Wednesday, 21 January 2015

World Championships - Task 6 & 7

My first-in-goal-grin lasted at least a whole day before I was reminded of my para-mantra best explained by Kenny Wayne Shepherd's lyrics:

"Spank" (on youtube)
It ain't wrong to feel so strong when you think you got it going on
Life has a way of making you pay to the club where we all belong
Now you're free to believe that the good life is guaranteed
But watch your step 'cause it's a safe bet you're gonna end up on your knees

You're gonna get spanked
I'm warning you sister
You're gonna get spanked
Life's gonna hit you
You'll never know until you get, Spanked
You're gonna be humble
You're gonna get spanked
And your world's gonna crumble you'll never know until you get

Some do want to prove that there are really just a chosen few
So test your fate, speculate that it can never really happen to you
I've been high, at least tried, I learned to sleep with an open eye
You crossed that line, better take the time to kiss your ass goodbye


When you're so sure you got it right
All alone in the spotlight
You'll never see it coming


So we all get spanked at least once and no-one is immune, not even the giants.  Just take a peek at the leader-board and you will see by the points.

Speaking of being spanked, yesterday's task was a spanking affair in many ways. 
Four pilots got spanked with reserve deployments.
Twenty two pilots were spanked for airspace violations.
A dozen or more were spanked short at the goal-line and, last but not least, Felix spanked us all into goal by at least five minutes.

I saw the mid-air collision which was not pretty.  One pilot gently flew into another and was completely gift-wrapped.  I held my breath as they plummeted over the power lines in a flapping mess.  It felt like an age before they managed to separate and deploy.  I was convinced they were both going into the lines and the regallo was flying directly toward them.  Parallax saved them.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

World Championships - Task 5 and the bucket list

World Championship paragliding is like this:  You hack away mindlessly for a decade and a half filled alternately with hope and despair like a duracell-yo-yo.  

The thing that sustains you most is the prospect of a three week holiday in an exotic location doing what you love for your country every two years.   Once in a while you glimpse the elusive pot of gold and you dream of victory knowing how slippery the reality of that dream is.  You end up clinging to the thought of a single day where you might shine.  It has been fourteen years since a South African pilot has won a task at a world championship event.  I happened to be the team manager on that occasion in Spain (2001) and I marvelled at the idea.

Today was my turn!

I only managed to win by a single point,  and in the greater scheme of things, my (poor) overall position negates much, but it was on my bucket list and I would be lying if I said it does not feel good.

Even better is the fact that we are not even half-way through the competition with an optimistic outlook on the weather.  

The top-ten overall leader-board reads like the who's who of paragliding with all the giants present.  I salute you all and thank you for letting me slip through the gaps today gentlemen, I am very much indebted to you!

Friday, 16 January 2015

World Championships - Task 3 & 4 plus some bonus blah blah blah

How much variety do we expect?  Roldanillo has more than a bag of mixed nuts in a single day.  From the romping joy of the first day and the schizophrenia of day two, to the plodding gloom of day three.  

Today (task 4) was une salade mixte:  A little bit of rock 'n roll with a strong infusion of utter desperation topped with a dressing of relief, joy, hope, surprise and, ultimately, disappointment.  The latter was on account of the fact that we did not see the winning group scream into goal from the west ten minutes ahead of our fabulously fast gaggle smugly threading the cumulus cloud-street needle to imagined glory.  

Ah well! you can't win them all.  At least I got to fly with some friends.  In particular I spent a large part of the day sharing thermals with Carlos, Juan, Chris, Nick and Guy Anderson whom I so famously "discovered" in Montelegre some years back (see 'the future of English paragliding' here in 2012 and here in 2014).  Guy has a low number on his wing which casts a credibility aura and appropriate following in the air.  Low numbers (less than twenty) are earned at the world cup super-final and are not to be taken lightly.

Amazing people

The splurb on my blog says something about flying with fascinating people.  I have never honored this pronouncement properly so I thought I would start 'at home'.  Here are some things you probably didn't know about the people I am traveling with:

Anton Naude: Eight time senior protea national team pilot.  Attained Northern Transvaal Schools colours in Judo & Target shooting.  Anton has also represented SA at the PPG world championships on the tandem & trike. He has a Bcom. in Accounting and a Btec. in internal auditing.  He has two children and two grandchildren.

