Monday, July 26, 2010

Kinsley ThomasWong Accident, How you Can Help

Kinsley ThomasWong, (many of you know him as Kinsley Wong) was involved in a very serious kiteboarding accident recently. Kinsley has always been very involved in advancing the sport of paragliding, especially in the early days with his forum on Big Air Paragliding. He was one of the first guys I met in the sport when I started 13 years ago, and has been a friend ever since. He's continuted to support the paragliding community even now with his on-line store and school. If you've met him, you know he's one of the happiest most optimistic guys around, and he always has a smile for you when you show up to fly, whether you're new or experienced. Below is a copy of a letter from paraglider pilot Marina Chang, who is setting up an effort to help Kinsley and his wife Jamie, please check it and, and check out the website mentioned in the letter for more information. Thanks everyone!!

Here's some video I took a couple of weeks ago while flying over Kinsley at Shell Beach, Ca


For those who have not been informed, Kinsley ThomasWong of Xtreme Big Air was involved in a kiteboarding incident in San Luis Obispo County, CA, on July 15, 2010, resulting in trauma to his head and spine. While his prognosis is uncertain, the medical costs and potential future care costs are immense.

To be proactive on behalf of the ThomsWong family, several friends have taken the initiative to reach out to the kiteboarding and paragliding communities for help. Though Kinsley has insurance, it is 30% co-pay until a certain amount paid is reached. Meanwhile the costs for the medevac, ICU, surgeries and upcoming extended-stay treatment in the spine care recovery unit in Santa Clara have and will continue to be been astronomical. Also, some costs of care and recovery simply won’t be covered by insurance, while long-term care needs could be a distinct possibility.

Many of us have been graced by Kinsley's selflessness, kiteboard/paraglide advocacy, passion for the ocean/air, and unique jovial spirit.

In particular, the kiteboarding and paragliding communities are considered Kinsley’s extended family. At the same time, we all realize that while we fly or kite solo, kiting and paragliding is a community sport where we have all likely been helped out of a jam by another at some time. Kinsley has elevated so many lives and has promoted both sports passionately, including the annual KiteXpo (Expo) in Pismo Beach. We would like to give back and hope you will join us in our outreach effort by donating to his health and recovery costs. Please also help us spread the word of this effort through your own networks.

We have created a website dedicated to Kinsley’s progress. Here, we will keep you all posted on Kinsley’s recovery progress on the Kinsley Condition Log and Blog links on the website’s menu. You can make comments on the blog link, or, post your own thoughts, photos, stories and electronic greetings (these are great to show Kinsley!) on a new facebook page we created just for this purpose (Friends of Kinsley ThomasWong). Under the “what you can do tab” on the website, you will find information on how you can help support Kinsley and Jamie through the Kinsley Thomas Wong Donation Fund.

Contributions can be made by check, paypal or directly to Bank of America. Unfortunately, donations to one individual for any philanthropic purpose, such as illness, are not tax deductable. But, donations are considered gifts and are not taxable income to the beneficiary. Additionally, unless the donation is specified ‘anonymous,’ at some point we will acknowledge those that contributed individually or through businesses (no amounts specified). All other information is confidential.

Donation checks can deposited in any Bank of America branch for the Kinsley ThomasWong Donation Fund.

If you want to send a check by mail, please make checks payable to Kinsley ThomasWong Donation and send to:
Melinda Thomas
26 El Viento
Pismo Beach, CA 93449

Thank you all for your kindness and support.

All our best,

Marina Chang, Steve Davies & Kipley Lytel

Marina Chang, Publisher

The Kiteboarder Magazine | The Ring Media

Monday, June 7, 2010

National Hanggliding and Paragliding Day

So, the first National Hanggliding and Paragliding Day was held over Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday May 29th. According to USHPA (United States Hanggliding and Paragliding Assosication), the date was perfect because it marks the beginning the of the flying season for the US.

