Stories Home

Field Notes for the US and Canadian Nationals.
By Will Gadd

When the 1995 flying season ends, one talented and karmically aligned pilot
will be the first North American paragliding champion. The title will be based
on the results from the US Nationals, held in Chelan, Washington this July,
and the Canadian Nationals, held near Golden, British Columbia in August. I
draw on a comparison of the two based on my experiences last year to aid other
competitors or recreational pilots and even out any unfair advantages I may have.

The most obvious differences between the two competitions after geography,
beer, and local accents are the rules. Because the Canadian Nationals are held
in a massive valley running north-south, most days are "open distance:" pilots
launch and fly with the prevailing wind, landing out in fields (avoiding the
one field owned by a farmer with a shotgun) after soaring above absolutely
stunning scenery for up to five hours. That's five hours of flying in the most
ripping, rowdy, fun, as-much-as-you-can-stomach thermals. The Canadian rules
are simple: Launch, fly down or up the valley, pin in on the official map, and
then argue about where you actually landed with the ten other competitors who
pinned the same position as you but whose landing field you flew over about
ten miles short of your own. Repeat for three days, with a race to goal the
final day and you've pretty much figured out the rules. No cameras, no turn
points, nothing but unadulterated flying.

The rules for the US Nationals involve arcane formulas known only to master
Jedi mathematicians: If you fly past a turn point but not toward the next turn
point, your distance is deducted from the square of the vector between the two
turn points plus a random integer chosen by a computer with the recalled Power
PC chip. Once you've figured that out, remember to have your retinas
laser-imprinted with the following critical camera sequences: "GLIDER. START

More seriously, you've really got to know how to take photos of turn points in
rowdy air to compete in the US Nationals. Lashing a disposable camera to your
riser the night before the competition is a doomed strategy as I found out
when I tried to take my first turn point photo and discovered that the string
I had taped from my riser to the camera was too short; I couldn't get the
camera to my eyeball without inducing large asymmetric collapses. Before
heading to Lake Chelan, practice holding both brakes in one hand while taking
pictures that include the ground but not your thumb, the start tarp instead of
the start tarp covered by your foot or nothing but black because you forgot to
take the lens cap off.

The rules for the Canadian Nationals were described in one twenty minute
meeting on launch. Take the time to read the rules carefully for the US
Nationals; there really are all kinds of seemingly strange but absolutely
relevant pieces of information that may affect your flying tactics. Train for
both events by flying in rowdy, mid-day air with plentiful but scattered
landing zones, and talking with more experienced pilots about their
strategies. Seemingly minor tips such as figuring out final glides can
suddenly become very relevant in the middle of a competition.

Considering these obstacles, perhaps it might seem logical to ask, "why
compete at all? Why not just go to Chelan and Golden and fly?" For me, the
answer is that competition flying gets rid of all the bullshit, the "I sunk
out because I had eggs for breakfast" routine, and focuses the pilot's entire
attention on flying. For the length of a competition you have nothing to do
that's more important than organizing your life to fly well; if you don't fly
well it isn't because you couldn't blow off that management meeting that
caused you to miss the best thermals. It's because you didn't recognize that
east facing slopes were shutting down and west facing slopes were really
starting to kick in the afternoon sun. Another reason is that the fastest way
to improve, according to several elite competitors, is to fly with large
numbers of pilots better than yourself in all kinds of conditions. Watching
Urs Haari thermal out of a sun-spot in the treetops or Rob Whittall control
his prototype Edel glider in rowdy conditions did more for my flying than days
of tethered ridge mowing ever could.

Of course you can always just do the fly-in at either event, but then you're
limited by competition windows, competition pilot priority and so on. If
you're a Class II or above pilot, fly in the competition and learn something.
If you're not, fly in the fly-in and learn something from watching the
competition pilots and flying big air at new sites. In either case, pay
attention to my:

Top five tricks for doing well at the US Nationals

1. Learn how to take turn point photos before the day of the competition.

2. Study the task very, very carefully, memorize it and write it on the map
holder strapped to your leg.

3. Write the photo sequence on your map holder and look at it before you launch.

4. Launch as soon as the first good pilot does, then dog his every movement.
Buy him beers if you both do well.

5. Fly in strong conditions before you go so you're comfortable focusing on
the competition instead of your wing.

5.5 Don't use a VOX headset; no one wants to hear you scream as you go
negative. It's discouraging and inconsiderate to share your fear. As Mitch
MacAleer reportedly once said, "Shut up and die like a man."

Top Five Tricks for doing well at Canadian Nationals.

1. Grill any member of the Muller family about flying in the valley. They're
the pros.

2. Study the map in headquarters for prominent landmarks. It's very easy to
lose track of your position, complicating pinning-in and retrieval.

3. Keep you radio tuned to the meet frequency, even if the chatter is a pain
in the ear. There's lots of valuable information there.

4. Listen to Willi Muller; he knows everything.

5. Love your speed bar on the crossings; sink can take on a whole new meaning
at Golden.

5.5 Fly actively; very actively.

If you could only do one event due to vacation constraints, I'd get a new job
and do both.

Will Gadd holds dual US/Canadian citizenship and survived both events last
year despite having flown for less than one year prior to that time. He now
flies an Edel Energy and looks forward to competing in the 1995 Canadian and
US Nationals.