Thursday, February 22, 2007

Manilla XC Wrap

We're heading up the hill in a minute for the first practice day of the worlds, but a few wrap-up thoughts:

Our driver, Daniel, did a great job chasing us down and getting us back without hitting any Roos. Having a good driver is really important in an XC comp, thanks to him.

Flying here is incredible. We've had an epic, stonking week of conditions. Yesterday it rained hard in Manilla for the first time in weeks, but people still flew until early afternoon. This site is right up there with the best I've ever flown anywhere in the world, a combination of flat-land flying and hill terrain. It reminds me most of east Texas in terms of topography (hill country area).

The locals here have been super-friendly. They don't exactly speak English as we know it, but getting to understand the dialect is part of the fun.

Our team, team Dirka Dirka (if you haven't seen the movie Team America: World Police then rent it right away) placed second. Pretty solid. Funny to hear all the super-serious team names read off, then "And in second place, Team Dirka Dirka!"). Part of the fun of any comp is hanging out with the people there, it was fun to fly and hang with Keith, Tom and Nicole.

This wasn't an XC comp like any I've ever been to--the field was extremely strong. The spread between first and 20th was only a few hundred points. It's one thing to drift downwind for 6 hours, quite another to be holding as much bar as possible on every glide and working desperately to max climb rates. Each day felt like a task because it was on course line, and the competition was fierce.

I'm simply blown away by the level of flying I've seen here. When I show up to compete in North America I know there are maybe 10 pilots flying at a pretty high level; here in this comp there were at least 30 flying at a level I didn't know existed. I learned from them and am happy with my result (eighth place and close in points to the podium), it would be arrogant to expect to be able to beat these guys with the relatively limited competitition experience I have. Part of becoming a better pilot is to admit my own limitations and then try to expand them. We can all start thinking we're pretty good when we look around at our local scene, but the reality is that the true world level of competition flying is VERY high. Take any good competition pilot and put him in an XC comp like this and he will rock it. The same isn't true of XC pilots (I'd put myself into that category) at a world-class competition. As with any sport, competition defines the pinnacle of pure technical skill. That said, going fast all the time is not what paragliding is always about to me. In fact, I'm not sure it's the best part of the sport at all. For me flying is a method to explore the atmosphere, new places/people and my own head. Competition is extremely useful for honing the technical skills of moving well in the atmosphere. When XC flying you can make a poor decision and blame it on luck, but when you're racing with 30 other pilots who make a different decision and do better, well, obviously you made a bad decision. I learned a lot last week, and am really looking forward to taking those skills back to my home sites and seeing how they work...

OK, up the hill to practice for the worlds, yeah!


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Manilla XC comp day 8

Yesterday was the last day of the comp. After flying seven of the last eight days I was pretty pounded--I've flown over 35 hours and more than 900K for the week. But I got all fired up on launch when Gin showed up with a van full of new Boomerang 5 gliders, yeah! By the time I had mine sorted I was a bit late off of launch, and spent the first half of the flight trying to figure a new glider out. I was slow until about the half-way point of the day, when I realized I needed a better result than one of my other tasks and went out hard--it's a good thing I did, as one pilot made it out around 125K by the four p.m. task end time. I wound up at 110.5, good enough for a decent score. The results weren't done last night until 11:30, but did well enough to end up in eighth. The scores are incredibly tight from second to 20th or so. On task seven, where I thought the lead gaggle had gone down, they hadn't--they just went well off the course line but more with the wind, that was enough to put them around 20K up on me. The power of the gaggle is strong... I'm happy with who I flew, but in retrospect I was just plain wrong about them going down early. I stayed on the course line, but they must have been able to hammer it less cross-wind. I'm still happy with my decisions through this comp in terms of safety and reading the sky, but I have some things to learn about using the gaggle. I'm fired up for the worlds now, game on!

This was an interesting comp as it started out as pure open distance, then turned into gaggles racing along a course line. I think the open distance format has good validity, but pilots must take responsibility for their own decisions in the air regarding safety. One part of the sky may be insane and the other 300+ degrees from launch fine, so the organizer can't cancel the day because one direction is bad. It turns out that day one wasn't all that important in terms of scoring because we had so many other valid days, but it forced the organizers and jury to make this more of a "normal" comp. I hope Hans and Andreas can come up with a solution ton some competitors feeling the organizers must cancel days where the field is doing something stupid... The open XC comp idea is great, I'd do it again. This has been the best week of flying I've ever had, truly amazing good fun and educational.

