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)