Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Rhythm of Flight

I met Wolfi Siess about ten years ago at the French Nationals in Laragne.  I was there with Gerolf Heinrichs who was flying the competition and coaching a few new young Austrian pilots.  One of those guys was Wolfi.  To this day, I carry such fond memories of photographing their launches and landings.  For the entire week, Wolfi was one pilot that brought a giant smile to my face every time he came in to land - and it was all because of the giant smile on his face.  Still now, I can't recall ever seeing someone that enjoys flight the way Wolfi does.  I love these pics of Wolfi nearly 10 years ago!

Wolfi and his good buddy Jonas from New Zealand are embarking on a super fun project this summer in the US (I'm so envious!).  They'll be traveling around the country and promoting our sport from a young pilot's perspective.
Anyone who is paying attention to hang gliding is well aware that we are a quickly aging group. I would be curious to see the statistics, but from my experience organizing competitions for the last eight years, I can say that we're seeing the same group of pilots that have been on the competition scene for the last 15+ years.  Not that I don't love them all, each and every one, but there is no question we cannot sustain the sport without an infusion of new, young pilots.  

The boys' plan is to start at the Flytec Race & Rally in May and the travel from there across the US filming their adventures and meeting up with some world famous guys in the process (world record holder Dustin Martin, Australian champion Jonny Durand, top US pilot Zac Majors and many others I'm sure).  Their video description of the project details their plans better than I can here, so give it a watch.

If you're as excited about their project as I am, take a look at their website at and help the boys out a bit with a donation to their Indigogo project HERE.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yep, it's Over :-(

...and it's that time - short packing time.

New World Champion

It was a slight bummer to end on a cancelled day, but everyone is tickled to have Christian Ciech as our new world champion.  Congratulations Christian on a strong and consistent performance.  He really was on fire throughout the entire competition.  If not for one day with a broken VG rope, he would have had a sizable lead over Antoine in second place.  

Another big congratulations to Antoine in second place and Christian Voiblet in third.  All three pilots are very deserving. 

We had an impromptu "crowning" up at launch.  Christian Voiblet is still in the hospital, so couldn't be there, of course.  But someone had the fantastic idea to call him in his hospital room while everyone cheered and chanted "Christian, Christian, Christian!"  Very sweet...there were plenty of tears. 

Italy won the team competition...again...with France and second and Australia in third.  There was no champagne on launch, so Miguel, the organizer, sprayed the teams with RedBull ;-).

Sunday, March 08, 2015


Italian sweetie Valentino came into goal few days ago and failed to see a set of difficult to see power lines and hit them at very high speed.  He scared the crap out of everyone sending up a giant spark , folding the glider in half and then falling to the ground.  Luckily, he escaped with relatively minor injuries - a broken wrist that required surgery and a plate.  We're all so happy he's fine.  His brand new Icaro glider didn't fare so well - the lines melted the sail, wires and various carbon parts.  Last I heard from the Italian team, only the base bar, crossbars and one leading edge were salvageable.  All that really matters though, is that he is alive and well.  

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Many Happy Faces

 Joergi (Germany)

Glen (Oz)

 Corinna (Germany)

Gordo (UK)

Christian (Italy)

Gerd (Germany)

Roland (Germany)

Blenky (Oz)

Seppi (Austria)

Nils (Oz)


I had the very unfortunate responsibility of delivering a multitude of kisses to Laurent from all the well-wishers abroad after his tumble on Day 1.  It was torture, but I'm always willing to take one for the team ;-).  He is doing well.  He had a sprained ankle, broken leading edge and some relatively minor sail damage.  But he repaired it all and is flying again today. 


In the midst of Christian and Antoine battling it out for the gold, I so enjoy seeing their attitude toward one another.  The fierce competitiveness alongside the obvious camaraderie make me smile and make me happy to be part of this community.   We have two true champions at the top right and it will be a pleasure to see either of them with the gold.

I know it sounds corny, but we really are a big (mostly) happy family. 

Some Pictures

I've been trying to get photos uploaded all week and I'm not having much luck.  Here's a start anyway (all from Day 1).

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Weight of Expectation

I've come to a realization this week about Cat 1 competitions, or maybe I've known it for some time and it's finally really staring (or slapping) me in the face here.  The morning of the practice task (and most days since) we had what felt like the world's longest team leader briefing where most (myself included) of the team leaders came off as a bunch of spoiled, cranky children demanding to have everything our way.  

