Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hope or Wishful Thinking?

With very little happening on the competition glider scene I often lament the death of innovation in the open-class since the introduction of EN-D in Cat I comps (Let's call it the END of open class).  The farce of this false class was comically illustrated at both the World Cup Super Final as well as the World Championships in Bulgaria earlier this year. 
It was particularly odd when four different riser systems on one particular brand were deemed to be acceptable despite the enormous performance differential in the field at speed which led in-part to the mass glider measurement exercise in Sopot.  In fact, it is even more bizarre to note that not a single sanction has been imposed on any pilot in any big competition after so much measuring and weighing since the END (as far as I am aware).  Seriously?? What are the chances that not a single pilot was cheating in all this time and where some gliders were going 5-10 km/h faster than everyone else at times?  The conspiracy theorist in me really really wants to believe the FAI does not want controversy at these spotlight events, so they issue stern little warnings and punish one or two soft targets as examples in the hope that everyone else will be more subtle in their 'interpretation' of the rules.
Rather assume no-one is cheating and figure out how it is done, so I went back to my IP6 and had a look at the riser collection for it.   It turns out the original set has more travel and does not have limiting straps between the A & B risers.  That means you can pull the top pulley a whole lot past the intended limit.  The Boomer 9 and Enzo don't have limiting straps so I asked Adriaan Thomas about it.  He says the boom 9 does not benefit much because you deform the wing if you pull the A's down too far.  The Enzo is way faster if the Don is flying it (hanging onto the A's with full body weight the rumour goes). 
Uncertain of what was going on, I decided to test my IP6 with the longer 'un-limited' risers on single reduction (strong legs help).  I managed to get the top pulley down to the carabiner and hung on for dear life while the wind noise rose to respectable levels.  Easy 5-10km/h faster than standard.  Hmmm... Another way to do it is to tweak the line lengths within specification.  Ask the gents involved in testing lines at the big comps and they will confirm you can do quite a bit before getting a warning.  What's the point you ask?  When the top twenty pilots are separated by minutes and seconds after a comp, then a 2-3km/h advantage might mean the difference between the podium and tenth place (all else being equal).  How about flying heavy?  No real benefit there if you look at the wing loading, speed and glide formulae and who would want to fly 10kg over the top when you have to thermal at some point against the best pilots in the world?
I concluded that tweaking the lines and the speed system is the way to go if you really need it that badly.

Wishful Performance
 ... back to idle thoughts of pure performance:  Summer has arrived and I had the rare occasion to fly my Boom 9 with my mate Marty on his R11 on a stable and windy day.  For two gruelling hours we hacked our way into wind absorbing some punishment while taking cues from the vultures and storks which marked the nasty little punchy thermals for us all day. 

It is always special to fly with the vultures.  They don't seem to be bothered by us much when sharing thermals as long as you behave predictably and respect the turn direction and avoid cutting them off.  I normally shut off the sound on my vario and try keep up to them as reference.  Every now and then you think you're doing well and then they shift a little and get away from you without really trying.  As for into wind glide and speed... well that is just plain embarrassing, the vulture kills us every time!

Read all about our local vulture population here.
So here's the thing: I have flown my R11 against two awesome world cup pilots on END wings and I concluded 'no contest' in every department.  As a result of that I was expecting to get my arse handed to me on a plate yesterday during the into-wind slog.  Imagine my delight when the entire flight was a ding dong battle where neither Martin or I were able to gain significant advantage.  Of course the R11 has an edge given how hard I had to work to keep up, but I had the sense that the gap has closed significantly and I could not suppress my rising excitement at the thought of what is possible given that Gin was able to certify something this close to the ultimate open class performance standard which the R11 represents. 
I cannot wait for the next generation of high performance gliders and I suspect Gin is leading the way for now.  I just wish there would be some clarity around the open class so the designers have the freedom to create more dream machines.
For now, I am content to fly my Boom 9 and I will stop whingeing about open class in the belief that we are almost back where we left off and probably a little safer for it.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Task Five

Sopot finally delivers one for the speed bar merchants flying 130km in three and a half hours for what was essentially a triangle of sorts. 
With cloud base above 3,000m and climbs of +5m/s on the 10 second average, we spent most of the time above 2,500m racing streets and joining the dots between clouds.  In the end LucaD took it from the rest with team SA into goal 5 minutes late. 
The top 50 were separated by seven minutes which represents a difference of just over three percent.  This seems amazing and I have reported this phenomenon on several accasions citing the intensity of competition, but I am starting to wonder.  In this instance the explanation I offer is that the the second half of the race required a touch more self-control after the excesses of the first 80km which had the lead pushing really hard under the clouds above the the main ridge which proved to be the most efficient route of the four options (North, South, foothills and Valley).  This allowed the lag gaggles to catch up which has been the case most days.
Another factor that may explain the clumping of pilots (other than the tiny performance differential between gliders) is the speed limitation: there is no reason on a good day not to scream around the course at full (or near full) speed on the transitions. This was not the case in open class where you had to decide how fast to go based on McCready, the size of your brain and/or the quality of the day. 
The speed range was big enough to make a real difference and on a day like today I suspect we might have been handed some serious punishment by the don (Luca) had he been on an open class wing.  Today Luca pushed the hardest above the mountain in the first half of the race and in the end he only won by seconds from Petr, Adrian and Yassen.  It was good to see PeterN arrive fast in goal along with Frank, Primoz and a couple of other guys I rate really highly.
Russel and I are clawing our way back up the rankings with Russ in 27th.  The grape vine has started the 'hundred mile' rumour for tomorrow, so I had better get my beauty sleep.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Task Four

