12 September 2010

2010 PWC Superfinal



The Superfinal is over. As I sipped on my last glass of sour cherry juice in Turkey, before my re-entry flight back to _normal_, I took a few moments to reflect on the past two weeks.

The Superfinal was the culmination of two years of planning, hard work, and some luck. Now that it is all over, I feel a little depressed. Not in a bad way, but I feel just a little blah. It feels strange to wake up and not have a super intense day of racing ahead of me.

But this is what I want. I like contrast, extremes, change. Well, change is envitable but I appreciate moving continuously through phases of experience. After some time flying my hangglider, I miss my paraglider. After some good racing, I miss boating around at my local site without instruments. After waking up early everyday during a competition, I enjoy sleeping in and sipping on an espresso while surfing aimlessly on the net. When I'm in Canada, I miss Brazil. When I'm in Australia, I miss Malaysia. Missing is just appreciating so having a lot to miss is something that I see as positive. A good sign. Imagine missing nothing.

Back to the Superfinal. It was the most intense competition environment that I have ever experienced, even when I was hardcore into hanggliding. The selection process leading up to the final forces this. You need to qualify for at least one World Cup event and then proceed to finish in the top 15-20 to qualify for the final. So everyone there is 'top 15-20' at the World Cup level. One hundred and thirty such pilots makes for a high level competition. The highest.. 508 pilots registered, 133 qualified.

Looking through the scoresheet I noticed that about 30% of the pilots are ex FAI World Champions, FAI Pre World Champions, World Cup Overall Champions, World Cup Event winners, World record holders, or national champions. About 50% of the pilots are what I would consider well-known pilots.

It is uncomfortable to leave my life and travel into unknown culture, language, and geography. It is uncomfortable to join the mega gaggles of top pilots and compete in nuclear conditions for two straight weeks. Very uncomfortable. Very fun. Spending time in the _discomfort zone_ allows me to stretch, to develop. My sphere of experience and understanding becomes larger. It has to be this way. If I am not evolving, progressing, changing I feel like a mummy. Stopped in time. I need to continually re-create myself and evolve into something different, newer, and hopefully better. Not just in flying, of course. But along every dimension of my life. Related to flying, the process that lead to racing in the Superfinal was a good example, for me, of what I need to strive for in other areas of my life.

I am going to Superfinal my entire life.

Day 11

The air was cool, there was a lot of high cloud, and the few cumulus clouds were low. Expectations were low but a task was set- a short task that ended in town, with elapsed time starts.

When the launch window opened all the priority pilots started launching. I had to wait.. then it started blowing down for over 30 min. But I managed to convince Xavier to let me launch from the far point of the launch, where it was somewhat possible to launch, as long as you could stay clear of the trees. The pilot right before me crashed into the trees and all the emergency guys ran over with a backboard to help him. I didn't even hesitate.. I just pulled the wing up in the crosswind, ran like hell, and dove forward off the hill. With all the speed, I missed the trees and then turned left into the lee of the mountain to find lift. Kinda cool, kinda stupid.

Conditions were light but they were working, at least. I slowly rose to base and started the task. Since we had elapsed time starts, I could start whenever I wanted. The shadow became thicker and thicker as the day progressed but somehow there were still thermals out there. I felt a little low at one point, gliding into the wind and needing to clear the edge of the plateau. Some patience and deep breathing got me through it.

Final glide was fun. Full bar on this glider is so much fun.. it's so fast.

Charles Cazaux was the fastest with a mind blowing time of 1:00:01. My time was 1:27:xx.

Stephan Stieglair and his Airware FR6.2 proto
The top overall pilots:

10055Yann MARTAILFRAOzone Mantra R10.2ALIXA / OZONE947944940982796
20371Jurij VIDICSVNOzone Mantra R10.2801947953998807
30016Jean Marc CARONFRANiviuk Ice Peak 4ABAC968938981911
40036Aljaz VALICSVNNiviuk Ice PeakABAC935954992998742
50457Christian BIASIITAGin BoomerangTrentino968902983930691
60030St├ęphane DROUINFRAOzone Mantra R10941924954919887683
70021Jamie MESSENGERGBROzone Mantra R10.2Bill & Darlene Morris954938979965730
80027Peter GEBHARDITAOzone Mantra R10Airecornizzolo/Salice Occiali965924976980
90035Raul PENSOVENOzone Mantra R10.2934933955997
100590Armin EDERAUTOzone Mantra R10.2RAM-C931924951967

Top girls

Top boys

Day 10

We woke up to blue sky and cool, fresh air. Rock on.

