There are a couple of coastal flights in Victoria that have the "legend" status. The flight from Southside take-off, Bells Beach, to Lorne certainly is one of them. It has been done many times by hang gliding pilots but only a couple of times under a paraglider.
The weather conditions need to be just right for it to be remotely possible: ESE wind with good wind strength.
I was test flying the new mini-wing from Flow Paragliders - the Yoti 2 on the Surf Coast and decided to sleep the night at Aireys Inlet. It was a beautiful Christmas day in good company and awesome flying. In the evening I got the message from Jan that they are going to try the run early next morning.
We met at Southside at quarter past seven. Conditions looked perfect. If anything a bit on the stronger side for the type of glider I was flying. I brought my old and trusty competition glider, the Niviuk Icepeak 5 with me. The only issue is that I'm about 12kg under the weight range on it after my recent 14kg weight loss. Great for light days when I'm just floating above everyone else with ease but not so good for strong days. Well... not so bad either considering that it's one of the fastest normal size paraglider wings ever built.
As usual I was the first one to be ready so I launched into a strong ESE cross-wind and waited around the corner for Jan to join me. We decided to push direction Torquay first. Because of the strong wind and being so light under the glider I needed to stay much further in front of the ridge than Jan, which meant I was constantly outside of the optimal lift zone. Jan was always a bit higher and faster on his Cure. In some places I needed to open my trimmers all the way and push full speed to get a couple of km/h forward speed. It was a slow going but the setting was beautiful. The tide was high and landing options were very limited but in strong wind it wasn't really an issue as long as it didn't go too cross.
We turned around at Torquay and flew past other pilots on the way back to Southside. At Point Addis we slowed down to see how high we can get before crossing direction Anglesea. As we were searching for best lift zones other pilots joined us. We were getting reasonable heights but nothing spectacular. I left on glide towards Anglesea with 250m ASL and I wouldn't have made it to Anglesea without gaining a bit of extra height on the way there. With so much cross-wind it's quite tricky to gain anything. Lift bands are really narrow. Make the turn a tad late and you end up losing height instead of gaining it. With the wind being on the stronger side it was quite a challenge.
I arrived at Anglesea with not much height to spare, losing most of it in those last 200m before the headland. A couple of minutes later Jan arrived much higher than me. He took more time to gain a bit of extra height at those cliffs on the way and possibly picked a better line.
Anglesea was the critical decision making point. Should we continue on towards Aireys Inlet or not? As much as we tried we weren't getting really good heights above the headland. This was my first time flying this bit of coast and I wasn't really confident I was going to make the long glide to Aireys. As we were ridge soaring more pilots joined us - Noah and Dave under their TripleSeven Rook 2's and Nick under his TripleSeven King. I was a bit sorry I've left my King at home. It would've been a proper Triple Seven gliders fly-in. It's just that I use my King only for inland flying.
So there were 4 experienced local pilots flying with me. Jan and Dave have made the flight to Aireys before and I was wondering if they were going to go for it or not. I was at 170m ASL and in a good position for a glide when Dave, same height as me, went on glide. It was a no brainer for me and I peeled off the headland straight line over Anglesea towards Aireys lighthouse. It seemed an impossible glide. There's pretty much no ridge all the way to the start of Aireys Inlet headland. Only a long stretch of beach with a small bushy sand dune sticking out, most of it cross-downwind relative to the wind direction, meaning it won't produce much lift, if any. If it wasn't for the sandy beach promising soft landing options in case of down wind bombing-out I would've never committed to the glide. I picked the most direct line to the little sand dune, hoping for the best. Dave picked a line slightly more inland and was losing height faster than me. It looked like he got spooked a bit and ended up leaving the glide line, turning towards the beach more, which costed him additional height. He ended up bombing out on the beach while I was on a death glide just above the sand dune. I was screaming cross-down wind, my feet almost touching the bushes, in just enough sand dune lift to keep me going. The Aireys headland was nearing fast and hope started arising inside me. It looked like I might just make it. Next thing I was there, in the safety of the orange coloured sandstone cliffs ridge lift leading to the Aireys Inlet Lighthouse. As I reached the low headland I looked back and saw Nick on the same death glide as myself moments ago. But instead of just going for it at one point he decided to turn upwind. He later told me he started getting second thoughts about that crazy downwind glide and thought if he turned upwind he could gain some height. What happened was the opposite. The turn had costed him the more than needed height and also put him outside optimal (and very narrow) lift band. He landed a couple of seconds later.