Chris van Noord: Two time SA protea national team pilot.  Provincial colours as part of the south eastern transvaal youth choir touring France & Italy in 1988.  He was a motor-cross-maniac breaking at least six bones per year for four years.  Before paragliding Chris was an avid sky-diver with 3,000 jumps, 300 wing suit jumps, and 100 base jumps. He spent a week in the infamous Pretoria central prison (where they keep the blade runner) in 1991 for stealing a general's official car while in the air force.  Two ex-wives and two kids.  Proudest moments were when his kids were born and when he scored for the SA team the first time in task three.

Russell Achterberg: Three time SA protea national team pilot.  Schools, provincial and national .22 shooting (despite the shaking).  Achieved senior national colours in the Tornado sailing class for world champs in 2000.  Springbok scout.  Phd. in electrical engineering.  One divorce, two kids.  Second wife more to his liking.  Prefect in junior and high school.  Never been locked up.  Never in naughty corner.  Doesn't play bridge very well.  Specialities include: spilling booze on Andre whilst travelling; losing stuff; general clumsiness.

Khobi Bowden: Three time SA protea national team pilot.  Her Grandad was the first British man to break the sound barrier in an aircraft.  Two degrees: Bsc. in mathematics from London School; Bsc. hon. in business and computers from belfast university.  Khobi ran a restaurant/bar in st. Lucia in the Caribbean in the nineties where her guests shot one another on occasion.  Arrested in st. Lucia for parking offence.

Theunis de Bruyn: professional student with a Bcom in business management and about to complete a mechanical engineering degree.  School prefect in junior and high school.  Provincial school rugby and six years provincial road cycling up to U19.  Clarinet grade 5.  Rock climber.  

Thursday, 15 January 2015

World Championships - Roldanillo, Colombia - Glider Speculation

Mads, Arnold and a few others have asked me to say something about gliders at this comp.  
Before I begin you must know that they may as well ask the pope if he likes being Catholic because I have always had the best glider.  I'll try anyway:

I have the medium size which I decided on for the handling and the fact that I lost some weight (how I miss beer and apple pie).  My harness is the Genie race 3 (M) and I clip in 1kg below the top (114kg).

Initial impressions are:
- the Boomerang 10 might be slightly better on glide at up to half bar.  I say this after four or five 10km glides yesterday with assorted groups of Ozones and Niviuks.  For those of you who know I cannot be objective go check tracklogs around mine at the first crossing and the final glide which was into wind
- it seems the Boomerang climbs slightly better and can turn tighter than the Enzo 2.  This could be that I am on the M or the conditions suit the wing although I managed to get on top of my goal gaggle in scrappy light lift yesterday (check the tracks if you are sceptical).  One thermal a theory doth not make and I admit I sucked at other times, but I generally feel competitive in the climb
- everyone seems to be able to go more or less the same speed but I feel more able to catch up here than I did in Turkey on my B9.  I find I can go faster than many in strongly rising turbulent air on full bar.  This is partly due to the high stability at speed on the B10.  In this respect it feels like R11 open class without the yaw.

There have been some complaints of floppy wing tips on the B10.  My wing does not seem to have that feature.  I suspect people flying light and/or coming off Ice-peaks and enzos may experience that, but I think a minor adjustment in technique takes care of it.  The wing is very light and responsive so all movement is transmitted to the pilot and I find myself catching unwanted movement very early.  The application of speed bar is light and smooth which may have something to do with the harness/wing combination.  

Basically it is too early to draw conclusions, but I am very happy with my wing so far.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Paragliding World Championships - Roldanillo, Colombia - Day 1 Task

My expectation is that we may fly every day.  
Conditions will probably be good everyday.  
We will fly far everyday.

What we need is a new scale of good.  I haven't figured out what that scale looks like but in the interests of the conservation of hyperbole I will try tone it down a little by ignoring the fact that the first competition day was totally freaking epic by any measure with 138 pilots in goal.  We could have flown for another two or three hours rather than the paltry eighty eight odd kilometers.  The 2,900 m ceiling was in danger of being popped.   

