Paragliding in BC

Paragliding in BC

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Coach Eagle

Mother Nature must have overheard I was training, and sent me the world's best flying coach.

I saw this bald eagle flying a short distance away, and started my comparatively slow journey over to join this bird's thermal.  The eagles at our site are used to flying with us, so flying together isn't new to pilot or eagle.  Well, we try and fly with them but with their superior skills we don't often get too close.  But they sometimes share a turn or two while thermalling with us and then fly off all majestic-like.

My game plan here was to merge in behind this eagle and follow the established pattern, but as you can see by the video, this eagle almost seemed to say "Hey dumbo, the lift is over here!  Follow me!" Sure enough when I did a left turn to follow, my vario started beeping (you can just hear it if you turn the volume up) and it turned into a great thermal!

So stoked I decided to strap my GoPro to my helmet that day.  Thanks coach!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Training Sessions

So I've been meaning to write all about the training I've been doing for the Paragliding Nationals, and the great flights I've had...building up endurance in the air...doing some cross-country flying over the spring...but...

The flying season JUST started this weekend!  For me at least...and everyone else with a Monday-Friday job.  This past weekend was the first one where we finally had sun every day.  It wasn't epic by any means but we did get in a couple of hour long flights (plus I took a friend tandem).  However  I did manage to squeak in a couple of flights between showers over the past two months  (literally...2 flights) and having goals in mind did help me get a lot more out of them.

Back in March I had my first hour long flight of the season.  The first thing I noticed was that I was so nervous about flying (from worrying about potentially being "rusty") that I couldn't eat breakfast.  That led to feeling nauseous when turning 360's in the bumpy thermals and after about 45 minutes I noticed a big drop in my energy level and concentration.  Takeaway lesson - Proper nutrition and endurance training should not be overlooked, and of course you should try to fly as much as possible to build up "bump tolerance".  Those first two I can control, so now make sure to eat and bring snacks and water to launch (even if I think it will be a short flight).  I've also been challenging myself to ever-increasing steps on my FitBit to build up my overall fitness level, along with getting back into yoga.

In regards to technical skills, I'd written about watching the numbers on your flying instrument to figure out how long to stay in the thermal.  On one of those flights I watched and noticed that the thermals started at .3m/s. Sticking with them until I reached that climb rate again was a good lesson - it worked, and it taught me patience.  Normally I would have taken a guess when to fly away and look for something else, and having a goal to focus on was helpful.

Mental training is another key issue, and as it happens in life it seems that every paragliding magazine or podcast I come across lately is talking about it.  Meditation is key, and I've found that visualization does actually transfer over when in the air.  You do have to be consistent though!  My biggest obstacle to flying well is my (lack of) belief in my own skills.  Visualizing being confident and rational, as opposed to getting "scared"in the air when conditions are strong, is actually working. How about that?

Launching my Skywalk Chili skies everywhere!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Skywalk Chili 4 review

I've moved back and forth between wing levels a few times during this sport.  It started with my second glider...I went from a beginner wing (see photo below) to a "low level" intermediate one, but back in the 90's the intermediate wings could be quite a handful.  That new wing did end up scaring me at an SIV course, so I went back down a level until I regained my confidence and was ready to progress again.

My first glider!  The "Flight Design A4".  Photo from 1999 maybe?

Being a team pilot for Skywalk I'd been hearing a lot about this amazing new "high" EN-B rated wing in development (the Skywalk Chili 4) but truthfully I had to swallow my ego before ordering one.  I'd been flying EN-C rated wings (which is a solid intermediate level) for almost 10 years so this would be a step down.  However my flying hours lately had been on the low side so the smart decision was to go with the Chili 4.  Besides, I thought to myself, if I bought this wing and it lacked the performance I wanted, it would be easier to sell an EN B wing than an EN C one!  That helped seal the deal (and shut my damn ego up).

Turns out there was nothing to worry about - I hardly noticed a difference in performance on my first thermal flight.  Hurray for new technology!  I could turn just as zippy as on my old glider and got the same great feedback from the wing while climbing in thermals.  And it's response in rough air was a real treat.  It was as if the Chili 4 would hit some turbulence and say, "Don't worry...I got this" and then dissipate all the rough stuff and leave me to continue on flying.  It was so much more relaxing in the an EN B rated wing should be.  That left me with more resources to concentrate on finding lift and paying attention to what was happening in the air than to worry about any potential collapses. The Chili 4 is agile and a smart thermal hunter like it's predecessors - when a sinkhole found me, I had no trouble making a low save and getting back up over launch height again.