I enjoyed the relaxed ride, happily gaining height again, flew over the Lighthouse and waived to some kids having fun trying to punch a hole into a trampoline down there.
The next part of the flight was strategically the most challenging, which is why only a couple of pilots were able to make it in the past. The first part of the glide is pretty much all down wind and in the lee of Aireys headland, which means sink and rotor down low. I gained as much height as I could and then instead of trying to avoid lee side sink by pushing forward decided to fly straight line and over it. I wanted to get to the start of Fairhaven headland as inland as possible to catch any lift coming from any wind facing slope and house surface. That did the trick and I arrived to Spion Kop take-off without losing too much height. In front of launch I worked my magic to gain some height for the next crossing, which is probably the trickiest of all.
The treed headland is a fair way in from the beach but what makes it that tricky are all the powerlines along the road, some rising up to the million dollars mansions on the hill. The only way to make that crossing is to hug the hill with possibly little chances of making it to the beach if you don't hit enough ridge lift to glide across. The coastline is starting to look so amazing here though. Treed hills rising from the Ocean. Simply beautiful. The last hurdle before Lorne is getting past Eastern View point headland. This time it was the easiest part of the flight. With plenty of height I cruised around the pointy headland, waved back at the people standing on the scenic lookout below and leaned back for the joyride to Lorne.
The last part of the flight is really what it's all about. Beautiful scenery, clouds hugging the hinterland hills while I'm flying the comp glider with hands off the brakes. I was able to venture out over the ocean without loosing any height. Sweet life. :)
By the time I got there the wind ended up having a bit more Southerly component in it which meant that the flight past Lorne towards Apollo Bay will remain but a dream for this paraglider pilot. Non the less I was more than happy with how far the day has got me. I cruised into Lorne easily, flew over the pine trees on the beach and landed on the manicured grass at the surf club grinning from one ear to the other.
After the landing I looked up at all the Coffee shops and realised I could use a breakfast. At that point I also realised I've left my wallet in the car. Bummer. But then a thought came up. Westpac has this option of "cardless cash" at the ATM through their app. I thought to myself Wouldn't it be nice if there was a Westpac ATM in Lorne? So I looked up to the shops in hope for spotting a red W. Well, when things line up, they line up all the way. Sure enough, there it was... the red W waiting for me to help myself with a bit of cash for a well deserved morning coffee. It was only 10am anyway.
Later on Nick and Jan flew to Lorne as well, relaunching at Spion. Dave came to pick us all up. Thanks guys for a lovely experience and a new Southside Paragliding distance record.
What I'm writing about here is in contradiction with what some XC gurus have to say about XC flying.
On the surface level I’m talking about the difference between not having a plan or a goal on an XC flight and between having a plan or a goal to aim for on an XC flight. On a deeper level I’m talking about the difference between being alive and in the moment in our lives on one side and being on a carrot chase on the other. There are worlds of difference between the two although many may think that living for or towards something will get them to a better place in life. If you are one of those, let me tell you something: the best and the only place to be in life is right here, right now and when you find yourself living the dream it’s still right here, right now. So, here we go…
I almost never have a plan. And when I do my flying isn't as relaxed and in tune with the moment as when there isn’t a plan or a goal in the back of my mind. Why? Well, being in the moment means there’s nothing else going on than what’s presently going on. What was that? Let me put it in other words… Having a plan or a goal will inevitably color the present moment with an intention and there will be a program in the background running. Being in the present moment means being empty from all thoughts and emotions and being here and now and it also means feeling it all… feeling what my 5 senses are telling me about my environment and what and how I feel inside: feeling the air around me, feeling my breathing, my abdominal muscles, the tension in my legs pushing against the pod, the warmth of the sun on my skin and the chill of the wind, the tension in the lines and whatever the glider is saying to me… all of that and more.
When I’m being in the moment up there in the sky, I’m going with the flow and I’m flying with an empty mind, allowing my intuition to tell me things, relying on my “gut feeling”.