Well, I'm not sure this time of year means the same for us on the Central Coast of California, as it does for other free flight sites around the US. I know there are plenty of spots that normally can only fly during the summer, and early fall months. We are VERY lucky here though, we can fly ALL year!! In fact, this is actually our low season relatively speaking, many of our sites are fogged in, and the mountains rarely work this time of year. That's not to say we don't get plenty of flying still, it's just not a BIG season opener this time of year.

With that being said, it's understandable why not many local pilots were really excited about celebrating the first ever national day for our sport. Especially with a forecast that suggested getting other things done would be a better use of time.

The core group still went for it! Jack Gristanti and I were set up to fly at Cayucos on May 29th, while some visiting paraglider pilots decided not to fly (good choice since they were fairly new pilots). Adam Dobbs joined us on top with his Hangglider. There were HUGE white caps forming on the water from the NW, while the winds at the top of the hill were still lightly offshore. There were more bugs swarming around at the top then I have ever seen there, and red clouds of lady bugs swirling around. They must have been attracted to Adam's hangglider bag, because several ladybug couples (and some threesomes, as pictured) were celebrating spring time. At least there was entertainment while we were parawaiting.

The flag at the top was showing a light NE wind, and I felt gusts coming from the SE, so I launched off the back, and swoop turned downwind to the beach. I arrived at the beach, about 10ft over, then hit the strong convergence and immediately shot up 100ft. With the size of the white caps, I felt it was appropriate to escape the block quickly and land. Jack launched shortly after me with a similar flight, and luckily didnt' get stuck up in the blockvergence. Adam launched his hangglider later, and surfed the block for a bit, but soon it was even too strong for him and he landed before it picked up any more.

SOOOOoooo, the flying wasn't great, but we HAD to represent our local club SLOSA (San Luis Obispo Soaring Association)and get in the air on the first National Hanggliding and Paragliding day, just for the history of it. Stoked to say both Hang and Paragliders were represented:)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cuesta Ridge XC Paragliding

Mike Harris, Jack Grisanti, Tim O'Neill and I got to Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo at around 10:15 to do some cross country paragliding. Making it to Mike Wilson's (Creston area) was the goal for the day. Tim and I launched our first flight around 10:30 into very smooth lifty air, though not a lot of sun showing through. Tim got high first and headed back towards Santa Margarita. I was getting high over launch as he was landing by the santa margarita airport. With the knowledge there was no lift for Tim, I decided to take a different route and went south of Launch towards East Cuesta. I got there at ridge height, but eventually climbed to base (probably around 4,000 at that point). In the wispies, I turned over the back (for a short while I couldn't really see anything, I must have had my eyes closed or something). I went on glide across the valley trying to connect with the hills to the east, but had to land on the other side of pozo rd. Jack came and picked us up.

TRY 2. We went for more, Tim set up his paraglider and was about to launch as we heard a shout, apparently John Hesch (hangglider pilot) had just launched, from where he parked on the road maybe? Anyway, Tim got in the air with him, and they climbed quickly.

I launched a little while after, and found lots of wind. I wasn't that motivated to go XC because I was parked in wind, but Tim said the wind was less at 3,500, and that he was going over the back again. Jack offered to retrieve again, so there went Tim, taking a similar route to his morning flight. I was low at that point, so I had to tank up for awhile. I finally caught a boomer, and with the strong wind, that thermal took me from in front of launch, all the way over east cuesta, I was turning the whole way. Didn't get to cloud base until East Cuesta, base was much higher this time (Tim reported base at 6000, just like John H reported).

Climbing to cloud base over the 101 freeway north of San Luis Obispo

Once I reached cloud base at East Cuesta, I was still drifiting pretty fast in the wind, so I immediately turned down wind over the back. Unfortunatley, I had nothing but sink when I went over this time, and came very low, within about 100ft of landing just on the other side of east cuesta. I found a small leeside thermal, the lift was violent at best, but I was motivated to try an catch up with Tim.

Almost sinking out

After several turns, and countless small collapses and one medium frontal, the core smoothed out, and was climbing steadily towards cloud base again. That climb lasted all the way across the valley into the next hills, these things were drifting fast!

