What is Speed Flying?
Speed flying or speedriding is a proximity sport that originated in Europe in the early 1970’s with gear becoming commercially available in early 2000’s. Originally, speedriding started as a blend of paragliding and skiing steep slopes at high rate of which gave the wing the speed needed for lift. Most speedriding (speed wing + skis) locations friendly to fliers will be found at European resorts as sloped in the United States are not big enough for groomed runs (or social welcomed) forcing many speedriders out into the backcountry for lines.
Eventually the sport transformed into “Speedflying,” the only difference being the ability to foot launch the wing instead of the higher speeds needed skiing sustained. This transformation has opened up several different flying categories for this hybrid “mini wing” from high wind soaring to proximity flying at newly pioneered locations.
The ram air speed wing canopy is smaller than a typical paraglider, ranging in a size anywhere from 8m2 to 14m2. It takes an expert pilot to lunch and land the speedwings as their high wing loading require an immense physical ability due to their high take off and landing speed; the knowledge of micrometerology and terrain feature observance is also vital in the “survival” while engaged in the sport.
This sport does not come without sever risk of injury though as you will be flying close to the terrain with minimal time for corrections and there is no use in throwing a reserve.
As with all flow sports, the biggest challenge is the ignorance towards slight changes in outside elements. Regardless if we fly mountain or desert sites, ridge soaring coastal locations are you ready to predict invisible air movement while going 40mph inches above the ground?
How often does that happen? Not often when flying in optimal conditions within your abilities but the risk is always present. Look into a harness with back protection when learning, it will save your ass.
To be honest, one of the problems with speed flying is that your confidence grows at a faster rate than your flying competence. Take your time, swallow your pride, and ease into this sport so you can get through with risk of injury.
The beauty of speed flying is in the “flow,” picking a line that compliments the terrain while maintaining non erratic flight path inches or feet from the ground.