A 60 km ish task was called that took us out over the plateau to a turnpoint. It was light and tricky but most of the field made it through, except Nick Greece, who was dealt a dose of bad luck.

On glide from the startgate

Luc Armant and his Ozone Mantra R11.2 proto
Then we cruised along the main range, downwind and at base.. it was chilly and fast.

We continued out into the far valley to yet another turnpoint and then turned into the wind towards a turnpoint that was in the lee of the mountain range that we had cruised over at base.

This is when things went to shit. We were all gliding at full bar into the lee of a huge range, against a 30 km/h wind, low, towards rising ground. The area wasn't working, but our gliders were getting worked.

I 'timed out' of this part of the game and bailed downwind to the other side of the valley to hit base again and then deal with the wind in clearer air, up high, where I would also have more speed. It didn't work super well but I did have some fun soaring some 50 m hills.

One pilot made goal to win the task: Jacques Fournier.

Day 9

Heavy rain and thunder.. guess what? No fly fly.

The main result of the General Assembly: For the next 3 years the PWCA will use the Superfinal format with 5+1 events. Five qualifying events, spread out over the World, and 1 Superfinal event.

The events for 2011:

South Korea

Superfinal: Valle de Bravo, Mexico (Jan 2012)

The pre meeting tension was intense

Pilots and proxies voted with a vast majority in favor of the Superfinal format. Something like 164:63.

We have two more possible tasks remaining, but a second discard cannot be generated during the last 2 days of the competition.

Ancient Roman ruins above the limestone pools

Day 8

The forecasted winds for today were 70 knots up high so we didn't even go up the hill. Tonight the fate and future of the PWCA will be decided democratically. The big item on the agenda is the Superfinal versus Tour format. All 2010 PWCA members can vote; those not present may nominate a present member to act as their proxy. Each present member may carry up to two proxies.

Weathered tree

Day 7

More wind was expected today so we went to a new site that was 2.5 hours away from Pamukkale. What a beautiful site.

The flying site in Nikfer

A task was called that would take us along the main range and later out into the valley. It was strong on launch and pilots were dragged all over the place. I managed to get off cleanly in a smooth cycle and moved out into position for the start.

Positioning for the start over the valley: Luc Armant and his blue R11 proto

Unfortunately the wind strengthened to 40+ km/h and finally the safety committee decided to cancel the day. We all landed in town and had a BBQ courtesy of the town of Nikfer.

A lovely XC playground

I think I'm in Turkey

Day 6

High winds meant we could only try for a task from lower launch. After a last minute task change we were sent over the plateau toward the remote goal that we used on Day 3. We also had elapsed time starts, which created chaos near the startgate. Everyone wanted to start just a little later than everyone else, despite the approaching shade.

At one point I was climbing with Jamie Messenger in a rough thermal and he hit a massive surge of lift and came shooting up towards me. All I could do was turn hard out of the thermal and the bottom of my harness slid along his right wing tip. Phew.

After hitting the first turnpoint with Russel Ogden and Stefan Wyss, we dove back into the lower ridges to climb. The strong cross wind of 30-40 km/h made it rough. Quite rough actually. Eventually got up onto the plateau but we split up somewhat. Russ and I ended up low over the plateau in strong wind and light lift. It was fun, if a little stressful. Russ moved back out into the valley and I drifted towards upper launch, which was the second turnpoint. I hit the lower slopes but the wind was too cross to soar. I considered going over the tailwind edge of the plateau but the slope was lee, shallow, and tree covered. So I landed, going a little backwards, in a farmer's field. The air was a little rough down to the ground, but nothing too bad.

When I got back to HQ it looked like 5 pilots made goal. The tough part, I think, was getting over the second turnpoint, then the rest of the task would be downwind with nice clouds.

Sipping on a Redbull vodka in town and reflecting on today, I feel today was more intense than a competition task should be. Too windy, too rough, too everything. Someone just told me that some pilots have submitted complaints relating to the safety of today's task.

The legend Alex Hofer
I landed here on the high plateau in 40+ km/h winds
I walked through this village to find a road

Day 5

Rest day.