What is really creating my huge disappointment now is the unbelievably high expectations that many seem to have arrived here with.  I'm not talking about high expectations for reaching the podium or having fantastic flights or something admirable like that, but the expectations that everything...and I mean everything...will be absolutely perfectly organized and run at all times.  Since when do we expect 100% perfection?  That buzz phrase we all here "first world problem" is so appropriate here.  Do we have everything so good and so perfect in life in general that we expect and believe we deserve it everywhere, all the time?  What does it say about us as a hang gliding community that we seriously feel the need to bitch endlessly about the live tracking delay, the size of the task map, the format of the task board, the contents of our lunch packs?  Truth is, I'm ashamed of us as a community.  

I'm probably in a unique position given that I not only organize competitions, but I also compete and I also serve on the CIVL.  I really can see all sides of everything that is going on here.  From an organizer's standpoint,  complaints are an everyday thing - complaints about the task, safety, etc.  I'm accustomed to that.  I've also found myself on the giving end of the complaining at Cat 1 events.  Wearing my CIVL official's hat, I could pick apart plenty of imperfections with how things are going here.  But, at what point to we all stop and recognize that this isn't Formula 1.  There aren't millions of dollars at stake.  There is no international stardom on the line.  This is just hang gliding....and it's supposed to be fun!  And we aren't even complaining about the hang gliding!  We're nitpicking at details that, in reality, just don't matter enough to justify the huge amount of negative energy being spent.  

When do we stop and recognize that the organizers want this to be an awesome, fun event every bit as much as we do.  They're not back there thinking "let's see if we can screw over the pilots!"  They're making every effort to show us a great time!  I truly believe that.    

My hope is that everyone here will remember that and perhaps come to the organizers with solutions, instead of complaints.  I can say without a doubt as an organizer that complaints are so much better received when they comes with suggestions for a fix...something like this:  "Hey, how about we try XYZ because we're having a little problem and this might help solve it?"  

Putting my CIVL hat back on, I can promise that there will be no more Cat 1 competitions if we all don't stop acting like spoiled brats.  There will be no one left on the planet that is willing to go through what organizers go through to provide us with a place to choose our world champion.  There is no money to be made.  People do this out of the goodness of their hearts and out of a love for the sport and it's a thankless job.  Based on what I've seen this week, I will NEVER do it and I haven't spoken to a single recent Cat 1 organizer that says they would EVER be willing to do it again.  

So, there's my rant.  I hope some people will take it to heart.  Meanwhile, I'm going out to have a fantastic holiday hanging out with my friends from all over the world and watching some very cool flying. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Day 1

Despite seemingly endless whining at the team leader briefing and then again at the task briefing this morning, from where I was sitting the first day went off beautifully.  They called a perfect 104km task around the mountains and over to the Almanalco goal - that's the great one on a green grassy football field.  We arrived about a half hour before the fastest guys and had a great time watching the live tracking - it really is super cool! 

Our USA team boys didn't have the best day ever, but it wasn't terrible either.  It looks like Robin will end up around 9th place, Kris around 18th and Zippy somewhere near 21st.  Derreck also made goal just behind Zippy, but Bill, Bruce and Matt had tough days landing short.  Better tomorrow, I'm sure.  

The biggest scare of the day was Laurent Thevenot's tumble near the Pinon right around the time of the first start.  He got his chute out and landed with only very minor injuries according to the official reports.  We're all happy for that - there's no sweeter pilot out there.  What's really strange is that he's flying with a tail, so it's hard to imagine how that could have happened...hoping to hear more details tomorrow.

Teams strategizing....


Sunday, March 01, 2015


In his first official act as the new CIVL president, Stephan Malbos tore his Achilles tendon the day before the opening ceremonies and is in a cast and on crutches for the duration – not an easy thing with the lovely cobblestone streets in Valle. 

Official Practice Task

Things are always a bit chaotic at the start.  Thankfully, today was just a practice task because all was a disorganized mess with the task briefing very late and no real clear launch crew/help.  The US team is mostly well with only Matt feeling some of the usual “world’s bug” that gets passed around.  Most of our crew went up to fly the short 69km practice task today, but while rigging Robin found he had a broken carbon leading edge L.   Thankfully, German team member, Gerd had a spare glider that Robin can pilfer.  He’s replacing his leading edge while the others fly.  He’s not really sure how it happened – could have been a hard landing in practice a few weeks ago.  But, it’s scary to think he flew it yesterday. 

