Thermalling techniques: How to thermal your paraglider better

Welcome back to our blog paragliding lovers! Today, at Overfly Tenerife we want to talk about the best thermalling techniques and how to thermal your paraglider better. We will explain the following thermalling techniques in order to assist instructors, coaches, and students as a training aid in the development of good soaring flying skills.

Instructors and Coaches should be familiar with the concepts and be competent with these thermalling techniques before teaching them in practical flight training. Also, students should understand the concepts before putting them into practice during their training or an in-flight demonstration.

Furthermore, if you are interested in learning more about paragliding, we strongly recommend you to visit our blog and read our posts. For instance:

Off we go, adventurers!

Our 6 favourite thermalling techniques

Finding the best lift in a thermal is one of the most vital skills in paragliding flying. We could say that in terms of paragliding competition, half of the competition flying is about ascending the fastest, and just the other half is about gliding. The first thing that you have to bear in mind is that thermal flying is not easy, due to the lift is invisible and there is not an easy way of knowing where to find the best core.

Down below we will explain two different thermalling techniques that you must know in order to improve your thermal flight.

The count and turn technique

Fly into the lift, count for about 4 seconds and start a 360 turn. This is a basic thermalling technique, so it is one of the greatest ways to start your thermal paragliding career. Moreover, it is always useful in strong narrow cores.


Shifting Circles Technique

You must get centred on the best lift by building on the thermalling technique that we have mentioned previously. If you perceive that half of your 360 turn is in a poorer lift, you shift the 360 turn towards the better lift. As you turn back into the stronger lift, straighten up for one or two seconds and restart the 360 turns.

The classic thermalling technique

When you approach a strong thermal, you can feel how it absorbs you. What you are actually feeling is the air flowing towards the thermal. If you are flying into a headwind, then it is suddenly easier to penetrate into the wind. However, if you are going downwind, your groundspeed will increase as the thermal absorbs you.

This absorption only happens if you are flying in really strong winds and strong thermals, but it happens before you actually enter any lift. It is a sign that means it is going to be a good thermal.

When you enter the lift, the variometer starts to beep. Then, you will have to be careful and pay attention to the feedback you get through your harness from the air as the wing rides the thermal. You will have to turn one way or another so, when you hear the beeps of the variometer for the first time, you need to decide which way you are turning to.

If you feel that there is more lifting under one side of the glider and you feel how that side of the harness lifts with pressure building in the brake line. Consequently, the centre of the thermal will be off that way too.

The best way to thermal is to turn around the core where the lift is strongest. Regularly, when you enter a thermal, the variometer indicates a weak lift. Don’t turn right away — what you have to do is feel relaxed, try to concentrate on visualising the shape of the thermal, and make your first turn where you guess the core is located.


As you fly towards the core, the lift gets stronger at times, so the variometer sings out. Before turning, you have to wait until you have flown past the place where the lift is the strongest. In a strong core of 4 metres per second plus two seconds past the core brings you back to circle around it.

Remember to pay attention to your paraglider wing in order to decide how firmly you have to turn. If you notice that the pressure is uniform, you can allow yourself to draw a large circle. Nevertheless, if it feels punchy and it rips up one half of the wing, you can crank it up.

The step climb technique

One of the best ways for gaining height whilst staying over a major trigger such as ridge is step climbing, even when the wind is blowing you away. It is a great thermalling technique for getting high in readiness for a big into wind transition.

The original step climb technique involves drifting for a few 360 turn before making a longer into wind glide to hopefully connect with the next thermal pulse from your chosen trigger. In this technique, you have to remember to take big steps when there is light wind and small steps when there is a strong wind.

The reversal turn thermalling technique

There is another useful technique that we sometimes use. When you enter a thermal and you are not sure as to which way to turn, it often means that you are exactly in the centre of the core. It doesn’t matter if you do a left or a right 360 turn — either way you are going to fall out of the side, especially if it is not a big thermal.

Hence, what you have to do is making a quarter turn to the left as you enter the core. Then, reverse the turn, leaning hard right to immediately make a right hand 360 turn. The quarter turn will enable you to alter course just before the core, so your first 360 turn can be better centred on the core.


The grim determination thermalling technique

If you decide trying this fallback technique, you shouldn’t do it in broken thermals. In that kind of thermals, you can’t do a 360 turn in lift without falling out. Probably, the most important element is that you turn firmly on the best lumps of lift, even if it is just a quarter of a turn. After straighten up in the fall, you will have to turn again in the lift. Remember to evaluate constantly your climb using your altimeter.

We hope this information has been useful in order to help you improving your paragliding thermalling techniques. Nevertheless, if you are not really interested in practice this aerial sport by yourself and you prefer to enjoy a marvellous tandem paragliding flight, we strongly recommend you to visit us in Costa Adeje. If you have any doubt or if you need more information, feel free to contact us. Overfly waits for you in the south of Tenerife!

We want to fly with you; we want to be your wings.

4.7/5 - (4 votes)