You see I'm not saying I don’t intimately familiarise myself with all the options of a long XC flight. I'm saying I know my options but do not force them into a plan. Even if the plan has A, B, C,... variants. Instead I allow myself to "forget" those options, empty my mind and become present in this very moment.
Don't worry, you can't really forget anything. But you may find out that getting all that mental crap out of your head and being in the moment is the hardest thing you will ever do. It’s like “loosing your head” while making love to your loved one. Everything else ceases to exist, you don’t know who you are anymore, there’s only the dance of love. You are out of control yet you don’t feel fear anymore. It’s the best feeling in the world. The second best feeling in the world is that low save, being at cloud base again, when 5 min earlier you were about to land somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Like most things in life, getting there is a process. It takes some practice, good will and good old trust to do. That and never giving up. Ever since I've started flying like this my flying has improved immensly.
Most PG pilots are men, and what us men seek most is control. Letting go of it seems contra productive and not a safe thing to do. “What if…” is the constant Devil’s voice inside our heads telling us we need to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. But trust me… the worst-case scenario is not being present in the moment when things don’t go the way we wanted. Control is nothing but illusion anyway. It doesn’t exist, it never did, and it never will.
The second thing us men want is recognition… someone recognising our value in this world. We are constantly comparing ourselves with others in terms of evaluating our place in the world, hence all the competitive behaviour. But the funny thing about being recognised is, the more recognition we get, the more recognition we need. It’s like a drug and it’s hard to let go of it. That’s one of the reasons I don’t fly competitions. I know my ego and also know that when it takes over I’m nothing but its puppet. Being in the moment while the ego is running the show is impossible.
Some experienced pilots say having a goal keeps them motivated. The way I see it is that if you need any type of motivation other than the joy of flying you are not flying because something deep inside enjoys the feeling of freedom up there in the sky. No, you are flying because you feel there’s something missing inside you and you are searching for something to fill that emptiness. Let me tell you something… flying isn’t going to do the job. In fact, nothing is. As soon as you need any kind of motivation, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. There’s no reason I’m going flying, same as there’s no reason I’m living but life itself. I’ve dreamt about flying ever since I was a kid and when the first opportunity came along I started doing it.
I go out there to fly, have fun and enjoy the moment. I let kilometres take care of themselves. And they do. It’s funny… when you let go of wanting something it comes to you naturally.
There is one thing that happens as a side effect of being in the moment… It’s “being at the right place at the right time”. Some people call it luck, some people call it good timing, but regardless of how we call it, it’s a crucial ingredient of every good flight. You can be the best pilot in the world, if you came somewhere in between cycles and there’s no lift around, you will be on the ground shortly after.
Here are a couple of steps I take in the process of going out to fly...
Always one step at the time:
1. Choosing the right take off on the day... I check all different weather models for different areas first. Most of the time I will also check with local pilots on what they are up to. After that I will choose one of the take offs that simply “feels right” for no obvious reason whatsoever. Mind you, I’m one of those pilots that don’t mind being on a take off alone. If you don’t have enough experience, skip this step and join other more experienced pilots.
2. Choosing the right moment to take off...
I look around and observe the nature, clouds, cycles coming up the hill, animals (butterflies, cicadas, birds). Again I allow myself to feel what the nature is telling me and most of the time I will get my "feels right" moment quite soon. If I feel "off" for whatever reason I don't launch. Doesn't matter if others are flying or not, if it looks perfect or not. If you are not sure, not feeling right, don't do it. Sometimes I stay just long enough to get the feel for the day sometimes it's longer. It can be anything from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the conditions and the way I feel.
3. Finding the first thermal...
Most of the time it’s "right there" and I'm flying straight into it after taking off. But sometimes I need to make split second decisions which way to turn in search for it, especially if the take off is at a low hill and turning the wrong way means being on the ground a couple of minutes after. In those moments I don’t think about which way to turn, I just do it based on my feeling. Naturally I always observe whether there are trees moving anywhere close by or a bird or anything else showing me the way. But in general, the flow of energy in nature will always follow the path of least resistance. I do the same. I turn in the “easier direction”. Not the safer one or the logical one, simply the easier one. You see, thermals usually suck the air around them inside. Especially close to the ground. So I allow myself being sucked in. It requires a lot of experience some will say but I believe a rookie with a good feel for the air and being present in the moment can do a better job at it than an experienced pilot used of following the same routine over and over again. Give it a go and see for yourself.
