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