Meanwhile, there’s the usual whining and bickering at the team leader briefing (that lasted 3 hours last night and was continued this morning for another hour).  There is a lot of concern about the new goal field – many think it is unsafe.  We’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.  Otherwise, it’s the usual pushing rules, early bird launching and then a new gripe about live tracking.  The PWC has generously donated a full set of FlyMaster live trackers for the organizers to use here.  They’re pretty cool really and can even do live, minute-by-minute updated scoring (I’m not entirely sure why you want to know how many points the “leader” has 5 minutes after the start, but I suppose it will be cool).  However, some feel it is unfair to the team who didn’t, or couldn’t afford to bring a dedicated ground crew to watch the trackers and pass information up to their team members by radio.  So, the team leaders voted for a 15 minute delay in the live tracking and live scoring.  Not everyone liked that – especially not the dude running the whole system – he didn’t like that the thousands of online viewers watching us race would be 15 minutes behind the real thing….thousands ;-)...someone shouted “hundreds, you mean!”

Valle de Bravo World Championships

We've all finally arrived here in Valle for the start of the worlds - not without far too many flight delays for the team leader (me!).  I came nearly straight from the CIVL Plenary meeting in Belgrade and had my worst run of bad flight luck, getting stuck first in Frankfurt, then overnight in Chicago then overnight again in Houston.  The way I see it, I got all the team bad luck out of the way early. 

Yesterday's opening ceremonies were excellent and oh so Mexican with Mariachis and Aztec dancers similar to last year.  It was beautiful and conveniently held early in the day so that it wasn't too hot and pilots were able to have an extra practice day if they wanted.  Many flew before the welcome dinner hosted by Miguel and Claudia.  

Team USA (left to right - Bruce, Zippy (hiding), Derreck, Bill, Matt, Kris and Robin)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Forbes Flatlands - Last Task

Fantastic last task today.  It all started with a bit of grumbling over the task setting.  The committee decided to have predetermined stop at 4:30 for safety reasons.  The forecast looked identical to yesterday and they were quite sure it would overdevelop as it did yesterday.  About the half the pilots felt like there was no reason to stop it in advance of knowing whether or not the forecast would really pan out.  They took a vote at the briefing - which was pretty much split down the middle - and then decided to let the safety committee make the decision.  In the end, they decided not to stop it in advance.  

But, with the expectation of overdevelopment, they called a shortish (for Forbes) task to the south and then east, thinking that most would take the first start.  Most did, but not all.  Atilla hung back and took the second start.  Jonny apparently wanted to wait (as he wasn't able to leave the start circle right on time), but worried about the forecast storms and went on ahead with most everyone.  

All the drivers sped to goal and watched the sky for storms and for the coming leaders.  Blenky, Jonny and Atilla were the first three in (I think in that order), but with Atilla taking the second start and the others on the first.  We watched several pilots come in over the next 15 minutes wondering what might have happened to Zac in first place.  After 16 minutes, with probably 15 pilots between him and the first in, Zac finally made it - together with Gordon (in second place overall and Jonas in third).  It was a nail biter for everyone at goal - and probably for those watching the trackers from abroad.   In the end there were probably 35 at goal.  And, by the way, the overdevelopment never reached us.  

We're getting read to go to the prize giving in the next half hour and still don't know for sure who will win.  The speculation at goal was that Atilla will steal most of the big points with the day win and Jonny won't get enough in second to overtake Zac (and probably not Gordon or Jonas either).  But, it will be interesting to see how it all comes out.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Forbes Flatlands - Task 5

The task committee originally called a triangle to the north with the first let into the wind.  Not everyone necessarily understood that, but it didn't matter because out at the tow paddock the north wind was stronger than expected and they quickly realized a task with leg one into a decent wind probably wasn't the best idea.  So, they went with the alternate task - a slight dog leg to the southwest.  

Although there was no talk of thunderstorms in the forecast (at least not that I heard), as I got about halfway to goal in the car, I could see a big cell that appeared to be just to the west of goal.  

