Part 1- What do I want from the Bright Open?
This article is an attempt to condense 4 years of voraciously devouring as much information as possible and combining some meaningful practice to become mildly competitive in our local competitions. I want to share where I have found most of that information and would love to think it might mean more people in the goal paddock.
Paragliding ticks most of my boxes, it is outdoors, technical, difficult, often dangerous, relies on a breadth of skills, physical coordination, risk acceptance and mitigation. When pushing limits a wrong decision can mean a three day walk out or making the goal, decided in the space of moments. When I’m flying I feel free, I don’t feel constrained by societies normal rules and limits, I feel empowered.
Paragliding is an esoteric, weird, largely meaningless pastime for most of the population but can be the raison d’être for those of us that share it.
The sights, smells, feelings and experiences; the elation of surviving near misses, pulling off a low save and long crossings are intensely satisfying, rewarding and much of it is done in isolation with no one watching.
There are no pots of gold for winners; there is largely no recognition of excellence excepting your closest friends, family and peers. It is dangerous and needs to be treated as such. What you are getting out of it needs to resonate in a really good way, right in the core of your being. The mere thought of paragliding needs to give you the sort of inner-glow reserved normally for watching children’s faces opening birthday presents, the smell of your favourite meal, the hug of a lover… otherwise, quite frankly, you are ripping yourself off and exposing yourself to stress, danger and cost when whatever ‘it’ is that invokes those feelings, is still waiting for you out there.
The absurdity of running off a hill covered in fake grass, suspended by ripstop nylon (that doesn’t just stay open on its own and requires piloting) with ridiculously thin lines. To climb in small circles in mostly invisible columns of rising air and then glide at a speed that threatens to collapse your wing, whilst crossing expanses of difficult and dangerous terrain to touch imaginary cylinders and land at the base of an imaginary cone faster than your best friends means that we will always be a ‘fringe sport’ that most people don’t get…
That means some of the attributes necessary to ‘do it well’ need to reflect a stoic, emotionally stable, mentally strong person, who does not require a great deal of external validation of their actions and decisions. Paragliding is one of the last bastions of ‘risk acceptance’ where you make your own decisions on where and how to conduct yourself with little tangible reward than feeling good about yourself and maybe the respect of fellow pilots and dire consequences when it goes wrong.
Each of us is responsible for launching and landing safely without intervention or assistance by anyone else. You must have an expectation that you have the requisite skills, independence, experience and equipment to solve 90%+ of problems that might be encountered on anyone day without advice and assistance of anyone else. When shit goes really wrong and your only job is to stay alive and self rescue; and, if that notion scares the hell out of you and you haven’t developed a risk mitigation methodology to avoid being put in that predicament, or expect or hope that someone else is going to prevent you from putting yourself in harms way I recommend reading Will Gadd’s excellent article that was recently published in Lithographica- Mysticism and Mountains. Unicorns, hope, luck and chance should not be your primary resources in flying and competing and performing at your best!
“If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s this: the universe doesn’t give a shit about you, what you think, want, feel, or believe. You are, in the greater scheme of things, as completely irrelevant as a moth flying around a light at night.” Will Gadd
Paragliding competitions can mean a complete spectrum of things to each of us but ultimately it is one of the last competitions that is still an adventure sport that hasn’t been hacked and tainted by corporate jerks, hijacked by talking heads and spin doctors and neck deep bullshit. Your average pilot on launch is careful and respectful, a thinker, modest, assertive without being brash, open to the opinions of others and ready to offer meaningful advice or assistance…. I like it!
If you aren’t getting the ideas, inspiration or information you want from your current peer group move around a bit more… listen in on people who are flying the way you want to fly and cover the ground you want to. Ask to join in on a radio channel others are flying on or sit in on analysis of the days flying. Ask questions of decisions that didn’t make sense to you, did they see something you didn’t? Some people offer opinions that are based on fear not on fact, some offer assistance when they don’t really know how to help… that’s ok, but it might not value add to your flying and you need to learn how to filter and assess it.
Gavin McClurg wrote a blog after the US Nationals last year that resonated with me- we both started flying around the same time I think and seem to have similar aspirations and he came away from the US Nationals in Chelan feeling similar to how I felt after the Bright Open this year. In pushing hard and getting the balance wrong, the fun slipped away a bit for a little while and it was time to rethink some of my values…
“The reason I was in a funk was that I was actually taking something so ludicrous as paragliding so seriously. It was the first time since I started flying that I wasn’t over the moon every time I was in the air. Everyone around me was how I usually am- just thrilled to be flying, to be in the air, to be flying with your friends in perfect conditions.” Gavin McClurg
Many of us can be very competitive by nature and measure ourselves against other peoples performances or unrealistic expectations. Ultimately it is the person in the mirror you have to like and measure up against. I hope that paragliding and mucking about at a paragliding competition with likeminded people can add to that inner glow.