A report by Myrianthe Ewington
The week before the World Championships saw the final of the European Cup or as Andy Shaw described to me before we flew out ‘a small local CAT 2 competition that would be great experience’ for me to do my first mountain launch before the World Championships!
The previous two months had included two months of intense training into the World of Paragliding Accuracy. Flying at every possible good weather opportunity and promising family and friends that I would catch up with them in Autumn after the World Championships!
Upon arriving in North Macedonia and walking into the registration venue it became quickly apparent that this ‘small local competition’ was in fact the European Cup Final with 64 competitors. There was an instant continuous stream of high fiving and warm handshakes as international competitors, recognising Andy, came over to say hello and catch up. I was introduced to so many friendly smiling faces that I had no chance of remembering all their names but over the next few days I got to meet them all again and chat a little more.
On registration we were asked to pick our numbers from a pile of upside-down numbers. I could just about see number 34, so being my house number decided it was a good omen! Andy thought he had spotted number 50 but on picking it up, and turning it over, had got number 02. This was to work out really well for us (well me in particular) given this was my first international competition and first flight off a mountain!
Work commitments had meant that we had flown out the night before the competition started so my first flight from a mountain, that happened to be 4600ft above sea level, was going to be in Round 1!!
Up early the next morning we followed a number of the other competitors to the landing site. Given the previously busy day to get to North Macedonia and the lack of anything that resembled a large mug of coffee that morning, I don’t think the brain had quite caught up on what I was about to be doing. Andy and I walked round the landing site with Andy guiding me through the things I needed to be thinking about on landing. We listened to the morning briefing and then they announced which pilots were going up in which minibus. Andy being 02, was in minibus 1 and as they went through the numbers and allocated them to minibus 2 and minibus 3 they were back to minibus 1 before my number was read out. This meant that Andy would fly, we’d get the chance for a debrief, I’d fly and then we’d have a debrief before he went up for the next round.
It was warm at the landing site but there was plenty of cloud cover which meant I knew I would be flying in conditions I’d flown in the UK. Andy went up to the launch in the first minibus and whilst waiting for the first pilots to launch I found a quiet space to unpack my wing, from where it had been neatly packed in my suitcase, and get my kit all ready for when it was my turn to head up to the launch site. After all, I would have enough things on my mind when I got there, and I didn’t want any rooky errors to mess up the first flight. Once I was absolutely sure (double checked and triple checked) my kit was ready I packed it in the stuff sack and went to watch tentatively for the first pilot to launch. Shortly after Pilot 1 I could see the Green Dragon logo wing appear over the mountain top. So that’s where I’ll be launching from! I watched Andy’s flight path down and tried to take in as much information as I could about the area around the landing site and the route he had taken to the target. Once Andy landed, he talked me through the flight and gave me a couple of final points to focus on in the flight and then it was time for minibus 1 to head up the mountain. The bus climbed and climbed up the mountain and at that point I had no idea how high the launch site was. The other competitors in the bus clearly knew each other from previous events and Jimbo from Canada was already regaling various stories!
We got to the launch site and I was relieved to see how big it was. I took myself off to the top corner and watched competitors get ready and take off. There was a good solid wind coming up the slope and it seemed the competitors were taking off with ease. Reminding myself that they had done this hundreds of times before I knew I had to concentrate. However, during the previous intense two months of training I had done hours of ground training so I knew that I just needed to set my wing out properly, make sure my A risers were clear, my brake lines were pulled out, do my final checks and then focus on a good solid launch.
When it came to launching, Kiro Ginoski from North Macedonia clearly sensed my nervousness and came to check I was ready to launch. With the wind picking up Kiro made sure the wing popped up quickly then, before I knew it, I was running, the harness pulled tight, I had lift and was in the air! I’d done it, I was flying off a mountain!! I followed behind the previous pilot down the valley between two mountain tops at the end of valley and was pleased to see the landing site come into view. The air was super smooth, and I had time to check my wing and let the initial adrenaline rush subside and a big grin emerge on my face. So, this was what it’s all about, the view was absolutely stunning and there was time, so much time to fly.