Old Turkish woman gets water
Grazing sheep
Day 4

A huge task today: 108 km. And there was a lot of wind, maybe a 25 km/h SW. The first half of the task was beautiful.. huge clouds, dramatic terrain, and some convergence cruising. There was a long leg over the plateau and into the wind, however, that we didn't quite manage to get through. Everyone landed near the far edge of the plateau, most within 2 km of each other. Alex Hofer won the day, again.

Tomorrow is a scheduled rest day and since the forecast is also poor, the timing is perfect.

Luca Donini didn't fly today, I'm not sure why.

Gliding against a 25 km/h wind over the plateau

Ozone Mantra R10.2
Looking along courseline
Day 3
More wind on launch today, which kept us grounded. But the task committee was optimistic so we waited, waited, and waited some more. At around 2:30 pm there were long lighter cycles that were launchable so the race was on. It was a 60 km ish task with a couple of turnpoints. Nothing new. But the goal was remote so we were able to fly over some new ranges and valleys.

Chilling at launch

For the first time in ages I nailed the start, high and seconds after the 4 pm start time. The first peloton moved quickly and soon we were halfway through the task and cruising at 2/3 bar through an area of convergence and still climbing slowly. The leg of the task took us into a wide, green valley, and the conditions became remarkably lighter. The lead gaggle had to stop to turn while some pilots who held back earlier were able to fly over. Some of the lead gaggle went on marginal final glides and landed a field short of the goal line. I had to stop for a bit a few kilometres from goal to climb to a reasonable glide angle to goal, in the 10 km/h tailwind.

Luc Armant crossed goal just before me, at 1 m above the goal line and landed going downwind by sliding on his feet in the dirt field. Pretty cool.

All pilots now carry a live tracking device that allows you to watch the race in 3D at: www.paraglidingworldcup.com

Got 953 points today.

Day 2
Desert flower
It was ridiculously windy when we arrived at launch today but the organization had hot coffee and tea to warm us up and promised that the wind would lighten. Sure enough the wind calmed a little and a task was called. It was somewhat similar to the previous day, perhaps a little short. I got to the startgate a little late and low but a few strong climbs brought me within reach of the main lead gaggle, except for about 3 that were ahead. Expecting the plateau to work I headed out a little lower when the lead gaggle left on final. Some good air brought me into a marginal glide to goal with much of it into a headwind.

While flying 2/3 bar into the wind over the plateau I lost my glider for the first time. It was pretty smooth so maybe I wasn't paying enough attention but I didn't notice it coming. It balled up, and reopened with a huge cravatte. I tried countering it but it started to wind in quickly and the Gs started to build. I followed through to stall the whole thing, the cravatte cleared, but I didn't check the surge well enough on the exit and ended up with a huge cravatte on the other side. I stalled it again but got a twist when the glider fell back. I untwisted and this time caught the surge despite losing one of the brakes. The cravatte wasn't clear but was much smaller, which I was able to clear with a few deep pumps.  My max descente rate was -17 m/s (60 km/h).

I lost a lot of height but I could still clear the edge of the plateau, into the valley. My numbers weren't even possible now and the rest of the glide was in the valley, which tends to be quite stable. Flying very delicately, and repeating to myself 'I am Helium.', I reached the last turnpoint but eventually landed 6 km short of goal, with Stephan Stieglair and Yassen Savov.

Waiting at the startgate
CB in the distance

Day 1

We had difficult launch conditions today. Adrian Thomas blew his launch and had 37 stitches to his lips, a female pilot thought she had sprained her ankle during a botched launch and relaunched only to find out after she landed that she had actually broken her leg. Gin did some kung fu tumbling down and through the rocks at launch but was ok.

The task was strong and fast, lots of glider blowouts. There was a tricky bit that caught some pilots out, really good pilots, but other than that the task was fairly straightforward.

There are many new 2-liner gliders here, notably from Gin, Niviuk, Axis, and Airwave. They all seem to have amazing performance.

I flew most of the task at 2/3 bar and final glide at full bar. Man, my R10.2 is fast at full bar. Andre Rainsford won the day and about 100 pilots made. The level of the pilots here is amazing. The top 15-20 or so from each World Cup have been invited to this Superfinal. When I look down the scoresheet down to last place I recognize most of the names as being hot pilots. I managed a 906 point day, so I'm happy.

