Although the equipment is similar in nature, the most obvious difference between the sports of paragliding and skydiving is the platforms from which participants jump. Skydivers leap from an airplane while equipped with a parachute or canopy which slows their descent back down to their landing zone and paragliders launch harnessed to an engine free canopied aircraft from fixed bases like sloped hillsides, cliffs or mountains.
Skydive equipment generally consists of a rig which the skydiver wears similar to a backpack and is fitted to their individual size and comfort level. The rig encases the main canopy and reserve parachute, as well as, a device called an AAD that deploys the reserve should the main malfunction. They additionally wear eye protection, helmets, flight suits, and altimeters.
Paragliding equipment includes a rucksack or pack that contains a lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched type canopy aircraft, with no rigid structure. Paragliders will also wear a harness that is attached to or suspended from the canopy and eye protection, helmets, altimeters and on occasion will have a reserve.
Another difference is in the intended purpose of each activity with skydiving existing in the pursuit of leaping and then falling to the ground and paragliding in staying aloft for as long as possible. Both are exhilarating and thrilling aerial activities.
The appeal of one over the other is entirely dependent upon the individuals who participate in them. A significant number of people start with skydiving and then develop a fascination with pursuing their interest in paragliding.
During the execution of a skydive, participants board a jump plane that carries them to a specific elevation. Then, the skydiver, on their own or as a member of a group, leaps from the jump plane and experiences a free fall followed by a canopy flight back to a designated area known as a drop zone. Some skydives will have a number of individuals engaged in performing stunts and maneuvers in the time that elapses before their descent back down to earth.
Conversely, during paragliding, the paraglider themselves act as the aircraft and participant. In order to execute a paraglide, participants will need to run and leap from a fixed base in order to commence flight. In most cases, the flights extend for miles and last for hours, whereas a skydive may at most last for 10 minutes or more.
One of the reasons paragliders say that they enjoy the sport over the activity of skydiving is because their equipment can be confined to a rucksack and transported anywhere. Not to mention, that paraglides can happen anywhere one can find a mountain or hillside to run and jump from and landing can occur at the paragliders discretion.
That said, advantages of skydiving over paragliding include the fact that higher elevations may be achieved as a result of the plane carrying participants higher which result in the plane doing a considerable amount of the work. This leaves time for the skydiver to concentrate on performing their skydives, including stunts and acrobatics to the best of their ability.
Either way, both sports are exciting and can be competitive and fulfilling and as was previously mentioned one could easily lead to interest in the other and although skydiving is slightly more expensive to pursue from a professional standpoint, both are equally as enjoyable and worth the time and monetary investment.