Depending on the strength, width, shape and drift of the thermal, I will make my first XC decision of the day. If it's a strong one I can core easily and I'm happy with the height I gained at the top of it, regardless whether it's a blue day or whether there are Cu's around, I will commit and head over the back. If it’s weak or broken up or has too much drift or anything else I'm not happy with, I will stick around the hill in search for a better one. Long periods between cycles and/or weak conditions mean I need to be patient and make the most of whatever I get. Turning in zeroes might just be enough to stay up until the next good thermal comes through.
5. The glide to the next thermal away from the hill... is the most demanding part of the XC process (not thermalling as some may think). Some people call that part decision-making.
I never stop observing nature around me and as I reach the top of the first thermal my "feelers" start reaching out in the direction I'd like to fly to. I'm searching for signs that will point me in the right direction. Sometimes they are as obvious as the growing Cumulus in my reach or a circling eagle or another paraglider in a thermal. And sometimes it's up to the “gut feeling” again. Many a times the second thermal is at a known location but the further away from the hill we are the more crucial is the ability to read inner and outer signs. There's a saying that goes something like: "When high fly the sky, when low look below”. In other words… when I'm flying above the half way mark between the ground and cloud base I will follow the clouds and when I get below that altitude I will search for triggers on the ground. But… What to look for? This is where the experienced XC pilots will start telling you about signs and thermal triggers and so on… It’s all valid, but I will go a step further and tell you to “forget” all that.
Instead, I let go of the logical mind and let go of what I know and allow myself to become "funny". I empty my mind (I’m sure if you saw my face at that stage you would piss yourself laughing) and search for something that catches my attention: something that looks more beautiful to me, shines more,... for example I see a paddock that has a colour of green that’s just too green to be true. I feel drawn to it. Then I will commit flying in that direction and keep flying the best lift line in that direction even if I hit big sink I can't escape on the way there. Hitting sink is always a big test.
The biggest mistake most XC pilots make is change their mind because they've hit sink. I'm not saying don't change your mind ever. I'm saying: change your mind only when you've found something better than what you've had until now and not because you want to escape something you've got right now. Changing your mind because of your fear you won’t make it there is not a good way to go. Naturally don’t put yourself in danger. This is the tricky part in the whole story… How do you know your feeling is right when it could be just your imagination and you are in fact doing something stupid? I can’t give you the answer to this question. No one can but you. And as long as your head is full of opposing information and voices you can’t either. It is a process like everything else. You will get there. Step by step.
Have in mind there is always a price to pay for everything and a reward that comes with it. Being in the moment and feeling alive and filled with joy and love is all the reward I need. From that space of abundance I also feel the need to give some of that to others. It’s a natural pull of giving. Very fulfilling.
Most of the time I will get the next thermal close to where I wanted to get it or I will allow myself being led towards it. If I bomb out, well, that's the magic of XC flying. You never know where it’s going to lead you. It has led me to some amazing XC flights in the last couple of years.
At the end there's only one more thing to say... the attitude I have in flying will affect my attitude in all other aspects of my life. Life is not linear. Change one thing and it will affect everything it touches. Change yourself and the world will change. Be yourself and life will be a reflection of who you are.
For most beginners it’s simply the landing area, where one celebrates a successful flight. They call it the official landing zone. No dramas there.
For experienced pilots it’s simply a place they end up landing at occasionally. They don't call it anything. No dramas there either.
But for majority of pilots, those with a bit more experience but not quite there yet, it’s the "shameful place", the place for losers, the place for those who can’t do it, and the place you want to avoid at any cost. If staying up in the air is the “PG Heaven”, then the bomb-out is the “PG Hell”. When you hear these pilots talk of the bomb-out, their noses move up and to the side like it’s dog shit are talking of.
I’ve landed in the bomb-out of every single site I've flown from so far and many, many others; some nice and some so hairy they couldn't be called a landing place at all. Regardless of how far I’ve flown; if the day still had some juice in it when I’ve decked it, in my eyes, I've bombed.