Disclaimer: my violent mood swings are directly linked to my flying performances. 
Today I am feeling a lot like James Brown.  Actually I feel better than that old hack!  After the extreme depression of landing in the dark valley of misery I could almost hear The Death of Orpheus being played by my imaginary detractors.  Today I was SURE Eddie van Halen played Eruption for me as I crossed the line in single figures!!
121km course, and what a rush that was!  It adds a totally new dimension to the idea of 'street racing' with huge gaggles drawn out and screaming around the track with almost total disregard for the course-line.  The lead was dominated by Gin pilots pushing all the way to the very end where we all jammed the pulleys together under the congestus at the last turn point gaining almost 1,000m in altitude over the last 20km.
Mickey Sigel flew in front with three Gin pilots taking the first first three slots (and most of the lead-out points) into goal.  Stefan Wyss won the day from Steban and Mickey.
Russel came in a few seconds behind Andre saving SA some team 'face' after the perversion of the previous day.
The cloud flying problem seems to have abated temporarily and I have video evidence of every single trip I took to base showing NO cloud flying in my gaggle(s) at any time.  It seems serious threats and some dire sanctions by Nicky the meet director had the desired effect.  Now why can't every-one just play 'nice' all the time?  

Friday, 19 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day Four (or Five) - Task Three

So before I get going I must say that I had a less than perfect day landing after 60km when 64 of my fellow competitors got to goal.  I rode home in the losers' bus and drank the tequila of inadequacy with as much good humour as my overly competitive genes will allow without feeling overly false.  HOW LONG IS IT GOING TAKE (to quote my son Sebastian) to win one of these stupid world championship events!!!???  Ah well I intend to hammer out a respectable result with whatever pig iron is left on this miserable mortal coil.  Forgive the overly dramatic prelude, but we did watch 'Les Misrables' last night and it appears to have taken hold.
With that off of my chest, what bizarre day was that!! Holy crap!  Viagra climbs and sink of the Prozac variety in the Darth Vader Valley of Darkness with the overly moist convergent cloud shadow.  The field is in TOTAL disarray with several of my all-time heros sucking hind-teat in the hinterland of the overall  placings:  LucaD, JoshC, MickeyS, NickG, TorstenS, PeterN, Arnie, Guy, Adam ChristianB to name but a few, are languishing in, or near triple digits.
If SA team group landing wasn't enough, adding insult to injury Nevil got zeroed for suspected cloud-flying along with a couple of others leaving Stef as the non-scoring lone ranger to goal for team SA. 
Even after the absurdity of the super-final in Colombia, cloud flying is here to stay it seems. 
My Eureka solution(s) to the cloud flying problem:
1. Develop a probability algorithm based on the last 10 years worth of world championship and world cup tasks and derive the cloud flying 'signature' thereby busting 'cloudies' in the great Lance Armstrong tradition whereby all previous cheats are named and shamed and stripped of any significant honour/result.  The cool thing about this is that we have no need of FAI/CIVL/PWC or any other administrative body, we simply publish the probability results based on peer-group consensus independently and ask the aforementioned bodies wtf they intend to do about it.
2. Persuade comp organisers to apply the cheat algorithm to their comps and shift the responsibility onto the pilots to prove their innocence (as shockingly draconian as that sounds, even I take video when I think I may have to explain how I got 300m up the side of some cloud)...  and yes, we all know about multiple bases and cloud-tunnels (, but I would wager the cloud flying 'signature' will be unique and damning once the quants work it out.
3. Get the manufacturers of our flying instruments to include temperature and humidity into the track log.  We know how precise upper air soundings are, so this data is sure to flag entry into cloud as opposed to blue thermals which will have distinctly different temperature and humidity 'signatures' which will aid in the application of burden-of-proof for the pilot. 
I hate the idea of over-regulation and the failure of the same has been so completely and utterly demonstrated through the En-D disaster and resulting farce of certification along with the circumvention of speed systems and tweaked performance.  Having said that, cloud flying remains an annoying fact of life, so stringent rules backed by theory and technology are long over-due and infinitely more desirable than some arbitrary glider limitations and contrived certification regimes. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day Three - Task Two

