part 5- Launch and Start Gaggles… HEADING OUT ON TASK

The launch is my most stressful time… I’ve worn a heart rate monitor and confirmed it. Its challenging, it has to be done in a short timeframe (2 minutes) and it is one of the more potentially dangerous parts of the days flying. That all said, I love launching, that moment that takes a bundle of fabric and string and it turns into a wing and within seconds has me flying, climbing and soaring… well, for me, that rocks!

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I love launching, that moment that takes a bundle of fabric and string and it turns into a wing and within seconds has me flying, climbing and soaring… well, for me, that rocks!

Having a process of holding your wing and risers, physically and mentally rehearsing spreading out, inflating and pulling up your wing in different conditions makes this moment easier and more fun. Practicing on your launch or just ground handling in a park to practice stepping forward out of the box and setting up and pulling the wing up in a 2 minute window, preferably less will be really good practice.

leadout gaggle

That space over launch, with lots of wings is spectacular and can get a bit crazy. You need to be able to breathe, relax, get your vision broad, you want to absorb as much information as possible and start to get the feel of the day. The flying before the start can be while the day is still trying to establish itself, the thermals might just be bubbles and a bit rough, the space for everyone to fit in and climb might be bit cramped… that’s ok, flying smoothly, being predictable and concentrating on the basics makes it easier on you and easier on others.

If I’m climbing, I just want to be climbing and assessing when the optimal time to leave the climb is. If I’m on glide, I only want to be selecting the fastest or most efficient line to the next turnpoint or climb. This is an area of weakness for me- I get distracted, especially halfway through climbing… I ‘reboot’ myself when I catch it, it gets easy to drift and lose what might be the climb of the day because it feels too comfortable too early. The first climb of the day is super important.

My optimal time to leave the climb is when I think I know where the next one is and I can reach it with height to pause if I’m early. I’ve been getting it wrong lots. Pushing past ‘the next trigger’ because it didn’t know you had your pulleys overlapped and arms tucked in, flying with teeth gritted doesn’t mean it has ignored you and is worth pushing on to a secondary thermal trigger site, waiting in ‘zero’s’ and consolidating is as much of the game as any.

Competition gaggles sort themselves quickly into like groups of like skilled/experienced and performance pilots and choosing who to have around you, or not, for that matter, can set the tone for the rest of the day. Getting to goal is THE GOAL. Flying fast to the first turn point and decking it gets you far less points than making it to goal… I know, I’ve tried it! Getting around the course and landing in goal means far more to yourself as a pilot and the sense of pride you will get regardless of how many others are there before you.

Identifying and recognising where you are vs. where you want to be early allows the ability to ‘change gears’ as necessary to reposition yourself as quickly as possible. The couple of wings you had around you and chose to go a different way or managed to climb faster and leave you behind doesn’t mean you have a dud plan or not flying well… there will be lots of us in the air and no-one has a ‘sure thing’ to get around the course. If you can climb and fly towards a turn point you will get there either slow or fast but you are only flying against you. Your mindset will make a huge difference to how far you get on any one day.


Recognising that you might have overstretched and got low, got ahead of some local weather conditions or your route has been shaded out can mean you need to need to speed up or slow down… change gears.

You might want to hold at the top of a climb and milk it for a while if you aren’t sure what your next move might be or want to gather some more information.

You might want to fly as fast as you can to get through some headwind or sink or back into the sun… Our ability to fly faster and slower needs to be an important part of our tactics.


 I had this written on a card in my caravan… I was doing it too often. In part it was a legacy to military training… not asking anyone else to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself. But that isn’t racing, this isn’t a ‘leadership’ test. Making good decisions about what is good for you to get to goal is what it is about.IMGP1807 copy



Getting to goal will make you feel cool, if you get there first or last, but make it to goal each day, you’ve won.

If you don’t make it to goal but you’ve launched and got a couple of climbs and made it done the course line a bit and land feeling like you’ve done ok… you’ve won.

If you’ve stood on launch and wondered if the conditions are too strong for you, it isn’t right for you to fly that day and you pack up and go back down… you’ve won. Keep making decisions that work for you.

You can measure your performance in rankings, or distances or hours flown but unless it is making you feel stoked to be part of it and you feel a sense of contentment in doing it. Racing paragliders around imaginary cylinders is only a vehicle… it is a paradigm. I do it for fun, I think it is fun. When it gets to a put where it isn’t fun I’ll most likely stop. That might be mid comp, it might be in 30 years time…. but I think I should be able to recognise it.

I really hope that some of my ramblings will have given you a couple of ideas to ponder on and might make your flying more fun and to do it more ‘conciously’.

Some links to other information I have liked along the way to build knowledge of competitions, weather, flying techniques are (in no particular order):

The list is in no way definitive- great ideas for flying can come from totally unrelated places.

If you would like to be mentored or be a mentor for the comp I’d love to hear from you.

For potential mentors I would like you to be able to:

  • do a gear check at the start and check that everything is in order.
  • have a chat each morning and have a chat about the days potential.
  • answer questions on launch about the task and provide a likely route and identify any hazards.
  • catch up at the end of the day and find out what went well, what didn’t, what needs fixing and what needs sustaining.

See you in February!