What would we do without bomb-outs? Certainly not flying. So, the bigger they are, the better. I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
Bombing out is a part of the game. Brings adventure and humbleness to the sport. Imagine not being able to bomb out, being able to fly in any direction and staying up in the air for as long as you wanted. You may say, “Yeah, bring it on!!!” Birds do it, but hey, they do not have the Ego. Mate, would my Ego boast!
The hardest thing for the Ego is actually not the fact that you've bombed. The worst thing is standing there and looking up at all the other pilots still flying, even if it’s just a single one. “They/he/she must be better than me”, says the evil voice inside the head. It’s the never ending comparing with others.
I've been listening to this voice for 17 years now and regardless of how good the flight was, if there’s a single pilot still above my head after I’ve landed, the “what if” voice will start chattering away. I've become accustomed to it and as long as I don't identify myself with it, it doesn't bother me much anymore. It’s there and it’s doing what it always does: trying to annoy the hell out of me.
Coming back to bombing-out… It’s a process, like anything else, and it can be either a painful or a great experience.
Let’s have a look at the painful, emotional one first.
For most pilots, the process starts way before they've even launched. It may be a light day. The cycles are inconsistent and weak and pilots are waiting for someone to sacrifice himself and play the “wind dummy”, especially if the day was forecasted to have good XC potential. People want to fly but the “threat” of bombing out is looming in the back of their thought process. It’s the so-called negative focus. This negative focus of wanting to avoid bombing sets the tone for the whole episode. You know the old Instructor’s saying: “If you don’t want to land in the tree, don’t look at the tree”.
Trying to avoid something puts that same thing in our focus and on a subconscious level we are stepping into the exact scenario we are trying to avoid.
The catch is always in our (negative) expectations (or goals if you want). This is where we come off track. Every expectation carries a seed of disappointment inside. Now, some people are talking about positive expectations and negative expectations. There’s a whole world of literature out there that talks about visualisations and creating our world and so on and so forth. In my experience it does work this way but the biggest issue is that what people call positive expectations carries a whole iceberg of negative expectations underneath the surface.
As long as we don’t deal with expectations in general and in depth, this whole positive thinking stuff is nothing but a nice facade over a rotten wall.
Here comes the usual scenario:
1. I come to a hill because I want to fly.
(Recognize a goal or an expectation in me wanting to fly? That’s just how it is and no philosophising will make it any other way.)
2. I check the conditions and… it’s flyable. Cycles are coming up the hill. I set up and get ready but I want to make sure I can stay up in the air. So I’m waiting and I can feel the tension building up. I’m waiting for something strong enough to show me I can stay in the air. I want to fly.
3.There’s a strong enough bubble coming up the face and I take off. In the air I realize the bubble is just small enough so that I cannot make a decent circle.I keep falling out of it. So I decide to move on.
4. I’m searching for something else while noticing that I’m losing altitude. I need to find something fast or I’ll need to head out towards the bomb out. “Come on! Give me something!”
5. I keep hitting small bubbles but none of them is big enough. I keep losing height. “Nooo. Not again!”
6. Now I need to start flying towards the bomb out. I know there’s a thermal trigger on the way there so I fly the line that’s going to put me in the position to make the most of it. By this time my focus is already on the landing approach.
7. I’m over the trigger and the vario starts beeping. Again the bubble is very small and since I’m low and already getting ready to land I keep flying towards the bomb out.
8. I’ve landed in the bomb out. I look up and I see other pilots circling up there above the launch. I’m not happy to be here. The thought process inside my head goes something like: It’s a hot day, I hate packing in the sun, my car is still up there, why me? Etc.
Suddenly the fun of paragliding is just a dream again, for others to enjoy, and I’m down here, sweating in the sun and not sure of what would be the best option to get back up the hill. Maybe call someone, but they are probably just setting up for take off. It’s an hour walk up. Shit!
But it’s my “lucky day” and a friend is there only 10 min after to take me back up the hill.
You probably know this scenario. I’ve definitely been there many times…
Let's have a look at an alternative:
1. I come to a hill. I know one can fly off it. I fly paragliders and I have one with me.
2. I look around me and feel the air in my face. It’s a great day. I can see butterflies flying around me and hear birds singing. It smells nice.