After low save, looking back towards East Cuesta

I had not seen Tim since he left west Cuesta, and he reported that he would be landing soon, 7 miles short of Mike Wilson's (he was a good little xc pilot, and came prepared with GPS, and coordinates to follow, he'll have to post the exact locations of his flight). At that point, I was climbing just north of Lake Santa Margarita (I had taken a more southern route than Tim), and since I'm not really familiar with the area, I was trying to have Tim and Jack tell me over the radio which way to go to end up where Tim was...quite a comedy since neither one could see me, or tell exactly where I was. I climbed as high as I could, then turned back into the hills heading more North this time.

Heading Inland

As it turned out, neither Tim nor myself could pick up any more thermals in the small hills. It would only have been 1 or 2 more climbs to base to make it to Mikes, then the Valley beyond. There was lift, but the increasing winds were just making it disorganized.

We both landed near Park Hill Road, but never saw each other during the flight. Tim had made it to a landing area a little further along the road than where I ended up, and scored a ride for us back to 58 (good thing, because we both thought we were landing on 58). Wind was a little gusty on the ground, getting up to 15 or more at times. Made for an exciting landing for me...and I got it on video:)

Jack was nice enough to chase us around, even though we were giving him bad directions. Thanks Jack.

It wasn't a very far flight (though it felt far at the time), just new, over territory we hadn't been before. I find it very exciting to fly over new terrain, especially when I don't really know where I am, or where I headed, just going for it.

I think if we had waited another 40 or so minutes instead of launching the first time, we would have been able take advantage of the lifting cloudbase, and lighter winds, and we probably could have gone much further. But you just never know, so I'm STOKED with what we got. Beautiful day!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Strong Winds on the Central Coast

The wind has been CRANKIN' lately. The forecast for the last few days has been calling for gusts of up to 30mph or more. Not the best conditions for paragliding. BUT, we have still been managing to get some flying in!

Today and yesterday there was a group of really cool women that had all gone to college together at Syracuse in NY. They were reuniting for the weekend in San Luis Obispo. They found WingEnvy Paragliding on the Madonna Inn's website, and decided to come try flying. Honestly, with the wind forecasts, I told them it didn't look likely that we'd get in the air, but we could go check it out.

Both yesterday and today we showed up early at Cayucos. Yesterday it was slightly more wind early, so I flew my paraglider solo for a bit to test the air, then was able to get one tandem flight in. The wind was fairly strong for that flight, so we rescheduled the rest of the group for today. Again, it wasn't looking great, but we headed over there slightly before 9 am. As it turns out, it was AWESOME!! WE got 2 more tandem paragliding flights off of cayucos, landing on the beach for both. What a fun group to have as passengers. And, BIG thanks to Mike Harris for driving us up in his car, and driving my car back down.

Our timing could not have been better, just after our guest passengers headed off to celebrate over breakfast, the wind came blasting through. Love doing tandems...when the weather cooperates!

As a side note, if you're visiting our area, and looking for a place to stay, consider the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo, it's a unique, beautiful, and fun place to stay.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Paragliding in May on the Central Coast

It's been a great month so far! Yeah, lots of wind, lots of high temps, but still getting in the air!

Last week visiting pilot Jesse Boyd had his first high flight at Cayucos, a beautiful flight, along with local student Steve Johnson. Then student pilot Danny Heatherwick came out the next day with local Joshua Gwiazda, and visiting friend Bruce Bundy, those guys had like 5 awesome flights from Cayucos!

Monday I scored some pre-frontal paragliding magic, and flew from the main hill, to Hugh's Hill, to the Cayucos Pier, most of the time above 800 ft. Not bad for May.

Tuesday Jack and I scored a post frontal, pre fog flight at Cayucos, skimming along the edges of the fog bank. Didn't have my camera for that, but it was unreal imagery.

Wednesday Jack Grisanti and I played with the block. It was blowing about 20-25 on the water, and about 10 onshore, a big blockvergence was setting up. After working over highway 101 for awhile low, I finally heard that comforting smooth tone on my vario, I was going up, up, and away. I boated around over southern Cayucos for about an hour, then got low to surf the houses for a bit.

