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Speed Flying in the USA: Perception vs. Reality - Are You as Good as You Think You Are?

Updated: Jan 2

Speed flying is a sport similar to paragliding, with smaller wings, creating high-speed descents. As the popularity of this sport grows in the USA, so does the need to address a critical aspect often overlooked – the gap between how pilots perceive their skills and the harsh reality they might face flying. In this article, we will talk about skill assessment in the speed flying community, and potential dangers of a false sense of expertise.  I have seen many injuries in this sport recently which has inspired me to write this article.  

ozone rapidos speed flyers kiting

Flight Hours: Experience vs. Competency

Let’s Be Honest… in the USA access to multiple speed flying laps in a day is limited.  We do not have the luxuries like other countries that are more accepting of the sport and allow lift provided access.  There are only a few places I can think of in the USA that you could live and fly most days of the year.  Even if you live near one of those places, it will take commitment to wake up early and hike sometimes hours to launch.  So let’s do some simple math…  Let’s say you hiked a large mountain 200 times a year, each flight rewarding you with 3 minutes from launch to landing.  Wow - you crushed it and now you have added a total of 10 hours of flying time in the period of a year.  10 HOURS OF FLYING TIME.  Now please tell me a sport you could play for 10 hours and be competing at high levels. THERE ARE NONE - but you may feel that you put a ton of work in this year and now you must be a good pilot.  I would like to first say this would take a huge commitment  and I honestly don’t know many speed flying pilots that achieve this much flying.  

speed flyers assessing a launch

Ease of Access to Prime Flying Sites in Europe:

One of the key factors contributing to the success of speed flying in Europe is the access to prime flying sites. European countries are blessed with diverse landscapes, from the towering peaks of the Alps to the coastal cliffs of Portugal. This variety allows speed flyers to choose from a plethora of locations, each offering a unique experience.  The other main key factor to speed flying in Europe is their access to launch sites via funiculars, gondolas, and chair lifts.  Let’s not forget how public transit in Europe via train or bus allows you to travel easily and inexpensively.  

In contrast, the United States faces more logistical challenges. Pilots often have to travel to the western half of the USA where the mountains have the appropriate terrain for speed flying.  There is no lift access and the majority of the launch sites must be accessed by foot.  Also in the USA our launches and landings are typically not long grassy slopes and fields. We often take off from challenging slopes with rocks, bushes, and uneven terrain. Landings can prove to be challenging due to size and legality. It is common to land on gravel roads or hiking paths that require accuracy and awareness. This can be a deterrent for those looking to take up the sport casually.  In Europe I have personally launched over 30 times in a single day with each flight nearly 2500 feet (765 meters) vertical.  Please tell me ANYWHERE in the USA that you could duplicate this.

speed flyers gear check

Supportive Environment:

European countries generally have a more lenient and supportive regulatory environment for extreme sports like speed flying. Regulations in countries such as France and Switzerland are designed to ensure safety without overly restricting the sport. This allows pilots to enjoy the thrill of speed flying without being bogged down by excessive bureaucratic hurdles. In the USA, people/companies are largely protective over their land because they are afraid of being sued if someone were to be injured on their land.  This creates additional challenges for speed flyers, limiting the number of accessible sites and adding complexity to the planning and execution of flights.

speed flying community


The European speed flying community is tightly knit, fostering a collaborative spirit among enthusiasts. This sense of camaraderie promotes knowledge sharing, skill development, and a more vibrant and inclusive atmosphere. Additionally, well-established infrastructure, including schools and clubs, provides newcomers with the necessary resources and support to get started. In the USA, the speed flying community is still growing, and some of the social media influencers in the sport are led by their egos.  This can lead to a more fragmented experience for participants, potentially hindering the growth and cohesion of the community.  The new USHPA (United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) program for speed flying was created as a way for pilots to skip having any previous flying experience before learning to speed fly.  We don’t believe that this is a safe way to get into the sport.  There are many long standing schools across the USA that would agree with this and have chosen to not partake in this way of teaching.  There are always shortcuts in life, but they are hardly worth taking.  Be a part of the community who cares about you, your health, and your progression to learn.  


In the high-stakes world of speed flying, Europe emerges as a hotspot, offering enthusiasts a diverse range of flying sites with easy access, supportive regulations, and a thriving community. While the USA undoubtedly has its share of passionate speed flyers, the challenges posed by logistical considerations and ego driven leaders may impact the overall growth and cohesion of the community. As the sport continues to evolve, it remains to be seen whether the American speed flying scene can catch up to the heights achieved by its European counterparts.  So, how do you become a top pilot in the USA?  

  1. Commitment - This may mean moving to a location that has multiple sites within a short driving distance and consistent weather for flying.  It means waking up early, being physically fit to hike, and flying everyday if possible.

  2. Entourage - Who do you fly with regularly? Is this a sustainable group? Are you making good decisions together or is it a “sendy” atmosphere leading to accidents?  Foster a sense of camaraderie with other pilots. Share experiences, insights, and lessons learned. Maintain open and clear communication with fellow pilots.

  3. Safety - gear checks, weather checks, mental and physical awareness self checks

  4. Continuing Education - workshops, courses, tours, mentorship and guidance

  5. Risk Management - risk assessment, personal limits, and avoiding unnecessary risks

  6. Adaptability - Be flexible to changing conditions, develop ability to make quick decisions under pressure, be able to say "NO"

  7. Responsible Flying - sensitive sites are everywhere in the USA and respecting your progression as well as respecting the flying site.  If there are accidents or trash related to pilots then it may be shut down for all.  Create a positive image for speed flying. AND keep the progression slow!

  8. Passion - A genuine love for speed flying.  Celebrate successes and learn from challenges, ensuring a positive overall experience.


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