Dr Kate Baker interview: The GP paraglider

Cardiff GP Dr Kate Baker enjoys the freedom of paragliding as an escape from her busy life.

How did you first become interested in your hobby?

As a child, I always wanted to fly, but not being particularly athletic, I had rather resigned myself to being more academic.

From the age of eight, I wanted to be a doctor, so this was my focus. Then, when I went to university and discovered the trampolining club, it seemed like the closest thing to flying I would ever achieve.

While travelling in New Zealand, I did a tandem skydive over Lake Taupo, which was amazing, but it was too expensive to take up the sport.

In October 2011, my husband Phil and I were walking over Rhossili Down and Nick Bamber, chief flying instructor for Pembrokeshire Paragliding, landed quite near to us, with his passenger grinning widely after a clearly wonderful experience.

I asked my husband to buy me a voucher for a tandem flight for my 40th birthday, and he and our two daughters walked up Fan Gyhirych with me and sat on the hillside to watch my flight.

Three weeks later, I met the paragliders at Marros and this time, had two 20-minute flights with Nick, during which I took the controls and felt very comfortable manoeuvring the large wing.

Nick's partner Giselle also helped me to ground handle a smaller speed wing, so I could get the feel of managing a paraglider on the ground. This amazing day left me hooked and I decided to begin my training.

What does training to be a paraglider involve?

The first stage of training is Elementary Pilot, where you start with low-level hops off the hill to learn how to take off and land.

The next stage is Club Pilot (CP), which adds the joy of soaring and top landing (basically, landing on hilltops rather than in fields).

There is a written exam for each stage and this requires some knowledge about weather conditions and air law.

During training and after completing your CP, until you have at least 10 hours of flight time, you have a red ribbon attached to the harness, which is like a driver's P plates and warns other pilots in the air that you are inexperienced.

You can fly independently once you have the CP, but to progress further, you can train for the pilot's exam. This is something I may consider in future, as I would like to do cross-country flying.

My husband began his training in February 2013 and we have both now qualified with the CP. We bought our own paraglider wings and harnesses, and try to go flying whenever possible. I have about 7.5 hours of post-CP flight time so far.

In the summer of 2013, both my daughters took a tandem flight, which they really enjoyed, and they are already talking about training, although they have to wait a bit for that. Children must be at least 14 before they can begin training and 16 to qualify with the CP.

Have you had any memorable moments while flying?

My first long, soaring flight at Rhossili, a year after starting my training. My parents had come to watch and the weather was perfect. I was in the air for about 45 minutes and during the flight, I could see red kites flying below me.

In September 2013, Phil and I spent a week with the paragliding crew in Annecy, in south-east France, and we had several flights off the Alps, with amazing views over Lake Annecy.

Do your patients know about your hobby?

I keep a photo of me flying at Rhossili in my room at the surgery, for patients to see and to keep me inspired if I have a difficult day.

My children have made a Plasticine figure of me paragliding and a Hama Beads paraglider, which are also on display. I often speak to patients about paragliding as an encouragement for them to learn new things, whatever their age, and the benefits this can offer. I am so proud that I have learned a new skill at 40.

What would you say to any GP thinking of trying paragliding?

I have met two retired GPs on the hills of Wales who are paragliders. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has a desire to fly.

There are risks, but it has become much safer since it was introduced in 1980 and with training, is no more dangerous than any other extreme sport, such as climbing.

It is great to have a challenge to learn something new, but it can be frustrating. We call paragliding a Goldilocks sport, because the weather has to be just right - not too windy, not too still, and no rain. This can be a challenge in South Wales.

The past few months have not provided ideal conditions and I have not been successful with my launches or had much flying time. I have, however, found a good ground handling site, so even if the weather is unfavourable, I still gain experience.

The benefits of paragliding are huge - you get quite fit carrying a 17kg rucksack up the hills and ground handling is a good torso workout.

Being in the air feels so free and I appreciate the escape from my busy, noisy life. In the air you have to concentrate on flying safely.

There are no interruptions and you can put away all the stress of work and life. Paragliding has helped me through some difficult times.

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