It didn't stop that day, I went back up and watched the hanggliders launch into beautiful air. The wind had come through by then, and those guys had a blast! So, it really has been a fun month here. Actually, so far, it's been a stellar paragliding year on the Central Coast of California!!

Bill Launching

Keith Emminger setting up to high five Sean Abellena (right corner)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SLOSA Road Work at Cayucos

Saturday was SLOSA road work day at Cayucos. With lots of rain falling this year, and increased 4x4 traffic on the hill, lots of new ruts and canyons were created in the road. Though it was till passable, we wanted to fill in the large holes in an effort to keep the road stable, and prevent further erosion. Road work over the years has been mostly done by a few local Hangglider pilots like Bill, Dave De, Keith, Morgan and so on. There have been a few efforts by PG pilots as well, including a large project headed by Bob Osborn. But, as use decreases by Hang pilots, the work on the road has decreased as well. Mostly due to the fact that the paragliding pilots can, and often do hike up (and lack motivation to do road work). However, we ALL want and or need to drive up sometimes, so keeping the road in good condition is a worthwhile project.

I was stoked to see such a great turn out for the work day, everyone was very enthusiastic.

In attendance; Bill Hartwick, Joshua Gwiazda, Jim Wells, Jack Grisanti, Mike Harris, Adam Dobbs, Tim O'Neill, Patrick Eaves and even a visiting pilot, Bruce Bundy!! Keith Emminger also came later in the day to do work.

The crew, using Jack and Tim's vehicles, placed several loads of rock into the road. Later in the day, Keith and Bill worked to cut back the bushes and trees from the road. There is still work to do on the road, face it, it's a never ending job. But we made a lot of progress. Awesome guys, thanks for all the work!! And of course, thanks to everyone who has worked over the years to keep the road up.

After working for a few hours, several of us went to fly Cuesta. The inversion kept us from getting to high, but it was a ton of fun. Adam Dobbs and Bruce Bundy both had their first Cuesta flights, Adam was on his HG.

Oh, I forgot to mention, if you missed SLOSA road work day, you missed the awesome treats and Starbucks coffee!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Morning Thermals at Cayucos

When winds are forecasted to be over 25mph by 11's a good idea to show up early if you want to fly. I had a tandem scheduled for Cayucos on Sunday, so Mike and I showed up at 10am to try and get in the air before it blew out. To our surpise, there were no white caps, even on the horizon. Just nice texture. While setting up, there were five or six turkey vultures coring up a thermal on the south side. There wasn't really any wind at the top, just thermal cycles coming up.

Mike launched, and was staying up, so Christine and I launched the tandem, I was figuring it would just be a sled ride. Really, I was happy just to get off the ground, after looking at the weather the night before and assuming it would blow hard early. As it turns out, the thermals were quite large and lifty, keeping us boating about the south bowl for quite awhile. It did start getting a little weak at one point, so Christine and I headed to the beach to land, and she had a nice treat; her kids and husband and written "Happy Mother's Day" in large letters on the sand. We used the sign as a run way, landing a few feet from her family. It was a great tandem flight. Mike landed shortly after.

We went back up the hill with Timo, and found strong, but still flyable conditions. We got high, I flew down to the knob just for fun. After about 20 minutes though, the wind increased enough that it was work to penetrate, so we all landed. Then it really blew hard. Super glad to have gotten in the air.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Paragliding Nose Guard

Yup, a nose guard. Sure, it looks dorky, but better than having to get your nose removed due to cancer, right? The idea isn't new, mountaineers have used these for decades. A local Hangglider in my area was wearing them before I ever started flying, and I can't believe no one shared the idea with me!! A few years ago I was at a comp with Greg Babush, and some of the guys were giving him a hard time. I went to see what the fuss was about, and that's when I saw his nose guard. I instantly wanted one, it just makes great sense! When you're in the air for hours at a time, especially rowdy air, you may not want, or be able to keep reapplying sunscreen. Yes, a hat of some sort to block sun from your whole face would be better...but doesn't always work with your helmet. For me, brims block my view, both of the wing if it collapses, and other pilots I'm thermalling up to. So the nose guard was a brilliant solution. Not to mention, I don't have to slime my nose anymore!