The Devil in the Dust
The forecast would have had most free-fliers sleeping late and digging out kiting gear.  Not the paragliding world champs!  We enthusiastically headed up the mountain after a sublime rest day to bask in the sun while the wind was howling over the back and producing dust devils commensurate with an event of this magnitude.  We watched in awe as the first devil tried to steal a boomerang and harness lifting it a dozen swirling meters before slamming it back onto launch while fighting two desperate pilots for ownership of a second and third glider and almost succeeding.  A second dusty came steaming through launch like a freight train a little later and this time it grabbed two harnesses with gliders in pack bags stripping them clean of any loose pieces before rapidly moving them down the hill with frantic owners in hot pursuit tackling their kit and holding on for dear life.  The dervish raged for a chaotic minute or two before retreating with the spoils of its raid taking two garments all the way to into the clouds above launch in minutes.... and then we flew the task.
Happy Place - Waiting around listening to blues and thinking of home and cloud streets
Fear no Evil
So we bombed off into the valley-of-death-glide for a seventy km challenge in the valley to keep us off the lee of the mountain.  The start was one of those days where one hundred and fifty pilots spent a lot of effort ridging up the side of rapidly developing cumulus while trying to stay out of the clouds at the start followed by a desperate glide to the first turn point across the Sopot Valley to the south followed by a blanket search of just one thermal in the valley without sun.  One thing is sure at events such as these so soon after the start: the fact that if there is a thermal anywhere within one hundred square kilometres of a valley in shadow, it WILL be found and ridden back to base.  Having said that, this knowledge is not very comforting when you have been on glide for 15km and that elusive thermal is shy and not showing her skirts.  We eventually found a tiny patch of sad looking sun and almost all got up in the end before flying around the course in around two hours twenty.  The first fifty pilots were within one hundred points of one-another with a total of one hundred and twenty five pilots in goal which is amazing considering the diabolical start!  A good day for team with most in goal pushing us into eight position overall.  Russel is tenth overall and Andre 17th some fifty points back with Chris top fifty.

Monday, 15 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day 1 - Task 1

Johannesburg to Sofia via Istanbul
A pleasant drive through the sun flower fields from Sofia to Sopot admiring the gorgeous cloud streets set the tone for the 13th FAI world championships:  Mellow and seriously organised.  Management secured 'casa Africa' for the team.  My serviced 'crib' has aircon (it works) and clean sheets plus en-suite bathroom with shower (replete with real hot water 24/7).  The house is the talk of the town with vicious rumours circulating about how we outbid other teams to secure the mansion (including pool, boma, flat screen & volley ball court).  Whatever the case, I have never been this comfortable at a competition outside of South Africa ever... so I guess a BIG thank you to Jan & Chrissi for making it happen.
The launch is massive and the ride up the cable way is relaxing in a simple kind of way with 101 two seat open chairs, recently refurbished, slinging us up to launch over roughly 2 km of cable.  A 75 odd km out-and-return east-west course was set with two turns points before goal amid great excitement at the super sweet cu's and wind dummies melting into the clouds.   As is so often the case, the valley clouded over and 150 pilots were stuck on launch well after the race was due to start.  Make that 149 with Marco Littame who smoked every-one by 100 points getting off shortly after window and flying around the course alone while the rest of us were cooling our heels waiting for it to start working.  We eventually got off with the lead gaggle bouncing along at base dodging clouds along the way before getting flushed at the easterly TP.  The lag gaggle got the jump after the lead got flushed in the lee of the northerly wind.  RusselA managed to make up lost time flying a more direct line with AndreR a few minutes after to goal.  Chris landed inside of speed section but short of goal with Nev, Khobi and Stef going down at the sucky section near P1.
There will be many disgruntled pilots seeing as it felt like a bit of a lottery with many world title contenders down and out on the first day.  The Swiss, German, British and American teams were among many of the top teams who got caught out with Italy, France and Brazil putting in strong performances.  The up-side is that it is only day 1 with a high probability of good hard racing to come and perhaps a fist day shake-up will break the recent trend of EN-D processional course flying.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Barberton Open Day 2 Task 2

It's never a good thing to be on the ground when the wind shifts over the back.  So when eight or so pilots get off the ground and the rest have to watch them take the start from the launch you end up with grumpy people.  I was one of the lucky ones making goal in second place behind Henry Schurink.. Not that it matters... I had to leave due to work commitments.  I hate leaving a comp at the best of times,  but to leave after two nearly flawless days in the lead on a crispy new wing burns my arse more than a little.  I guess there will be enough pressure to invalidate today and I feel that's right despite being one of the lucky ones who managed to launch.

Then again it was a pretty special day with Sebastian landing the electric model airplane by himself AND doing his first tandem on a paraglider with Stef Junker.

I hope to return at the end of the week to get a couple more tasks in before Bulgaria.

