amount of kilometers. Flying 100 or even 200 km is pretty simple: just pick a strong day when even stones stay up and keep the nose open, hoping for the best. Risky? Yes. Stupid? Definetely; there is very little longetivity in this approach. My goal is to fly the full day, from first to last thermal, not only once in a lifetime but over and over, more often than not. Distance is a result, not a goal. For me it’s sometimes 130 km, sometimes even less. On a good day it can be over 200 km. I know, I’m slow and that brings me to the second point:



  1. Get to know yourself

One of the greatest lessons from paragliding has been the increased sense of responsibility. To be honest to yourself day after day means you start seeing your strengths and weaknesses in a different light, not only as a pilot but as a person. You start accepting yourself and realize that something you have considered as your weakness is actually your strength. For example, I’m very analytical thinker, making me quite risk averse and sometimes slow. I thought it is a weakness, but now I see myself often in cloudbase analyzing my next move and watching friends bombing out in front on death glides to blue holes hoping for the best. Sometimes their approach brings better results, and that is ok, too. I know my style and stick to it. More speed comes with more efficient climbing and taking better lines on glides, not by taking more risks.


One more hint: focus on your strengths and become a master of them rather than trying to be good in every aspect of cross country flying. If I may say, I’m really good when things get soft and technical and that keeps me in the air when others land in the evening and makes occasional low saves possible.

The day I did 200+ in the Finnish flats just by staying up for eight hours. It doesn’t get any better than this! (Pic by Marko Sorvamaa)

I love the blue days when there is less visual information available and more gut feeling involved. So, that is where I put my focus. Being good enough with big clouds and strong turbulent air is just that: enough. In the end, that is only two hours or so of a typical flatland flying day. Last three to four hours are often very soft.





  1. Keep a journal

Memories grow sweeter with time. To have a clear view on your choices, good and bad, needs a proper tool. Keeping a journal after every flying day makes it easy to look back and start seeing patterns. It doesn’t need to be overly fancy or complicated. Just a few bullet points how the weather was, what were your choices and what was the result. If you want, you can use other pilots as a measuring stick to your own performance. What strategy worked best in that air mass? What was the perfect time to launch and was your own analysis right? Again, focus on what worked, acknowledging the things you need to improve but not dwelling on failures. If you bombed out on a perfect day, try to find a reason and learn from it but still try to find what went right. Was your landing perfect after a glide in strong sink? Good for you, well done! Now there is one less fear or reason to worry next time on glide: you know you will make it safely onto the ground if you don’t find the next thermal. I don’t compete in Xcontest to get glory or feeling of being better than others but to measure my own choices against fellow pilots’ strategies who shared the same air mass in the same day. Online contests are a great tool learning from other people’s mistakes but even more from their success, combined with your own journaling process.


Summa summarum

Don’t forget how it felt when your feet lost the contact with the earth for the first time or the thrill of the first ever thermal lifting your wing. Focus on doing it right, being safe and enjoying the ride and keeping that beginners mind. If needed, be prepared to take a step back to see the bigger picture. Kilometers will follow when everything else clicks.