I flew over trees, a large pond, a factory, the road we’d driven up and I still had loads of height as I was reaching the landing site. Right time to refocus, windsock, streamers, how strong was the wind? where was I going to lose height, what other obstacles did I need to consider. I took time taking it all in and headed slightly down wind to where I wanted to S-turn my height off. Not too far back as I wanted to make sure I didn’t fly short. It was easier to put in another S-turn to lose height than try and regain metres if I was falling short. So back and forth I went on my S turns, still keeping an eye on the windsocks. At the British Nationals I’d lined up my approach a fraction too early each time, so I held my final S-turn just a fraction longer this time before turning back and then into my final approach. Focusing on the target, I gently applied the brakes, gradually losing height, still on the wind line, coming closer to target, but with just a little too much speed I flew over the 5 m target and landed just outside the 10m mark. I’d done it! My first flight off a mountain and come within 11 metres of the target. It felt amazing! After signing for my score and packing away my wing ready for the next round, Andy gave me a debrief on the flight, the approach, what to work on next flight and then it was his turn to head back up the mountain.
So, it continued for the rest of the day between Andy and I, a blur of flights, debriefs, flights, debriefs all the while the score coming down with just over 6 metres on the next one and a final flight of the day at 3.9m – I was inside the target on my third flight off the mountain!!
The next day saw glorious sunshine and what was about to be a day of new challenges – thermals!! The confidence gained from the previous day in mountain flying was quickly unsettled in the second round of the day by a more ‘bumpy’ ride down the mountain. These pockets of warm air bubbling around were going to take some getting used to. However, I had noticed pilots starting to go over the brow of the hill on the left of the valley so watching their take offs carefully I joined them. I had plenty of height over the trees and could feel the lift as I chose to fly over the pathway in the trees. However, as I reached the end of the ridge the thermals were considerably more bumpier!! I still had plenty of height so applied a little brake and steadied the wing. The flight smoothed out and I relaxed. Not for long though, the landing was coming into range and I had to lose rather a lot of height! Same plan as before. Downwind of the target and S-turn the height off. Plan was going fine until the final S-turn when I hit a slightly stronger thermal and gained a few more feet!! I steadied the wing – however another S-turn was needed then to lose the height I had just gained!! Landings became trickier with a bubble of thermal when you didn’t need it or a little more sink when you were hoping for a bubble!! However, as the day drew to a close, I achieved a 3.53m.
With the amazing efficiency of the excellent launch marshal, Kiro, we completed 4 rounds that day.
The final day and the final round saw the order go in reverse and with the sun warming the air before we even took off, I knew I wouldn’t be fighting the thermals that the later pilots were going to be. This was the first time I had seen a final round in reverse order in a competition and I have to say it was really exciting to watch. The top pilots were all very close and when the final pilot, Marketa Tomaskova, from Czechoslovakia, landed with a 2cm score she didn’t know if she had done enough to beat the North Cypriot Umut Akcil. The shrieks of delight from her Czech team soon told her she had, and the atmosphere was fantastic. But it wasn’t all quite over. There was a tie for third place, so Matjaz Sluga and Felipe Arboleda went back up the mountain for a final jump off. Matjaz Sluga was successful in the final flight taking third place.
The meet director Zlatko Spirkoski, with his team, did an amazing job. To get the full 8 rounds in the competition with 64 competitors in 2 and a half days was brilliant.
The prize giving took place in the town square in Prilep and it was a glorious evening. As a ‘veteran’ of the sport and one of the original organisers (as well as competitor, team captain and coach) of the 1st Accuracy World Championships in Middle Wallop, England in 2000, Andy was asked on stage to present the medals.
So, the ‘little local competition’ that was in fact the European Cup Finals turned out to be the most amazing, skill stretching, adrenaline fuelled, vertical learning curve and fun warm up to the World Championships a new pilot could ever hope for!
None of which would have been possible without the fantastic coaching from Andy Shaw (CFI), Matt Bignell and Billy Elliston at Green Dragons Airsports, the BHPA and the team sponsors P.G. Fry & Company, Expat Academy, Green Dragons Airsports, Sportlite Parasails, UP Paragliders and Natterbox.