Official Practice Day

Samuel Nascimento over the white rock
I went up the hill to fly but the launch conditions weren't the best. Luca Donini and Richard Gallon took advantage of a 15 s window to launch from another side of the launch. I think they were walking back towards the buses, saw the wind blow up the side of the hill and took it! Most of us later launched from a lower launch, called Dynamite. The name made me nervous but it wasn't too bad.. I saw some dodgy launches but nothing ridiculous.

It was a nice chill session after all the stress at upper launch and waiting around in the heat with the wind blowing down.

Dynamite Launch
We were able to fly over the limestone rock and turquoise pools again.

This time we landed on the other side of the road from the official goal field, in a green field, to avoid the moon dust. Much better.

Pleasant LZ

Day Off

I took the next day off to get organized and hit the gym. Except there was no gym in Pamukkale so I had to search for on in another city. And I found a really nice one.

First Flight

I woke up the next morning literally flying out of my bed in anticipation of flying Turkey for the first time. At breakfast I met many friends whom I have not seen in a while; we could barely speak fast enough trying to catch up and talk about all the awesome flying we were about to do.

The ride to upper launch took about an hour and when we arrived it was blowing down hard. At first I was convinced we wouldn't be able to fly but eventually some nice thermal cycles began to come up the slope of launch. It was actually the last competition day of the Russian Open but I was keen to fly the task because flying a real competition task is much better training than flying around aimlessly trying to get to know the area.

So good to be in the air again
It is an amazing feeling to be immersed in the sounds, smells, and energy of a new place. It is all unknown and yet all known. Wind is always wind, sun is always sun, and sky is always sky. But there are many flavours in life and today had a flavour that I hadn't tasted before.

The task was really fun, we climbed as high as 3300 m, and from that height I could see how interesting the terrain was in every direction. I hope that the tasks will extend into these interesting areas during the Superfinal.

Midway along the task I was cruising at 3300 m along a high plateau, with a huge grin on my face, when I suddenly realized that this time my Dad would not be around to cheer for me. My heart went into free-fall. Although I am an adult, the realization came that I am now an orphan and doing it alone.

I left my camera at the hotel but managed to dig my cell phone out of my pocket and take a few photos without dropping it!

Limestone rock and turqoise pools near Pamukkale
Arriving at goal, I soared a small hill made of white limestone rock that had many natural pools with turqoise water. This area is famous for these pools. From the air I could see hundreds of people sun tanning and swimming. While packing up my glider I heard the evening prayers broadcasted by loudspeaker from a mosque nearby. I'm used to this, having grown up in Malaysia, but this was the first time I have flown in an Islamic area.

What I have noticed is that Turkish people are very friendly, happy, and helpful people. Inspiring.

I will be using my SPOT during the Superfinal. 

My Share page is here:

You will be able to track my flights during the competition. Every 10-20 min my exact location is sent via satellite to the web and superimposed upon a map.


I know so little about this part of the World
I love traveling. The long red-eye flights, changing time zones, unknown languages, airline food, and sleep deprivation put me into an alternate state. It feels as if I am staying still and my surroundings are changing rapidly around me. It is a strange feeling. I can be left alone with my thoughts because, well, there really isn't much else to do except think. Sometimes my thoughts take me to strange places.

At one moment I looked out the window of my plane and saw a small plant growing through a crack in the asphalt runway. I was impressed by how a small plant could emerge from underneath a laid runway and survive the heat, noise, and high velocity gases from jet engines that pass by every few minutes, 24 hours a day. I decided that I will appreciate the good things in my life and not feel that my situation is so difficult. I then realized how similar runways are all over the World and how wherever you are physically doesn't make as much difference as the people you are with. I decided to focus on being close to the important people in my life, rather than being in my favorite locations on the planet, but alone.

I boarded a 2 am flight from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai, experienced what real heat is like, then a flight to Istanbul, where I discovered what olive oil in excess is, then a domestic flight to Denizli. A taxi ride later I was standing in front of my hotel in Pamukkale, Turkey, where I will be spending the next two weeks racing with the best paraglider pilots in the World. Ah, life aint too bad.


In a few days I leave for Denizli, Turkey, for the Superfinal. After racing the Pocos de Caldas and Chelan events to finish 8th in the Americas Continental World Cup, I was invited to the 2-week Superfinal. Qualifying for this thing was my objective but I wasn't planning on going; but when I received the invitation it was clear to me that I _had_ to go. Now that my blog is private and only my VIPs are reading this, I can take this blog thing to a whole new level. Uncensored stories about the pleasure, pain, and raw experience of traveling the World in search of perfect skies.


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