Barberton Open - World Championship Team Training

Everyone knows about Porterville our local world class summer flying site near Cape Town.  Very few international pilots know about our winter flying site, Barberton, situtated near the Swaziland border in Mpumahlanga or the 'low veld'.  It is as popular with the local pilots and possibly even has a longer tradition of attendance.  It is certainly the family friendly comp and many SA pilots' first comp site given the gentle and safe flying conditions.  Barberton is a small town tourist town nestled in a bowl of ancient hills:

Wikipedia:   The mountains around Barberton are the oldest in the world dating back 3.5 Billion years, and these mountains include some of the oldest exposed rocks on the planet (only rocks from the Isua greenstone belt in Western Greenland are older). These volcanic rocks, which scientists call the Barberton Greenstone Belt, have given up direct evidence of conditions of life on the surface of the very early earth.
The first form of life on earth, a bacterial micro fossil Archaeospheroides barbertonis was discovered here and has been identified as being 3.2 billion years old.
It is no small thing to experience flying over this area.  The tasks may be modest by most standards, but what they lack in grandeur they more than compensate for in technical subtlety and picturesque appeal.
With a month to go we decided to make this a team preparation event as well as a fund raiser.
In this respect we had a very well attended auction and spit braai.  It is humbling to experience the broad generosity of our flying community considering how few people ever get to go to the worlds. 
Day1 Task 1
It was looking like a great day, so we were given a spider web of back-and-forth racing with multiple start points and routes.
I unpacked my brand new Boom Boom and launched early taking a 5 m/s freight train straight to cloudbase @ 2,200m ASL within minutes.
The temptation to wax lyrical about my GIN B9 colour 'apple' is almost too much to resist, but I will simply refer you to an earlier post (The (long, skinny, sexy, awesome) Glider)

The apple carried me around the course in just over an hour without interference from any competitor until the very end where Anton snuck by while I was site-seeing on half bar.  Forgive the pompous tone of this last paragraph, but sometimes, once in a rare while, you just get the lines exactly right and flying feels effortless.  My family spoiled me for fathers day and my glider played along too.

Weight Shift

Who would have thought that the there would be a positive spin-off of the EN-D comp-debacle?
Around the globe we find a bunch of extra large men munching on carrot sticks, sipping Perrier and nibbling on calorie deficient foodstuffs as though a metro-sexual revolution has swept the global paragliding ranks.
The reason is simple:  If you want to be competitive at the upcoming world championships in Bulgaria, then you have a choice of glider and size.  Order anything you like as long as it is a medium GIN Boomerang 9. 
I was deciding how to go about trimming down for this season, so I asked my son, Sebastian, for advice. 
It went something like this:
Dad: I need to lose, weight.  What do you suggest?
Son: Why do people get fat dad?
Dad: If they are not sick, it is probably because they eat too much or don't get enough exercise.
Son: Is aunty Dorothy sick?
Dad: Not as far as I know, why?
Son: Are you sick dad?
Dad: Never mind.
...And thus, armed with the wisdom of a seven year old, I cut out beer and carbs and voila!  My target of 13 pounds shed in six weeks with four weeks to go .. I may even have the luxury of ballast this time.
I thought I was the only one with this problem, but it turns out there are several big lads out there turning lean.  The difference this time is that it looks like none of the manufacturers are having much success certifying anything other than medium size gliders so it has to be a lifestyle change rather than a crash course.  Time to stop weight training and start swimming again I guess...
Come to think of it, there are probably a whole group out there with the opposite problem.  What are they doing?  Sumo-style feasts, steroids and heavy weight training maybe?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Porterville World Cup - Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!