Now Greg said his was made out of kangaroo scrotum, or some similar type of leather...and I didn't have access to that. So I experimented with a few types of leather from my local store. Finding leather that is light and soft so it's comfortable on the skin, and hanging from your glasses, but heavy enough not to flop in the wind is key. I finally figured out what worked. Unless I'm doing acro, it doesn't flop. I LOVE flying with this thing. It used to be an hour or two into a paragliding cross country flight, I would be very conscious of my big nose sticking out into the sun, now I'm relaxed knowing I have protection.

These are not hard to make, I copied my design from Greg's. I couldn't tell you the exact leather I use, because I just show the leather guy, and he supplies me with more, so do some experimenting. I am also selling these for a small amount. If you buy one from me, it will come a little larger than most people will need, and you can easily cut it to size.

Beyond paragliding, I've been using mine for snowboarding, backpacking, cycling, and most importantly, parawaiting:)

SORRY, WE SOLD OUT OF NOSE GUARDS!  THERE ARE NOW SEVERAL COMPANIES THAT SELL NOSE GUARDS ON-LINE THOUGH...and I still HIGHLY recommend using them.  I've heard Beakos are good, but haven't tried them myself.  Thanks to those who ordered, and I'm sorry I'm unable to send anymore out!!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Will it Thermal Block, or Blow Out?

Unfortunately, Jack and I found only the sinking air behind the block today while paragliding at Cayucos. We both had moments while going over the houses and highway of wondering if we'd make the beach. That's the crazy thing about the block, it can drop you straight down at any time. We both made it though. Just in time too, the white caps on the water were growing quickly, and I'm sure the air was getting trashier. It's possible if we'd waited we would have caught the convergence line and been able to go to the rock...but it would have been howling when we landed.

I was stoked just to get off the planet for a bit, and even took my GoPro HD Chase Cam along for the ride.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More Pictures from the Monterey Shoot

Here are some great shots Steve Leonard took during the shoot in Monterey!

Launching the Tandem with Francis

Francis and I soaring with Nicky

Steve Leonard, Harrison Freedman, Francis Manapul, Nicky Moss, Patrick Eaves

Filming in Monterey

Friend and fellow instructor Hugh Murphy was contacted by a production company working on a TV show to do some paragliding work. Hugh thought I'd enjoy working on the set as well, so he brought me in on it. Hugh coordinated with the producers, and chose Moneterey, California as the location for what they needed.

The idea behind the shoot was very cool. The stars of the show are Steve Leonard and Francis Manapul. Steve is a Vet and has been a wildlife presenter for tv shows around the world. Francis is a comic book artist, exploring the wildlife and adventure world with Steve. In this episode, they are exploring the world of large birds. As a segment of the program, they wanted to fly with Nicky Moss, and hear her story of being attacked by eagles while she was paragliding! Nicky is champion paraglider pilot, she holds several titles, and is a very accomplished XC pilot.

The first day was blocked, so sat in frustration all day. The crew decided to extend to a second day of shooting in hopes the wind would cooperate. Hugh couldn't make the second day, so the pressure was on me.

Standing in a tandem harness, sweating, with 6 cameras rolling, mics and radios recording, production crew standing by eagerly, and waiting for wind... Talk about stressful parawaiting! Francis was going tandem with me, and we were trying to get us in the air at the same time as Nicky on her solo wing, for the scene. Nicky anchored for Francis and I on the first launch, which went smoothly, but we found no lift and landed quickly.

Then we parawaited for what seemed like forever, while the tension was building in fear that we wouldn't get the shot. Finally it looked like wind was breaking through the block. We set up as quickly as we could (which is still slow while getting all cameras and mics set). Nicky anchored for us again, which was great because the wind was picking up QUICK!! Francis and I got in the air and immediately sky-ed out over the launch, and were almost parked. Unfortunately, the wind on the ground was cranking, and Nicky wasn't able to launch. We waited in the air as long as we could (now sliding down/crosswind slightly), after explaining dragging procedures to Francis, we went for a beach landing. As expected, we were pulled on to our backs after landing, but only drug a couple of feet. Luckily Nicky had told Steve we'd need a hand, and he sprinted over to grab a wing tip. ALL caught on cameraS...of course.