The Boom 5 is a very good glider--more stable, faster, very easy to fly. I didn't fold it up once yesterday even when I went into chase mode and started hammering to make time up on the course in very strong conditions. It doesn't turn as well as the 4, or I haven't figured out how to make it turn as well, but everything else is great. Gin is working on the trim a bit to improve turning, the glider is again a big leap forward in performance and stability. Paragliders just keep getting better, amazing.

Today is a rest day, time to catch up on email, sort gliders, fix things etc. Looking forward to NOT flying, that's a nice feeling to have.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Manilla XC day something

Yesterday turned out way better than the morning clouds made it look--200K better. Super fun flight with a very technical section between about 100 and 140K that dropped most of the lead gaggle. One thing I've learned here is to trust my own judgement--I'm not very good at gaggle flying when it comes right down to it, and if I just do what I think makes sense I usually do better than trying to chase the gaggle down. In a non-XC comp you have to play the gaggle game, but with this style of flying the gaggle is often wrong--one person will lead out off the gaggle, and they all chase whoever that person is. So really it's decision making by one or two guys anyhow, might as well be me on my own. The gaggle does improve the odds of finding lift, but around here that's not normally a problem. Yesterday I flew the gaggle for the first 1/4 of the flight, then on my own after that, although I kept crossing paths with the gaggle as the day wore on. I made one good tactical decision to stay upwind over some rising terrain, that's what made the difference at about the 130K mark--most of the lead gaggle went down. Chrigel did whatever he does, I didn't see him all day but must have landed within 5 K of him.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Manilla XC comp day something

Turns out I did better than I thought the last comp day, doing OK in this comp. Scoring here is a bit of a mess, the server system isn't working, so no real scores but I'm doing OK overall. Chrigel is winning for sure, but beyond that it's fairly open. I didn't have the best flight yesterday, ended up being overly conservative about a big cloud and landing pretty far out. Nice to land somewhere totally peaceful, then have a bit of an adventure hike out to a farmhouse. Found the ranch owner, Grant, and a couple of hands gearing up to fix fences. I didn't have anything else to do and one of them was heading into a town in a few hours, so I spent the afternoon fixing fences and driving around the ranch with them. I didn't fly well, but the afternoon sure was fun--people here are really good. Very well travelled too, these guys had been all over the world, fun to talk about Oz and the world while bouncing around. Got to chase some sheep around too, nice to have a sort of "normal" day of it after all the travel and flying. Sometimes the best part about flying is not the flying but the random stuff that happens on the ground. Saw lots of wallaroos and kangaroos, they're like deer here (they even jup in front of cars too, all the vehicles here have 'roo bars up front for a reason). Thanks to Grant and Steve for the lesson in fence technique and the ride into town, hope to see these guys in Canada one day.

Not sure how everybody did yesterday, but all safe. Today doesn't look stellar, but we'll see, you never know. A lot of the World's pilots are showing up, the energy level is rising for sure. Me, I'm thrashed after flying over 25 hours this week but psyched to get it on today. The biggest thing to remember here is sunscreeen--two coats in the morning, one in flight, same with the lips. If I lived here I'd have to get a genetic mutation toward some aboriginal coloring, I'm way too damn white to survive.

Woke up in the middle of the night last night because a couple of possums had decided to stage an Ultimate Fighting Championship on the roof of our trailer. Not sure who won, but they are noisy beasts when irate. Off up the hill now.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day four Manilla XC

I woke up and hit my head on a window sticking out of the trailer, then spilled some coffee and then forgot some stuff. In the air this pattern continued--I can normally keep my wing open, but I think the head-rattler made me more stupid than usual, the first half of the flight was an exercise in patience and self-tolerance... The second half was sort of the same but with slower thermals. In the end I went about 173 despite having one of the more "stupid" days I've ever had in the air. My goal became simply to stay in the air until 6:30, everytime I tried to make a move I ended up low and grovelling...

The evening drive back was the best part of the day, Oz sure is a stunning country. Saw lots of Kangaroos (yep, they really do exist in the wild, not just on the tourist T-shirts...) and other animals. It's an odd landscape here, everything is just slightly different. It reminds me most of east Texas in terms of terrain, lots of trees but stil very arid. It's wetter around Manilla than to the west, every day the climbs have really improved once we get through a relatively wet area about 50 K to the west of launch.

Up the hill to do it again now. I've flown almost 20 hours in my last three flights, starting to feel that, but in the World's we could fly six days straight so I want to train up for that.


PS--had a good dry tooling session on a local swing set the other evening, I may have the only ice tools in Manilla. Elbow holding up, not going hard on it but finding little bits of time to train here and there. Looking forward to a rest day...