It quickly became quite widespread and I got the text message that the task was stopped.  Many came down and landed near the turn point before the gust front hit.  They were about 2 hours on course and near 100km, so while it won't be a 1000 point day, it should still be reasonable scoring.  It should be very interesting going into the last day - just 2 points between first and second place!!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Forbes Flatlands - Task 4

Looooong task and a long day overall.  They called a 258km task out to the west (toward Hay).  The drive along course line takes you through almost nothing, just lots of Australian outback.  Drivers were warned at the briefing to fuel up anyplace we saw an open station.  It's not unheard of for teams to sleep in their cars after a late retrieve waiting for the gas station to open up in the morning.  That may have been the fate of the team of Christian/Blenky/Glen as their driver arrived at goal with 1/3 a tank of fuel - which wouldn't have been enough to make it back to the nearest fuel at West Waylong (haven't heard yet this morning though).  

Anyway, it was a long task time wise.  Most pilots were on course at least 6 hours and even after we packed and left goal we heard that more still came in (around 25 total, I'm guessing).  No scores are up yet, but it looks like Zac will have won the day (that lucky hat is working!) with Jonas, Glen and Jonny very close behind.  Glen and Jonas took the first start, worried that the day would fizzle out early.  They lead most of the way with Jonny catching them from the second start maybe halfway on course.  Gordo also did much of the leading, but off on his own left of courseline, where the others tended to stay right.  

Amongst the top ten, Atilla and Trent weren't in goal.  Others in the top ten were slow.  So, standings will change a bit when the scores come out this morning (hopefully soon).  

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Some Pics from Day 3

Yesterday and today were canned  because of thunderstorms.  All should be back to HOT and normal tomorrow and looks like for the rest of the competition.  Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Forbes Flatlands - Day 3

What a day!! Seriously under-called task, but 40 very happy pilots at goal yesterday.  The cloud streets lined up so perfectly that I couldn't catch them even at 140km/hour on the highway.  It was one of those classic Forbes days and it's just a pity they didn't call a 400km task, because I'm sure it could have been done.  Most were landing during the strongest part of the day and even driving home from goal at 7pm the clouds still looked incredible!  Reminded me of a day a few years ago when we went from Forbes to Hay ;-).

Friday, January 02, 2015

Stories of Yesterday

The gust front we drove home through last night was the widest one I have ever seen - I LOVE the exciting weather in Forbes.  It turned the sky (and everything else) a golden brown.  We stopped at one point on a eucalyptus lined road to jump out a get some pictures.  After 2 or 3 minutes outside the car, Tullio shouted over the howling wind "hey, maybe we should get away from these trees", so we started back toward the car and just about then a giant eucalyptus branch came loose and landed just short of Zippy.  With the day win and the narrow miss of the tree branch, we decided Zippy should buy a lottery ticket. 

We also heard news driving home that Sasha was unaccounted for.  In the midst of that massive gust front, the whole car was quietly concerned.  Arriving home, we heard no news and even at breakfast, with scores up and no Sasha or Gerolf in them, we worried more.  Thankfully, I heard from Gordo this morning that Sasha had landed safely 25km beyond goal and got her glider flat on the ground about five minutes before the front hit.  She even made the 400 goal cylinder - go Sasha!!!

Speaking of the goal cylinder, they are going with a goal line most days here and the rule is, if there is a line out there when the pilots arrive, it's a goal line finish.  If there is no line (maybe the paddock isn't suitable or something), then goal is a 400 meter cylinder.  Yesterday, Zippy arrived so quickly that Rob didn't have the goal line out yet.  So presumably, goal was the cylinder.  But, Rob put the goal line out just seconds after Zippy landed and that left the rest of the field with a goal line finish.  I can see situations where that could cause a problem.  For instance, if Zippy had gone to the far edge of the 400 meter cylinder and not crossed the line (which wasn't the case yesterday - he flew directly over where the line was later placed) AND they went with the line finish, he wouldn't make goal.  Apparently yesterday, Vicki gave Zippy the choice of taking his time across the cylinder or across the goal line, so it wasn't a problem here.  Zippy chose to have the goal line time and presumably all other pilots making goal get scored when they cross the line.  But, I wonder if Sasha will be scored getting goal or not?  I heard she got the cylinder, but probably not the line.