It looked like at that point the day was done, as even the hangglider that had been soaring was landing. We had some footage at least, but not the shots the crew wanted. An hour later, while the crew was working on some ground interview footage, I noticed the wind was dropping. At the very same time I saw Nicky's head turn around too, and we both jumped into action getting our gliders ready. The crew saw this, and they all raced to get everything set up and rolling. Within minutes, Nicky was airborne, and soaring nicely. Francis and I launched the tandem quickly behind her. We were finally in the air at the same time, what a beautiful thing. We were able to soar together for around 15-20 minutes while Francis and Nicky talked over the radio. Then, the wind started coming back and we decided it was time to land. Our landing this time was picture I'm sure that'll end up on the cutting room floor. Francis was a great tandem passenger though, his take offs and landings were perfect and committed each time, so it made my job much easier.

At the end of the day, we got out my Artik 2, and did some filler shots with DOP Geoff Lackner (incredible photographer and cinematagrapher- Check his work out). Nicky and I took turns flying my Artik and open harness, which is much easier to manage when flying high wind touch and go-s on the dunes than her pod. It was great to end the day with Nicky smiling from having fun flights, and the crew smiling because they finally had the shot (I hope)....

More pictures from the shoot to come...

Setting up the helmet and harness cams in the parking lot.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Shell Beach, Great Views, oh, and some flying:)

Ah, Shell Beach. Dave Kornberg (picutred landing) had told me that it was on at Shell recently, so I decided to get there early today and give it a shot. It was relatively good today. And by that, I mean I drove all the way down there, and had several flights, so it's better than getting nothing. It was blocky, so flights were pretty short, 5-15 minutes at a time. And I wasn't really in the mood to venture south of the Cliffs hotel, and mainly just flew around the main ridge. At times, the convergence would build and I was able to get several hundred feet above the ridge, then it would of course get bumpy.

Dave Kornberg joined me after my first mini flight. We both took turns flying in between the blocks. My first flight was around 11:20, and my last flight close to 2pm. Jerry and Becky Elwood arrived just as I decided to call it a day, not sure if Jerry decided to launch. But it still looked do able.

Paragliding at Shell Beach has some really good things going for it, and some not so good things. I'll get some of the not so good points out of the way first. It blocks, and that in itself is a whole blog topic (or several). But basically, a warm bubble of air forms over the land, and prevents the cool ocean breeze from penetrating. It can come and go during the day. As this forms, it can get bumpy, and often very sinky meaning that you have to land unexpectedly. No problem if there is plenty of beach...but it can get sketchy at high tides and when the beach is packed with people. I've seen several pilots sink out in block, and run out of beach, having to land in water (very dangerous). It helps to be aware of the block forming, so you can keep your distance from the ridge and THE tree. In blocking conditions, you need to give yourself plenty of room since your controls will be dampened, and sink can cause you to drop quickly. And speaking of the tree, it has reached out and caught several of us, some with very unhappy endings. If you're a new or visiting pilot; I would HIGHLY recommend waiting to paraglide at Shell Beach until you've been flying for awhile, and had a chance to get some coaching from pilots who fly there often. It looks like an easy ridge, and for the most part it is, but knowing the bad stuff will save you lots of grief. Come check it out though, you'll learn a lot about the site just by watching.

Contact us if you're a visiting pilot and would like a site intro, and we'll get you hooked up!

So why do we love paragliding at Shell Beach? LOTS of reasons. We can drive right to launch, and walk about 20 ft from the car to set up in a beautiful grassy park. Assuming we don't get flushed to the beach in block, we land at the same spot we took off. Even if we do get flushed, the hike back up from the beach is just a few minutes. The view is amazing, ocean, hills, beautiful cliff top homes and resorts. On days when it's good, we can fly some, land to socialize, eat, take off for more, repeat ALL day! And probably my favorite reason to fly there, to see and be seen. Yeah, the people watching there is great (too great for some of us, distracting might be a better word), and it's always fun to have an audience!