3. I take my paraglider out, set up and sit down. It’s hot and the sun is making me blink.
4. I’m calm. I’m taking it all in. Suddenly two butterflies make a spiralling flying dance in front of me and I feel that I’d like to join them in the air.
5. I stand up, get ready to launch, wait for the well known feeling of the air coming up the face at the back of my neck, pull the glider up and take off.
6. I’m feeling the day is slow. Bubbles are small. Feels like staying up is going to be a good challenge.
7.There’s one that feels nice. I’m falling out of it but I keep flying in and around it.
8.There’s a falcon circling not too far away. I leave the bubble and head there.
9. On the way there I hit a lot of sink and need to correct my line of flying. I come there too low to be able to make anything of the bubble the falcon is circling in. I say hi to the falcon and keep flying.
10.Trees are really green today and the landing area has a nice shine to it.
11. I’m getting low and head towards the landing paddock. I see a nice bowl on the way there and decide to fly over it. Who knows…
12. A bubble greets me over that bowl, where the green has a really dark and old colour. I start circling over that beautiful place and take it all in. Life is good when up in the air.
13. The bubble is dissipating and I continue towards the landing area.
14. I land. The grass at the paddock is greeting me, as are those birds still flying up and around. I look up and see other pilots flying. I say to them: Good on ya guys. Go for it!” I smile to myself, pack up, sit down some more and lean against my backpack. It’s a good day.
When I feel like moving again I stand up and just as I get to the road my friend is there to take me up the hill again.
Both scenarios end up at the bomb out. Which one are you choosing?
There’s no goal or expectation attached to anything in the second scenario. How many have you seen so far that are actually living their lives like this? In my life I've only met two. It’s a simple of way of living but not an easy one.
How does one get to such state of being?
Well, that's the whole point of being. One cannot get there. Remember? We are human beings, not human doings or human gettings. Being is being, not doing, not having, nor getting. One needs to start being here. Now. It's alive, this being. If we nurture it, it will grow. The more we are, the more we are.
Back to expectations...
Regardless of how much we are aware of them, it is still easy to fall into the pitfall of following them. But there’s also good news: It’s possible to recognize the symptoms once we know what to look for.
I recognize mine through a cramp in my stomach. I’m not relaxed, I’m fighting for“survival”, and in general I’m not a “happy chap” at all. We've all been there, I'm sure.
When the “Shit! Shit! ...” voice starts shouting in my head, it’s a wake up call.
I’ll check for symptoms in my body: muscle tension, breathing, body posture… Aaah, the body posture! Let’s stop here for a moment…
When I’m flying along relaxed, my back muscles are relaxed and I’m comfortably sitting back in my harness. But as soon as I’m fighting for something my upper body assumes an upright position. The head is sticking out in front of risers and definitely leading the way. If I’m NOT flying through turbulent air, that’s a pretty good sign I’m not relaxed and present anymore, but chasing something and not actually having fun. It’s easy to miss the exact point where it all starts going pear shape. But one can catch oneself doing it before it’s too late. Practice makes master.
…OK. So I check the symptoms and start getting myself back to a relax state: lean back, relax my breathing; putting a smile on my face helps too, even if I don’t feel like smiling in that moment.
Getting my attention to where it belongs: right here, right now, will automatically eliminate the negative focus of not wanting to bomb. Then, when present again, on the way to the bomb-out, I’m able to receive all those little hints of lift, Mother Nature is sending out to those able (or willing) to recognize them. Simply staying open. As long as I’m here, in the air, I’m flying, which means everything is possible. Being open is quintessential.
If one is able to remain open to all possibilities, one doesn’t need to have the whole path mapped out in all details. One makes steps naturally, when the time is right, and one knows what to do without knowing. It's a strange feeling at first.
When all odds are against me, when I’m at tree height, here comes the familiar pull accompanied by the slight increase of speed of wind in my face and the beeping sound of my vario increasing in tune with my heart beat. “Here we go! Up for another adventure. It isn’t over. Ever!!!” Even if it’s just another ride or a walk up from the bomb out or a hitch back home and meeting total strangers. Or a night spent sleeping out under the skies in a middle of nowhere, wrapped in my wing. It’s never over. The adventure has only just begun.