In the early days of hang gliding people used to build their own gliders and teach themselves to fly. Needless to say, the casualty rate was high. Those days are long over. Anyone who wishes to learn hang gliding today has access to a cadre of nationally certified schools using professionally constructed equipment subject to stringent safety specifications. The training and attention to detail in a modern hang gliding lesson is comparable to flight school for small planes.
Several training options are available with strengths and weaknesses which complement each other and students are urged to employ the fun range of training techniques available to them.
Training Hills: If you wish to fly the mountains (and nearly everyone does) you must learn foot launching and landing by working your way up the training hill under the guidance of an instructor. You may end the first day learning to handle the glider on flat ground, and then take your first flights of 10 to 30 feet over gently sloping ground. In subsequent lessons you move incrementally higher as your control improves. Foot launching requires wind blowing up the hill within a range of speeds, which limits the days or locations at which lessons can be taught.
Towing: Rather than carrying a glider up a hill, you can attach a line to it and pull it up like a kite over flat ground. This has the advantage of immediate high altitude flight so that you get much more time in the air to learn to control the glider. It is less dependent on wind direction than foot launch. The drawback is that you never learn to launch and land by foot, and so can't transition to the mountains. The added complexity can also increase expenses.
There are three basic types of towing:
You are pulled up behind an ultralight riding tandem with an instructor. At two to three thousand feet of altitude you release from tow and the instructor talks you through the flight controls. Typically for the first set of lessons the instructor controls the glider through the tow and landing, with the student taking control at altitude. Control of the entire flight is gradually ceded to the experienced student. Eventually you fly solo.
You launch from the back of a truck and are literally pulled up like a kite as a winch feeds out line. You may release at an altitude of 1000 feet with an instructor in tandem, and the lessons progress just as with Aerotowing.
A winch is attached to a motor scooter engine, which pulls you horizontally across the ground at an altitude of a few feet. You learn to control and land the glider without the work of carrying it up a hill. This method is sometimes referred to as a horizontal training hill