Here's a video we took awhile back of the Shell Beach area, with Shell Beach itself featured in the second half. If you're craving more videos of Shell, Dave Kornberg has posted a couple as well, just search youtube for "lotusglider" to see his movies.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tasty Ridge Soaring at Cayucos & MDO

Jack Grisanti and I decided to try and fly Montana De Oro yesterday morning. We arrived at around 10:30, with a forecast of up to 40mph of wind, we wanted to arrive early. There was no wind yet on the ridge, so we decided to go fly Cayucos first.

Cayucos was blowing around 15 mph by the time we got there. I set up and launched at the lower switchback launch, and Jack went to the top. It was strong enough that I didn't need to kite up at all, I just turned and went. Jack was soon in the air as well. We boated around on the NW face, occasionally needing speed bar to penetrate. We headed for the beach when white caps started growing, and needed speedbar the whole way out.

I tried to soar the houses, but the direction was too north. So we landed, packed up, and headed straight to MDO. Turns out, it was epic there too! The thermal block was just enough to hold off the strong winds, and not block the winds completely. I flew until around 2, then decided to call it quits for lunch. It was still on, and Jack stayed in the air. As the MDO season comes to an end, it's fun to get some last flights there.

Please remember, if you're a visiting pilot, Montana De Oro State Park has special requirements for us to fly there, and being part of the local club, and getting a site intro from a local is mandatory. Thanks for helping us protect this flying site!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Thermal Flying At Big Sur, CA

(Big Sur Paragliding Video Below)
So, WingEnvy team pilot Mike Harris got the thermal bug after going on the dunlap trip, and wanted to do another trip soon. I suggested Big Sur, and he called my bluff by saying we should go this past weekend. And...we DID!!

It was sweeeeeet. We were joined by WingEnvy Team pilots; Tim O'Neill, Jack Gristani, David Kornberg, Jim Wells, and Hangglider pilot Keith Emminger. We all piled in Jack's car at the bottom and headed up. Keith has been out of flying for awhile due to injury, and wanted to come along to get stoked again. So he offered to drive down, which was great (not as great as if he could have joined us in the time).

At launch, light cycles were coming from all directions, and occasionaly stronger cycles from the back. Tim and Mike stepped up to be the first to fly. They found a thermal along the ridge, and worked together to take it above launch altitude! This was Mike's first time going UP at Big Sur (Big Sur is usually known for sled rides...). They really worked that thermal, and Tim stayed with it a little longer to be able to fly over launch. Lift was not abundant though, and eventually both of them had to work out towards the front ridge, then the LZ.

Jack was next to launch, unfortunatley I didn't get his launch because I was setting up. I pushed off into a very light cycle, but found a thermal just past the trees on the left. It was small thermal, with somewhat undefined edges moving about. I turned for what seemed an eternity before actually gaining altitude. Finally though, I was climbing steadily, and watching launch get smaller and smaller. I could hear Keith cheering, but his voice was fading as I gained.

At the top of climb, I was around 600-1000 over (no instruments to confirm, but Jacks car looked small and Keith was a dot). This was my highest climb at Big Sur so far, and the views were awesome. I started having visions of jumping to the back ridge and going XC. But as I headed East, I hit a headwind, and started losing lift. So I turned and headed out to the front ridge. I hit a couple small bursts of lift, but nothing that took me up again. After crossing the front ridge, I found nothing but sink all the way to the LZ...but I wasn't disappointed, it was an absolutely beautiful day! Oh yeah, did I mention I was able to wear shorts, and I was comfortable for the whole flight?!! I'm mean, c'mon, what a great day!

Dave K, and Jim launched while I was climbing over launch. Looked like they had nice smooth flights. It was Jim's first flight at Big Sur, and it seemed like a perfect day for it. Great job Jim! Dave's go pro was also overwhelmed by the beauty, and stopped filming.