Win One!?
What a rush, and what a relief! After the Sun Valley experience, I wrote that a podium finish at a world cup event was something on my bucket list. Right at the top of that list for paragliding was a world cup win, and on the list that 'no-one mentions' is the wish to win a world cup at home. It took ten years of preparation, a seriously awesome glider and two ounces of luck, but a win is a win and I am relieved. The thing about a world cup career is that most could be satisfied with a top ten finish, or maybe a task win or even a podium. Once you have achieved those you wonder if it will ever happen and how would it be to look back and be ok with never having won an event outright. After my pitiful performance in Colombia I was suffering some serious doubts staring down the barrel of 'not-good-enough'.
photo: Sergio Kawakami
I now understand the stress I observed among the US pilots in Sun Valley last year. It seems that all the whining and moaning is amplified when you are involved in hosting the event. You become aware of the abuse that is absorbed by the organisation along with interference from the association. Couple this with unreliable forecasts and dodgy flying conditions and a helicopter evac on the first day and you have some real tension.
I was on the task committee with Andrew Smith and Chris van Noord. We were up at 7am every morning trying to decipher the met reports in preparation for the day. Cold fronts do their own thing, so the second and third day we tried to set tasks for twenty knot winds from three directions. The task committee was bizarrely instructed NOT to use the ridge after the first day crash which saw us on the ridge in the mildest conditions we have ever had! We were totally like WHAT!!?? we have been sending our novice pilots romping down the ridge regularly in local competitions over twenty years! It turns out that one or two competitors were agitating strongly to fly the flats exclusively and were lavishly dishing out septic doses of negativity to all who would listen. Perhaps they were upset at not being selected for the task committee and thought they could do a better job although I have serious reservations about sending pilots into the Citrusdal valley in strong westerlies as happenned the week before.
In the end the association backed out of the ridge ban after the pilots signed a petition complaining (believe it or not). Even then we flew flat lands mostly. Imagine telling us to 'use the ridge, but not for racing'. It's Porterville for heaven’s sake! There is a sixty kilometre ridge designed for racing!!!!
In the end we flew seven out of seven with one cancellation and a hugely controversial stopped task.
While we're highlighting the negative: I was left with a bitter taste after conspiracy theories and accusations of cheating by some. I was officially weighed with threats of being weighed every day simply because a gaul refused to believe that my towering bulk could fit a medium wing at 115kg.
I was second by eight points behind my old Porterville rival, Pepe Malecki, going into the last day. There was a whole pack of hungry wolves chasing. In my estimation, any one of the top ten were in range of the podium. I recused myself from the task committee and we were given Clan William with a couple of twists. This was a hundred kilometre race with multiple options at the start, at the crossing and for the finish. You could not ask for more variety in one day in a world cup. This translates into huge stress for the podium hopefuls because it was impossible to manage the gaggle as would normally be the case in a world cup. All you could do was to be efficient and hope your line was good. In the end we all met up in the same place for the twenty kilometre finish but split into three groups on different lines. The western group took the day by five minutes from my group on the easterly line. It was so close that no-one knew what the probable overall result was and I was convinced I had not done enough. Imagine my delight at prize giving.
The (long, skinny, sexy, awesome) Glider
I was fortunate enough to get a Boom 9 on loan and found out later that it belongs to Adrian Thomas which he so very graciously agreed to let me use. Now this is no small thing given that he had not yet flown it. Many thanks to Gin, Petra, Adrian & Cal for getting this machine to me in time.
Precisely contructed, beautifully finished and perfectly balanced, the Boom 9 felt familiar which should not have been surprising given that I have enjoyed many firsts on Gin gliders: first comp wing (Boom I); first cascade (Boom II); first comp win (Boom II); first 100 & 150km flights (Boom I). My Boom 4 gave me at least one comp victory after a layoff of several months when I trashed my knee in France. That was a prototype which was glued together at the span wise colour interface on the top surface. The late great Norman Lausch used it at the world championships in Brazil in 2003 and I begged Gin to sell it to me after the comp. It is tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.
The superiority of the Boomerang 9 is subtle in the sense that the cliché holds true: the whole is so much more than sum of the parts. You get the sense that you can climb marginally better than most. You discover you have an almost imaginary better glide and you sense you are slightly faster during the sprint. Even more subtle are the apparent height gains in choppy air. There is nothing dramatic, just a constant sense of well-being as you end up on top of the gaggle and arrive highest after glides.
The performance is amplified into wind which is where you confirm your suspicions.
It was almost strange to be in a tight gaggle with four or five Boomerangs every day which is notable given that there were only six of them flying. How exactly they managed to get such a high aspect ratio glider stable is beyond the understanding of my amateur status, but I suffered no serious malfunctions save one asymmetric collapse at half speed that required little input and a voluntary 360 degree re-inflation turn.

You do feel the aspect ratio in comparison to the IP6 which is expected, but one thing I realised is how much less of the speed system I used during the competition. The speed system was 100% on or off on the IP6 as opposed to incremental on the Boom 9 reminiscent of my R11. All in all a highly pleasurable experience on the Boom 9 and I have serious doubts that anyone is going to be able to improve on this blade anytime soon unless there is some way to certify an R11! I see the test pilots are in revolt again which doesn't help the Boom 9 competition
In closing we should thank Waldo and everyone who assisted for putting on a fantastic comp.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Joerg for Prez and the problem with statistics...

Holy Crap! The agony of embarrassment for the CIVL leadership!  For those of you not following the CIVL comp class survey thread on
you’re missing some real soap action.  Shortly after the results were published, the paragliding subcommittee chair declared it unsanctioned and “useless” claiming that CIVL were never consulted.  It turns out the CIVL president was totally involved and in favour which forced a public withdrawal and apology of sorts from the sub comm chair.  Joerg kept his cool suggesting that CIVL suffers from split-brain syndrome.  It is not nice to laugh at sincere people so forgive me.  All these guys have their hearts in the right place, I just wish some would not wear them on their sleeves.  If ever you wanted a first-hand demonstration of the divisions within focus groups and the effect of opinion on opposing fronts coupled to bureaucratic bumbling then this has to be an absolute classic! 

