You can participate in the sport of gliding in different levels, for example many enjoy simply learning to fly, and others want to fly hundreds of Km in National competitions. Of course the first step in learning to glide is to have a trial instructional flight with one of our club's qualified instructors.
Learning to fly
If you decide to continue further then the next stage is leaning to fly. You will receive both theoretical and practical training from the club's voluntary instructors.
Practical flying takes the form of launches or tows to medium altitude and gliding slowly back to the landing strip. You'll be in a 2-seat glider with the instructor sitting behind you in the rear seat. Thoughout the flights you will be using the controls under guidance of your instructor. Each flight lasts about 20 minutes but could be much longer if rising air currents can be found (which is normally the case). It would take about 20-40 flights before you go solo.
You will also study the following subjects: theory of flight, weather, air law, human factors and other gliding related matters. None of the subjects is difficult, especially at this "A/B cert." level.
Post solo flying
After your first solo you will continue learning with advanced instruction as well as longer solo flights. Increasingly you will be flying on your own and trying to find rising air or "lift". You are probably aiming for your "QGP" or qualified glider pilot licence. This is a similar level qualification as a "PPL" for power pilots. Along the way there will be further study towards your radio exam and other topics such as cross country soaring.
Cross country soaring
Many club pilots reach QGP status and continue to fly within 10 or 20km of their club airstrip. However for others there's the lure of heading for the hills and exploring areas 100km or more from home. Clearly such flying is out of gliding range of the airstrip and requires being aloft for many hours. These flights involve using lift: Thermals, wave and ridge lift.
You may be flying close to mountains, or perhaps 20,000 feet above the plains. All the time you will remain within gliding distance of a safe landing area. This may be a farmer's paddock or another airstrip. If you land out in a paddock then a fellow club member may have to drive out to pick you up and tow the glider home in it's trailer. Modern gliders only take a few minutes to "rig" or derig and the trailers tow easily behind a medium sized car.
Awards, competitions (and records!)
There are several internationally recognised award badges that can be gained. For example flights of 50, 300 and 500km each qualify for popular awards. Other awards now exist for longer flights that are now possible in modern high performance gliders. Skilled pilots have flown over 2000km straight line distance in a single days flight.
Summer is competition season. Each year there are North and South Island Regionals, plus an annual National competition. Tasks are set and points are earnt for speed and distance flown. Many pilots compete for fun and friendship, but NZ has produced world-beating champions too.
Many world records have been set in NZ for speed, distance and altitude.
Own your own...
If you really enjoy your flying then the time may come to buy your own glider (or "ship"). The cheapest gliders are now about 40 years old and can be had for about $10,000. These will be made of wood and fabric and offer only low performance. However these gliders offer a lot of fun for a minimum investment.
For $20,000-$50,000 you get a fibreglass glider with quite high performance and requiring little maintenance. These gliders will be 20-40 years old yet still perform almost "as-new". This generation of gliders currently makes up the bulk of private and club fleets. They are always popular and hold their value well.
Gliders younger than say 15 years can be quite pricey. This is because their performance is close to that of a new model, and new gliders will cost well in excess of $100,000!
Aside from the initial purchase your next biggest expense will be the annual insurance bill. This may be 4-5% of the insured value. Other annual maintenance cost will add another $1000 or so to your running costs. In general you could say that owning and operating a medium priced glider will cost about the same as a good sized boat. Obviously if 2 or more like-minded pilots get together a syndicate can be formed and this is common practice.