East Coast Paragliding Champs

2014-05-10 Enterprise Trip | All photos by Tim Kaiser

I've never been to a paragliding competition and thought it might be interesting, especially after Zak Hargraves visited and told me all about it, mentioning that maybe I could even get a tow in. So Tim & I headed down there on the second to last day.

First thing in the morning a took I couple hang glider flights with Florida Ridge Hang Gliding. Afterwards we headed for the paraglider comp HQ.


It's a small world. Jaro, Emmanual, Carlos (I missed him), and several other people I knew were there. I finally got to meet Dave Prentice who was busily running around trying to keep things in order.

They have an awesome arrangement with The Glades RV resort including a large air conditioned space to serve as headquarters. There's tons of room to mess with gear, run scoring software for the organizers and hang out. There's food on site, living space and, obviously, RV spaces.

May is off-peak. Rates are lower and the crowds at nearly all facilities in FL are absent. As an example, Tim & went to a Crab Shack in Ft. Myers on Friday night at 7pm and there was no wait. I asked the general manager and he said that, in season, they're on a one hour wait at that time. It's a nice time to be in FL.


The day before a very good pilot, Andrei Cojoianu, wound up in highish tension wires and got himself electrocuted. He was burned pretty badly but survived and is in the hospital. Here's hoping he gets better quickly. His semi truck is here, too. Thankfully Zak, who is also a truck driver, can help but *HIS* truck is here, too, so it will require some logistics.

At Launch

Zak was running the launch but it was already blowing pretty hard when we arrived at the tow area -- a section of abandoned housing development with miles of nicely paved road and mowed grass but no houses. You gotta wonder what happened here. But hey, in the meantime it's perfect for us.

I got my Spice 22 out to kite in the strongish winds. I was getting lifted occasionally but had no problem controlling it. That's my normal requirement to fly -- if I can easily keep the wing overhead while kiting then flying is reasonably safe.

Zak offered that I could tow. I'd be the wind dummy but I held off figuring someone else would go. Plus I didn't want to get in the way of their competition but he said that wasn't a problem yet. Alas, about 30 minutes later it lightened up with thermals coming through but less base wind. I went for it. Zak and Jaro (thanks for the Vario) helped me out and Steve drove the winch truck.

Tow was smooth on the payout but with pretty bumpy air. Weight shift is your friend on tow. The wing is already back so I try to minimize brake input. At one point, late in the tow, I hit a great thermal and wanted to pin off (release). I called on the radio but Steve said he had more distance to the canal and I didn't know if he wanted the tension reduced so I stayed on. Bummer. That was the thermal that got away.

After release I flew perpendicular to the cloud streets but just kept sinking. Uggh. Finally I hooked one and started climbing but it was weak and I was drifting behind the launch, over an orange grove. No landy there. I could have made it to the area downwind but that would have meant a bit of a walk so I left the lift and stayed within glide of the LZ. That cost me the flight. Soon I was on the ground having covered a grand total distance of 50 feet. Some cross country.

Too bad--I was ready to go XC, especially after Zak insisted I take some water and I put on more layers. I've never really done PG cross country but can see the appeal. Especially where there are plentiful landing options, people to fetch me, and sub-horrible air.

Tim has done free flight through the P2 rating but isn't into this kind of air so he didn't fly. He did get all the pictures.

One more pilot launched and caught a thermal right after tow but then organizers decided to call it off due to strong conditions. Good call, later in the day it got really nasty.

The Competition

This was a more casual competition than I expected -- more like our paramotor comps. It has a very friendly feel. Nobody I saw was taking themselves too seriously which makes it more fun for everybody. You know many of them *DO* take it seriously but are very accommodating of new pilots and helpful.

We'll see what life brings but I can see doing this next year if I have an appropriate soaring wing. My Spice is pretty efficient but is uncertified and several pilots I respect have said that it could be a handful in big air. Enleau O'Conner, of SIV fame, said the same thing. We'll see.

The vibe is good. The week prior is a competition clinic where they go over techniques, instruments, launching, flying strategies and so forth. It would fun, accessible, and reasonably safe although still more risky than a smooth Sunday drive with the family paramotor.

1. Launching while Jaro looks on after hooking me up.

2. Other pilots setting up.

2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!