My ‘dude of the month’ award (which I just invented) goes to Joerg Ewald who facilitated the latest paragliding comp class shit storm with all of the maturity and aplomb of a seasoned politician.  You rock dude, and I can’t wait to buy you a beer. Respect!.
So I got my opinion poll as requested and, though I cringe at the dubious accolade of having seeded the idea, I guess I should thank Joerg for the recognition for what it is worth.   
..but now I have to confess that I did not fully express my opinion on opinion polls:
Surveys and Opinion polls are problematic (as are statistics in general).  Sometimes the answers to the questions raise more questions without revealing answers.  A lot of the time the results confirm diametrically opposed positions depending on the viewpoint.   A favourite author of mine, Daniel Kahneman, describes an example of dubious data interpretation citing the $1.7Billion investment made by the Gates foundation in the creation of small schools based on the strength of research to find the secret of successful education.  In short the research showed that small schools are more successful on average than larger schools which led to the billion dollar investment.  It turns out that If the statisticians who reported to the Gates Foundation had asked about the characteristics of the worst schools, they would have found that bad schools also tend to be smaller than average. The truth is that small schools are not better on average; they are simply more variable (Kahneman, Daniel 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow p. 118).
How is this relevant?  If the truth be told paragliding and CIVL will never have the resources available to the Gates Foundation.  Given that Bill and friends can cock it up so completely, what are the chances that CIVL will make sound decisions based on the outcomes of opinion polls? Will we ever know which important questions have not been asked? 
Frankly, I don’t care.  If anything has been achieved by this poll then at the very least it has to be the introduction of the idea of direct engagement with the people at the heart of our sport.  That the group is opinionated and divided is clear; that there will never be consensus on complex issues relating to personal preference is a fact.  Yet even if the impressions that were created by this poll further divides us I am deeply satisfied that the individual pilots have expressed their views and now we must just deal with it. 
My wish for paragliding is that we find a way to flatten the hierarchy inherent in bureaucratic structures like CIVL and our own NACs.  We should cut out the layers of representation and lobby groups and let the pilots participate directly in the decision making process without the interference of bosses, delegates and other middle-men.  Think I’m nuts?  Well, we have the technology to do it.  All we need is to engage professionals about how to formulate information gathering; define the rules of engagement; and agree about the process of decision making.  Then the administrators will simply become facilitators and we would save millions (yeah, I know, I’m naïve in a socialist hippy kind of way).  In some (tiny) respects we have this in the world cup association, but even there policy sometimes emanates from lobbying,  howling and mudslinging rather than objectively structured engagement.
Now I can’t help wondering:
  • what would have happened at the worlds in Piedrahitha if the pilots were asked if the competition should continue?
  • would we still have open class if the pilots were asked?
  • would we have put up with the idea of certified helmets if we were asked?
  • should we ask the pilots a yes/no question about bringing back open class, and if the we can’t agree do we introduce open and serial class in the same comp as it was in the world cup ten years ago?
  • should we ask the pilots which of the rules and requirements imposed on Cat 1 comps suck?
  • do we ask the pilots if they think Cat 1 comps need an overhaul?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Super Final Analysis

The fire protest
As much as I hate to break my own house rule (no moaning, no whining & no fighting), the last day protest action overshadowed the flying festival so I feel compelled to present my own view of it.
Everyone loves a smart arse, so I'm going to say it anyway because I predicted it after all and even though there is nothing quite as annoying as a blogger quoting himself, this is what I said: The problem with rules in general is that you have to apply them, so the more you have the greater the administrative burden (
So the resulting fallout of the fire-flying episode brought about a world class goat-herding squabble. Everyone knew that at least a dozen pilots dived into that second last day fire thermal to a greater or lesser extent. The fact that only two pilots were punished caused a voluble outcry at the general meeting that evening. It transpired that one particular pilot (in his infinite wisdom) broadcast a message on the safety channel during the task declaring the fire perfectly safe to fly in much to the disgust of several pilots who objected on air. It turned out to be nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact location of the fire based on track logs so our affable scoring Scotsman was hard pressed to explain that he could not definitively finger more than the two who were bust outright without more information. The resultant interaction by the punished and accusers mediated by our long suffering chair resembled a tennis 'B' slapping contest. The radio announcing fire-flyer repeatedly told the best pilots in the world with diminishing credibility how unfair his sanction was, while a current European champion (who shall remain nameless) told the same pilots what a heinous crime fire flying was.
Most startling for many was the message that came from the pre-eminent paragliding pilot of all disciplines, Chrigel Maurer. He stood up and told the assembly that paragliding was a brotherhood and that the organisers had a duty to come up with systems to catch pilots who break rules and that they could not expect competitors to step forward with evidence of cheating. This further divided sentiment with the Chrigel Fan Club applauding wildly and the cynical independent thinkers wondering if they had heard correctly: 'Did the god of paragliding really just say Catch us if you can'? I didn't hang about for the second or third set, but my spies tell me the tennis match was eventually abandoned with no clear winner and several losers.
It transpired that someone was eventually able to supply enough information to pinpoint said fire and thirteen pilots were sanctioned (including the eventual super final champion). The resulting protest, decision, protest, decision, protest, final decision process delayed prize giving by several hours with some regaining points and credibility and five demoted to the rank of 'cheat'.
The good, the bad and the Ugly
· This super final was probably the highest standard ever seen (certainly in my experience)
· EN D has given two or three dozen additional pilots a chance of competing at the highest level (previously not competitive in open class)
· EN D speed limitation has bunched the gaggle up and rewards conservative flying styles (pimping)
· The EN D class is widely viewed as a failed experiment and remains the subject of hot debate
· Two line EN D wings flown by super final pilots has messed up the entire EN certification
· The fate of the competition class as debated by FAI/CIVL representatives remains unclear
· Cheating at the top level is endemic and nothing new (includes FAI Cat 1 comps)
· Gin is back! The Boom 9 was clearly the best glider by a considerable margin