We decided we were all satisfied with the first awesome flight, and didn't need make the long drive to the top for another. So we said good bye to Big Sur, and headed home. Let's do another trip up there soon, and get some more of the team together...while it's still green if we can!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Flying Paraglider Competitions

(Photo to the left by Tim O'Neill)
There things I don't like, and things I love about flying paragliding competitions.

What I don't like first. When people are competing, they often put a value on a day of flying based on how they, or you, did in the competition. I often hear things at paragliding comps like "Today sucked...", or "It was a bad day because...", or "oh, you had a bad day...". Granted, if there was an accident or bad conditions, I would understand phrases like that. But usually, people are talking about not scoring well.

When I fly for over 4 hours, in challenging but rewarding conditions, with great pilots, and I hear someone thinks I had a bad day because I didn't make goal, I have to ask..."REALLY?". I mean, cmon, it was an AWESOME day! Even days when I bomb out at a comp, I don't like to consider as bad. I flew, I was safe, it was good. So, I have a hard time with the mentality that someone has to feel like their day was worse than someone elses based on scoring. That seems to be okay for me in other sports...but not flying.

But, so far, comps are a case of the good outweighs the bad, for me anyway. I have learned more about thermal and XC flying in competition, than all the clinics and lessons I've had combined. In fact, I learn more in a week at a comp like the Rat Race, than I do all year on my own!

I have also met some great friends and contacts at comps. Yes, there are skygods that are too cool/aggressive/self important to talk to anyone not in the top rankings, but luckily they seem to be the minority. For the most part, everyone is very helpful and willing to share their knowledge. Even the top guys will often help you out, which is rare in any sport. And it was at comps that I made international connections, people I later ended up visiting and staying with around the world!!

Even if you don't fly in the comp...go to one. You can just watch, volunteer, even fly as wind tech (testing the air out for the competitors). At every level, there is something to be learned, whether you are brand new into the sport, or have been flying for a long time.

Check out Tim O'Neill's awesome guide for paraglider pilots new to competition HERE. It's very well written by an experienced comp pilot.

There are also some great races for newer comp pilots. One's I have attended and really liked are The Rat Race, and the Northern California Cross Country League.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paragliding with a Golden Eagle

My favorite local flying site is Cayucos, California. Why? Many reasons, it's easy to get to, hike or drive. It's close. The view is amazing, especially this time of year when the green hills roll off to the eastern horizon, and the ocean sparkles in tropical tones. But what I really love about flying at Cayucos is that it is different each time I fly there. Some days it's a lazy sled ride to the beach, some days it's blazing ridge lift for hours. And in the last several years we have really started figuring out the thermals there, which really makes it exciting. We are able to thermal out of the bowl started literally one or two feet from landing back up several hundred feet over launch. It's a great challenge, and great practice for turning in tight, small thermals.

Cayucos often has several resident birds to mark thermals, they often join us for a few turns. Red tail Hawks, and Turkey Vultres are the common local thermal birds. Turkey Vultures will turn in anything, and are often turning over food, so they will trick you into an area with no lift. Red Tails can core up in the smallest thermals, so I will often find that the lift they are climbing in is nothing more than a momentary blip on my vario. Both birds are still great fun to fly with, and often lead me to lift.

Today though, I noticed a larger bird coring up. I drifted under it and found a very nice thermal rolling up the west-northern side of the Cayucos hill. I turned a few times under it, checking it out on each turn. Unlike the other birds, this bird was not shy about getting close to me, or even flying right at my paraglider when I was falling out of the core. Reminded me of flying with comp pilots:) It was a Golden Eagle! It wasn't the first time I've flown with one, but it's always cool!

So far it's been a great week with birds, soaring with a golden eagle yesterday, Tim flew with Condor in Dunlap last week. Hope the locals don't get jealous of our new thermal partners...we still love you Red Tails and Turkey Vultures!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Brings Thermals

The WingEnvy Paragliding Team had a few great thermal days at Dunlap, and some other flying sites in the Sierra Foothills, California. It was absolutely beautiful up there, puffy clouds, green hills, wildflowers, and snow covered peaks. Awesome time of year to fly there. Check out the video!

The NEW WingEnvy Paragliding Blog