George doing a fly-by overhead.

Not surprisingly George (who is on the Chili 4 as well but stepped up a level) felt the wing was more active than his old wing. And while for me the final glide when coming in to land seemed shorter, he mentioned having to adjust his final approach when his glide seemed longer.  Makes sense.

The Skywalk Chili 4 sits just where it should in Skywalk's range of gliders - high intermediate.  Definitely not a first glider, but full of potential for pilots who are ready to go cross country and have solid thermalling skills.  Stable enough to bring you through the rough stuff, and agile enough to turn on a dime when you need to catch a super skinny thermal.  I'm so excited about this season of flying, and can't wait to get to know my new glider better.

Although I'm not sure about the resident alien living in my right hand wing tip...

Click on photo to enlarge it - then you can see the alien living in my right wingtip!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Training to fly

Training. It's not what most people think of when it comes to paragliding...I mean, it's not like preparing for a marathon.  Or is it?  The ideal way to train of course, is to fly.  There's no denying that anyone's flying improves with consistency. But with work, weather and access issues (i.e. no driver) it's not always possible.  So can you improve your flying when you have limited opportunities to get into the air?

I think it is. The mental game is being discussed more and more in our sport. Top pilots openly discuss meditation and visualization as being beneficial, and National Team members in a number of countries have access to sport psychologists. 

Then there's the physical side. For years we'd joke that paragliding was a lazy sport...after all we usually drive to launch and then just sit around in our harnesses while flying.  With longer flights (6+ hours in the air is not uncommon) and competition pilots flying with heavy ballast to increase their speed, physical training for paragliding is no longer laughed at.  Just ask all the pilots who have taken up Cross-Fit over the last few years!

In 2010 I started flying tandems and my solo flights diminished each year as my weekends filled with taking others on joy rides (which is fun for me, but uses a different set of skills than solo flying).  This has left me feeling quite rusty when it comes to my current paragliding skills above and beyond the basics.

My goal is to find a way to get back to a higher level of flying fitness, but can I accomplish this without having a lot of airtime?  I love reading and between my collection of fitness books (from my days as a personal trainer) and mind set books recommended by other competition pilots, I'll be able to design a training program based on my established skills and see what improvements I can make. Plus I have a bunch of theory books to read on those endless rainy days, so why not try?  It's not like getting into shape and improving my focus will be bad side effects if this doesn't help my flying!

I'll share what I learn in case anyone else is curious about this side of the sport.  For instance, a hint from "50 Ways To Fly Better" when talking about speed-to-fly theory (page 98 if anyone has the book & is following along) is to notice the thermal strength when you enter, and then ride the thermal until it slows again and you hit that same number on your instrument (i.e. exit at 0.5m/s if that's the rate you entered at).  On an ideal day you would then glide full-speed to the next thermal and if you hit it at  2m/s and it gets stronger, you could leave when it slows to 2m/s again knowing the next one should be the same strength.  Since I tend to only look at my instruments to see my ground speed, I'm going to focus on this on the next flight, and learn more about how to actually use all the information I can get out of these fancy flight computers.

Task 1: Pay Attention to Your Instruments

Monday, April 3, 2017

Why not?

The last few years of my life have not been near as full of flying as I've been used to.  But a big part of life is change, and one of those changes that came was a fantastic new career.  However it does mean a lot less opportunity for paragliding - having pretty much only weekends to fly and then hoping the weather will cooperate.  So for the last couple of years I've prioritized tandem flights on those nice days to help dig myself out of debt and although I'm not free and clear yet, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So with a resolution to refocus on my solo flying, the first step was to sign up for the Canadian Nationals.  Because why not compete at a national level event taking place in 3 months when you've only spent 10 minutes on your sport so far that calendar year?  Makes sense to me!

Launching at the Canadian Paragliding Nationals in Pemberton a few years back, same spot they will be held in 2017.

As hinted at in the above paragraph, I did get one lovely little (10 minute) flight in on my new wing.  Not enough time on it for a proper review, but I will say that I didn't notice much of a difference from my old wing.  That's actually a good thing because my new Skywalk Chili 4 is rated one level down from my Cayenne 4 and most pilots would expect to notice a decrease in performance.  However with advances in technology I wasn't really surprised to see that this brand new EN-B wing felt a lot like my 4 year old EN-C glider.

That being said, I'm itching to get in the sky and see how my wing responds when the air is actually moving around a bit! Plus the whole practicing before the Nationals thing.  Pfffft...whatever.