I happen to be the SA FAI delegate and have been on the receiving end of much correspondence on the subject of FAI comp class. I will not bore you with the detail suffice to say that I have serious doubts about the 'representation' part. As offensive as this may be to some of you/them, I cannot reconcile some of the comments and opinions I have read by certain delegates to the views expressed by the pilots they purport to represent. Now I am not speaking of random pilots, but world class top 100 world cup pilots that I regularly bump into on tour from numerous nations including the dominant European ones with whom I am able to communicate (given my serious lack of international language skills).
Perhaps it is time to summarise the debate and host an independent opinion poll of the top 400 FAI ranked pilots to whom the debate matters most. It is particularly galling to have people make decisions on our behalf when we have not been directly consulted and no-one I know accepts the idea that there are people out there who are empowered to make better decisions than ourselves.
P.S. I can almost hear the mumbling administrative masses complaining that we gave them this power but I suspect they might do well to actually speak to their comp pilots in the event that have not already done so.
Personal Note
This was not my finest performance ever. My only pathetic excuse is that I struggled with the strength of the field when combined with the cocktail of opiates, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories required to offset the discomfort of trying to fly a paraglider after my rain induced parachutal 'landing' on the practice day. The doctor examining my bundle of scans commented: I cannot easily determine which of these injuries are new, but none of them require surgery. You should be more careful when climbing ladders in future.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Latest task

Sent from Samsung tablet

Fire horse

Meet director?

Super final moments

Super Final Task 9

Another challenging day with many pilots stuck on launch with less than fifteen minutes to go. It was a fast and furious day with a wonderful concept task that has been used only a few times: a single turnpoint servng as an entry, exit and goal giving the field 360 deg options. Sadly the day shut down which culled three quarters of the field. We expect some mud slinging on account of the fact that a dozen or more got up in the only lift available in the valley which happened to be forbidden fruit in the form of a highly conspicuous fire recently banned after the 'fire thermal' earlier in the comp. The problem with rules in general is that you have to apply them, so the more you have the greater the administrative burden. In addition, this competition is starting to highlight the deeply flawed format of the EN D experiment. It turns out that not all EN D wings are born equal even when spawned from the same same womb (factory) with supposedly identical twins displaying a confounding array of ability particularly in the speed category. Even the post-task line testing has become suspect given the grumbling I have heard in the trenches. I sincerely hope that a return to open class is on the cards so we can restore some sanity to the World Cup . Having said all of that one thing remains constant: seriously good pilots are winning as expected so its not all bad.

task 8

I have lost count of the number of tasks but I guess we have done seven or eight.  This was another difficult day which saw the entire field grovelling after the last turn point before goal.  There was very little sun in the valley so once we were done dancing under the clouds some thirty or so staggered to goal low.Russel got in early.  Sent from Samsung tablet

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Super Final - Task 6

After enduring a little bit of constructive criticism (and some outright moaning), the task committee contrived to split the race wide open with a cunningly selected turn point some sixty odd kilometers to the south with a huge 35 km radius and goal at Zarzal.  The idea was clearly to give us a multitude of options which included crossing the valley early, late or not at all.  Bravo task committee, except for the fact that the majority crossed early and then the conditions didn't play nice with the whole valley clouding over wrecking the pecking order   spectacularly.  

The survivors managed to scrape themselves off of the valley floor and just as we were hopeful of actually finishing the task, a barrier of rain and highly visible gust front forced Nicci to stop the task.  No surprises that 80 pilots covered between seventy and eighty of the hundred and ten kilometers.

The start was cloud flying chaos and I have video footage of blatant cheating at the first crossing by at least a dozen of the first group popping out of the clouds WAY above base.  Sadly you can't make out any numbers and although one or two of the bastards tried half heartedly to lose some height after the fact it was a reminder of the corrupt ethic that exists in pockets of the paragliding world cup.  That is not to say I have never been in cloud during competion, but I like to think that I have made honest attempts at rectifying any indiscretion.  

Team SA had a less than perfect day with equipment malfunction and premature landing maneuvers with yours truly managing a mediocre performance some 8km behind Mark Watts who might have won the day.

The boys report: low and slow, not at all, and bitterly disappointed by col Moeg, st Kristoffel and Red respectively.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Super Final - Task 5

There were calls for a more challenging task so we were given 131km to fly with no fewer than six valley crossings.  Not that it made an iota of difference with the bulk of the field hopping from cloud to cloud and arriving at goal in just under four hours together.  The homogeneity in performance of these serial wings offers very little if the task is simple.

The task committee now faces a challenge if they hope to maintain their credibility.

It was a better day for team SA with Red, St K and Andre arriving a few minutes behind the leaders.

