One of my favorite aspects of paragliding has been mentoring new (and sometimes not so new) pilots through the years. It is a rewarding experience watching and helping others accomplish their individual goals. Sometimes these goals are small and simple, like learning to circle in a thermal. Others are more difficult like XC flying across an entire mountain range, or pioneering a new flying site. No matter what the goal might be, it is always a rewarding experience to both teach, learn and accomplish something together. After all, as pilots we should always be willing to both share our experiences, and be eager to learn new things.
So often in this pursuit of paragliding we find ourselves driving, hiking or just waiting around. These transition moments offer great opportunities for questions and conversations to emerge. One question that I have been asked several times through the years, is “how do you hold your toggles?” I found that a strange question the first time I heard it, so I shared my experience the best I could. In the spirit of that question, I thought I would share my thoughts and experience as to how and why I hold the control toggles the way I do.
Stage 1: The Trapeze
The control toggle attaches to the brake/control lines of a paraglider and has a standard trapeze configuration. When learning to fly under direction of my instructor, I always held those toggles right across the bar. It didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t feel comfortable, nor connected with my wing holding them this way. Besides, I seemed to want to hold onto the risers when flying this way, which is a big no, no in paragliding. Once I was flying on my own, away from instruction I quickly graduated on to the next stage.
Stage 2: The Rabbit Hole
Watching others around me, and asking questions myself I quickly adopted the hand through the toggle, or “rabbit hole” approach. My fingers were finally attached to the line and I could feel my glider so much better. With the lines at my fingertips and the bar on the back of my hand I felt much more secure and no longer felt the need to hold the risers, which is a good thing. Also, while under normal flying conditions I felt I could easily get my hand out when needed. I flew this way for a long time, years actually, until…that one day. I can still see it vividly. It was a normal mountain flying day, active conditions, but nothing out of the ordinary. I was flying over and around a large peak near my home site (Lone Peak), a flight I had done many times. I was climbing in a thermal, turning steady to the right, when all of the sudden converging air turned my thermal into a washing machine. The right half of my wing collapsed leaving my control line totally slack. I fought for a few seconds then decided I should probably throw my reserve. As I reached for my reserve handle I realized I could not get my hand out of my toggle and it quickly became tangled. Because my hand was “through” the toggle I could not easily slip it out in a slack condition when I needed to. I quickly gained control of my glider again and flew away safely, but in the aftermath I began looking for another way.
Stage 3: The Bar Half Wrap
In the wake of my incident, I adopted a hybrid approach, something between Stage 1 and 2 that I call the “bar half wrap” approach. In this approach I hold the toggle like a trapeze, then wrap the webbing of the toggle and brake line around the outside of my hand until it reaches my fingers. This approach gave me the security I like to feel, and the ability for a quick release of the toggle whenever I needed it. Whether slack or taut just open the palm of your hand and boom, your free. One thing I noticed a little further down the road was that on long flights, the bar actually kept the line from digging into my fingers which meant no more blood deprived (and warmer) hands. As soon as I adopted this toggle grip my flying seemed to progress rapidly to a higher level. I could feel my glider better than I ever had in the past. I could feel the surges before they happened, actually feel the thermals in the palm of my hands. This is the approach I still use today as it gives me both the security and intimacy required to fly successfully.
Will there be a Stage 4? Perhaps someday, as I am always open to new ideas. Well, that about ends my thoughts, experience and reasons as to why I hold the toggles the way I do. It may or may not be the right way, but it works for me. How about you? How do you hold your toggles and why?