The points suggest the task was too easy with the top one hundred in goal getting 700 or more.  For those of you unfamiliar with the scoring in a paragliding task: The winner can get a maximum of one thousand points.  Anything over nine hundred is considered fantastic and more than eight hundred is good.

When a third of the field receives nine hundred or more and another third between eight and nine hundred it just about amounts to a discard.  Add to that the progressive discard system and we will see some extremely high scores for the podium.

In the end Petr Kostrhun took it from LucaD and StephanG in just over two hours and fifteen minutes.

Laurie took it ahead of Seiko and Keiko in the ladies competition.  I sometimes wonder why we have gender based scoring if you consider that these pilots regularly finish in the top twenty overall and may not care about the women's result.

Team SA had everyone in goal with Russel in the top ten dragging us into 18th position as a nation (out of 38).  The rest of us got spanked.  In my case the points hide the hiding I received having ventured into the flats at the end in search of glory only to suck on a fifteen minute delay as I ran out of altitude with 5km to go.

The organisers will be also be happy with a good start to this festival.  

World Championships - Roldanillo, Colombia Opening ceremony and Practice day

There is nothing quite like the enthusiasm of the Colombian crowd lining the streets of Roldanillo as the mottled crew of paragliding pilots paraded through the streets reinforced by the cavalcade of baying stereos, dancing girls and drumming teams.  Mogadishu  has 50mm guns mounted on Toyota pick-up trucks whereas Roldanillo has drummers, percussionists and trumpeteers!!! The effect is mesmerising and the carnival atmosphere sustained us through hours of marching.  The dance troupe of nubile young girls gyrating to the repeated sounds of 'Wiggle, Wiggle' captivated spectators and participants alike.

Where in the world would a throng of local inhabitants run into several thousands for a paragliding competition!?  They entrusted their infants and children to our dubious care for photo opportunities.  Big Red Russel was a hit given his dimensions and colour flanked by our two sizeable SA flags.  

Team SA (courtesy K. Bowden)

Quite a few nations went all out with patriotic gear.  Austria were clad in tradition check shirts and Lederhosen (leather pants).
Team Austria (pic. ?)

Team USA pulled out all the stops with a loud combination of USA emblazoned shirts, pants and shocking socks.  Imagine Magic Johnson in basket ball vest, ice-hockey pants and Irish line dancing socks.  They took turns riding around on an ice-cream cart handing out beer and ice-lollies to fellow competitors.
Team USA (courtesy Josh Cohn)

I have rarely felt this welcome in a foreign nation in decades of travel.  Colombia rocks!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

14th FAI Paragliding World Championships - Roldanillo, Colombia.

The FAI/CIVL circus is in town, expect a flood!  

We have arrived!!! It took three full days of multi-mode travel and some serious airport lounge-time. 

Next time all we need are boat, helicopter and dog-sled legs and my life will be complete as a survivor of obscure travel plans.  We made it intact, all equipment safely imported and are happily ensconced in casa Sofia.
Casa Sofia (pic. Chris van Noord)

More importantly, we flew on a gloriously potent day which has made for a content house of jet-lagged yet happy team-mates.

A number of pilots have been here for a week or more and the word is that conditions are stronger than previous years.  Cloudbase was comfortably high and my variometer appeared a little agitated at times screaming at me whenever I hooked into something occupied by Chulo* under virile cumulus.  The ground is dry.

* Turkey Vulture.  The word Chulo means 'Pimp' in Spanish and Portuguese (believe it or not)

Toys, Toys, Toys!! A New Wing for a New Year

Inanimate Bliss
ethereal, light, drifting
opaque, bright, swirling
real, sensory, ecstasy
                                      Anon. 1912

I did not ask how Gin's Dream, Touch, Believe marketing triplet was born, but it fits the poem well even if you're not into that sort of thing.

You see, I took delivery of my Gin Boomerang 10 in December and broke her in on a sublime solo day where seared ground ignited heavenly thrust and angels temporarily vacated fluffy seats that I may play within the welcoming embrace of the cloud down.

Paragliding pilots will bore you to death with testimonials about their wings and I am normally no exception.

THIS wing is perfect:  Perfectly Balanced; Perfectly Responsive; Perfectly Light.... and that's all I'm going to say.  It's just perfect.