Flight Stats:
Max climb: 7.8 (1s) 4.6 (10s)
Max alt�: 2,858mASL
Total gain :14,328m
Effective� glide: 9.1

The effective glide is probably closer to 10 if you ignore the start and should give you some idea of the lifty� course line.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Super Final 2012 - Roldanillo - Day Six - Rest Day


Andy Warhol exhibition El Museo Rayo with Omar Rayo's widow as guide
Omar Rayo


Bar Colombia


SA Flag on giant hat


Super Final 2012 - Roldanillo - Day 5 - task 4

The fourth task was another 100+km ‘S’ for speed shaped task that required romping around the valley at Cloudbase stomping the speed bar.  Launch was a little more relaxed with an extra 15 minutes and enough wind up the front to get everyone off with plenty of time to spare.  The start was a three km exit from launch involved milling around at cloud base (and occasion above cloud base) before the start mad dash down to the south.  Yours truly was styling with the lead group until B26 before a brain malfunction resulted in an unwanted task discard.  Big Red had to land shortly after launch with knots with Moeg & Kristoffel romping home in slightly better style.
The usual suspects were at the front again, but there was plenty of drama at the goal with a bundle of BIG names landing meters short of the goal line which will stir up the order a little.  In a nutshell, the scoring works like this: for every day of flying 25% of your worst task is discarded.  This means that after the four days we have had so far, your worst performance relative to the day quality is discarded.  In theory this means we will discard 2.25 tasks by the end of the competition so you get to screw up twice!  In practice screwing up can mean getting stuck for ten minutes, so better to fly conservatively which is how things have panned out if you look at how cautiously the lead gaggle proceeds.  There is sooo much pimping going on you have to take a deep breath and find the right line or lose out on every glide if you choose to lead out.
Male Task winners: LucaD, StephanG, LucA
Female: Laurie, Nicole, Keiko
British Blog:
The whole fire thermal experience turned out to be quite controversial with a new rule being introduced that forbids any fire flying.  There were even calls to penalise pilots based on maximum vario readings of more than 10m/s.  Now in case you got the wrong impression, those who did fly the fire all agree that it was not something to be repeated (although I would cautiously go to the outer edge again if I had sufficient altitude).  The cynics were wondering what other rules should be enforced during competition if we can’t trust the pilot’s judgement: 
- no speed bar closer than 50m from a ridge
- height restriction of 4,000m @ Sun Valley
- no Alps in the lee in fohne
- no hands off the toggles at full speed
- no thermalling nearer than ten meters from one-another
I almost called Nicci on the radio when I saw 10m/s for a few moments during task 4 to swear that I was no-where near a fire, but that seemed inappropriate.
Sherpa and pony
Task 3: Uncommon Flight information

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Super Final 2012 - Day Four - Task Three

The third task was 100km of rock n Roll all over the valley.  Launch became nightmarish with the entire field running off in zero wind or a little bit from the back.  There were dozens of abortive launch attempts, some of which seemed quite dramatic but without serious harm.  At least a third of pilots were still on launch with ten minutes to go before the start which reportedly had Nicci considering cancellation before the wind fortuitously switched sufficiently to get everyone off, albeit a tad late.  I managed to get off in time with a huge gallop down the slope with my glider barely flying but my compatriots were not so lucky and all were subsequently punished unable to catch up their ten minute handicap and then getting to goal late.  

 Comments from the boys:
Cl Moeg:The super final is like magic. I never imagined the flying would be this fast.
st Kristoffel: the standard here is MUCH higher than I expected even after flying a few world cup events
Big Red: The elastic band snapped before the start. Ja/Nee
The highlight of the day has to be the ‘fire’ thermal.  We had taken the turnpoint in the west and proceeded to cross the valley where a huge sugar cane fire was raging about 500m into the next turmpoint.  The flames were visible from 500m AGL and about seven pilots elected to fly deeper into the turn cylinder in order to take advantage of the fire which was capped by a lovely growing cumulus cloud.  Having heard stories of potent climbs in fires the week before and given the fact that I have climbed in fire thermals many times in my life I went for it.  What I saw as I got nearer was spectacular!  The entire thermal was marked by millions of tiny pieces of ash and charred debris presenting a full three dimensional animated view of the raging beast that had been created.  The outer ring was about a hundred meters wide rising in a relatively orderly fashion with the inner core a torrent of swirling mayhem like a tornado of angry bees.  I saw at least two Ice Peaks in that maelstrom completely out of control with bucking gliders definitely not flying but being torn aloft as one might see a paper bag in a dust devil.

I elected to thermal in the outer ring and buried the brake as in a spiral dive and heard my variometer go from two meters per second to the solid tone that marks off the scale on a Brauniger within two turns.  Holding on for all I was worth I was at cloud base in less than ten turns and then tried to exit the thermal.  I saw the collapse coming in the way I remember being caught inside a six foot beach break about to dump on my head surfing Blouberg back home.  The only difference was that I could not duck dive this wave and watched with helpless fascination as the swirling mass of air fell onto my glider.  I managed a quick recovery flying backwards with a twist.  Yassen was not so lucky fighting for survival in the core and having to deploy his reserve after getting hoisted into the cloud and suffering a catastrophic collapse.  Mickey reported 15 m/s and Chrigel apparently saw 20 m/s peak.  My vario recorded 11.2 m/s on the ten second average and 12.9 instant.  For those of you unfamiliar with paragliding climb rates, 12.9 m/s = 46 km/h.  Imagine going straight up in one place @ 46 km/h with nothing more than a 26 square meter nylon bag and string above your head.

PS: Pictures wont upload for some reason.. will try fix that tonight.