ST. PAUL, MINN. — In what indeed seems like the dead of winter (at least up here in the southern Tundra), goin’ flyin’ is something more to talk about than do. Hopefully YOU live in some sunny area where you’re still soarin’… if so, enjoy. Hang Talkin’ might be aided by this column, in which I’m going to focus on some hang gliding trends and information. The data come from three sources: our reader survey card stapled in the October ’94 issue; from the USHGA office review of their member records; and from a couple outside sources. Information is power. Here we go. ••• According to USHGA offices, paragliding continues a slow but steady climb in the ratio of total association members. As of September 30th last year, 73% of all members were hang gliding pilots, 21% were paragliding pilots, and 5% carry dual memberships. Executive Director, Phil Bachman, told the board of directors, "We’re gaining an average of 40 paragliding members a month and losing 10 hang gliding members a month, when you review the last four years." ••• This change may be identified in results coming from the Hang Gliding Reader Survey of last October. The last question on that survey card asked you, "Which do you believe appeals more to the non-flying public?" The choices included hang gliders (20%); paragliders (29%); ultralights (17%); and conventional aircraft (31%). Paragliders not only soundly beat hang gliding, but many wrote comments in the margin, often pointing to one of two reasons why. "Paragliders are seen as safer, friendlier," and "They look easier to learn." ••• Another survey card question dealt with your interest in soaring aircraft other than hang gliders, with the Swift being given as one example. The results surprised me not so much for the direction of responses but in their vigor. Rating your interest on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the strongest interest, 31% said "Strong Interest" for the Swift and its relatives. Another 20% wrote in "4," so that 51% of magazine readers say they are "Very" or "Strongly Interested" in these machines. "Not At All Interested" responses totaled 16%. Even when added to the "Not-too Interested" response, less than a third (31%) answered as hang gliding or paragliding purists. I have little trend information, so don’t know which way this interest is going. However, interest in "rigid wings," while always steady, was a much smaller share so I presume more pilots are examining alternative soaring choices. ••• Earlier surveys have shown that hang glider pilots do fly other types of aircraft, and this trend continues though at a modestly slowing pace. Half of you now say you fly sailplanes, conventional aircraft, or ultralights, with "Conventional" accounting for 44% of these pilots or 15% of all hang glider pilots. About 10% of all members also fly ultralights and 9% sailplanes. Perhaps those with other inclinations account for the strong "Swift response" of the previous question. ••• Members were somewhat ambivalent about competition. Asked about your strength of interest either as a competitor or for the benefits you feel it brings, 30% voted the middle choice. A slim majority (37%) voted in the two more positive choices about competition while a third (33%) voted in the two more negative choices. While hardly a mandate for competition support among members, it certainly indicates a strong overall faith in the value of contest flying. ••• Let’s stray away from the nest a bit and see how we compare to the "outside." Business people in hang gliding recognize that they compete with other aviation segments but to a far greater degree with all the other choices consumers can make. A German polling company asked Europeans about the trendiest sport in the summer of ’94. That high-brow research magazine, Playboy, reported the results. Mountain biking was first (30%), followed by beach volleyball (9%), and paragliding (6%), followed by body surfing and rollerblading. As my source, UK’s BHPA Skywings magazine, said, "Hang gliding, it appears, is not considered glamorous." ••• Since we’ve entered yet another new year, this last item seems timely. In the last USHGA survey/ballot (run in the fall of ’93; new results will be released soon), we found that the average age of hang glider pilots has climbed to 38.6. By now, it’s not unreasonable to believe it passed 39. Rejoice that it’s still not fortysomething. However, a recent Wall Street Journal story indicated that the average age of golfers has now dropped to 39. Omigod! Hang glider pilots — on average — may be older than the average golfer. Are we becoming a bunch of cliff-jumpin’ duffers? Makes you think, eh? Makes me laugh, too. ••• …Welcome to 1995! Let’s make it a great year for our favorite way to fly. So… Got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or V-mail to 612/450-0930. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine