For Cross Country 153 we wanted to write the definitive guide for pilots new to the competition game.
And if there is one piece of advice that all our experts came back with – and we asked National Champions, European Champions, World Champions and the hotshot on the hill – it was this: “Before you start to race, get to goal first.”
Along the way we picked up a lot of tips about how to enjoy competitions and prepare well. We’ve distilled them down here to 21 truths in competition:
Most people aren’t there to win
Most pilots fly comps because they want to fly with friends, learn, have fun and discover new places. Only a few will be there to win.
Everybody likes to be asked their opinion
Simply hanging out for a week with lots of like-minded pilots is a learning experience. Talk to the local skygod – “How was your flight?”
You fly better if you are prepared. Start before you go: buy a map, explore Google Earth, look at tracklogs online. Turn up a few days early, or go to a comp in a place you know. Research the tasks the comp organisers have set before – they’ll probably set them again.
Local knowledge helps
You will relax more if you are happy about what’s below you: roads, railways, no-fly zones and how you can get back to base. Study tracklogs to find sink zones (where people land) and house thermals (where people go up). Relate the tracklog to what is on the ground.
The best glider is the one you like
You will fly better on a wing you’re comfortable with in a harness you know. Don’t make changes in your gear before a comp – you need to know that your gear works and you can depend on it.
Technology can ruin your day
Asking people to show you how your flight computer works 10 minutes before the window opens will make you no friends. Learn about your radio, GPS and instrument before you go. Ask the tech guru to help at an appropriate time, not as they are clipping in.
Batteries are cheap
Don’t spoil a flight for the cost of a fresh set of batteries: use new ones or rechargables. And don’t forget your paper map.
Dehydration can spoil it all
You can be on a hot, windy, exposed launch for a long time. Wear a hat, stay in the shade and hydrate. In the air you will lose focus quickly if you don’t drink, and that means you’ll land early. Work out a way to drink (and pee) in flight if you can.
Knowing what you want helps
Having a realistic goal means you’ll go home happy. (Don’t make it “Win at all costs!”) Make goal, fly a personal best, fly for two hours… choose a goal that fits you. Be honest with yourself – and allow yourself a smile when it goes right. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t.
You will pay for late nights
The social side of comps is often great (especially if the weather is bad). Stay up late though and you’ll suffer the next day. Watch the vino and make sure you get some sleep.
Early birds catch worms
Comps start early, so get up earlier. Have a proper breakfast, change your batteries, fill your water bottle and make the morning briefing on time prepared to go. Transport to launch can often take a lot of time, so bag your spot on the minibus and then relax.
Smart pilots get ready first
On launch claim your spot and get your gear ready as soon as you can. You may have a long wait, but it’s much better hanging around then than rushing at the end.
Listening is underrated
Pay attention at the briefing on launch. Tasks can be tricky to grasp, especially when it comes to start times and cylinders. Take a pen and paper to write down instructions, the task, land-by times, radio frequencies and phone numbers. Each element of the task is crucial: you won’t be the first pilot who has got to goal but screwed up the start – and scored zero because of it.
Paper maps never die
Because you got your kit ready early, after the briefing you will have plenty of time to study the route on your map. Discuss it with a buddy, look for different options and plan your approach. If someone has flown it before, speak to them.
You should be in the air
When the window opens if you can stay up take off and get in the air. You will be much happier looking down on the crowd than on the deck looking up at it. Flying for half an hour before the start gate opens lets you relax, sort your gear and get into the day. Taking off minutes before the start and scrabbling to catch up is stressful.
Getting high is key
Get high before the start – rushing off low will only ruin your day. When the race starts gaggles form naturally. If this is your first comp don’t stress about staying with the lead gaggle – just fly the course and find your rhythm, you will naturally find pilots at the same level. Stick with them, it makes things easier. (You are now gaggle flying.)
Good pilots help each other
A good gaggle is a team: working together to find the best cores and climb quickly; spreading out on glide to cover more air in the search for lift. This way the gaggle moves faster than the lone wolf.
Getting to goal is more important than speed
Getting to goal in two hours is better than landing a metre short in 60 minutes. For your first comps treat the task as an XC route and forget about racing: it will simply put you on the deck early. Just fly the route. If it takes you four hours and you’re last in, so what? You made it.
Consistency is key
Get to goal every day and you will automatically rise to the top of the field. So fly consistently, calmly and safely. Stick with your gaggle, avoid necky glides and give yourself a margin for error. Watch others and see what they are doing, but don’t blindly follow – they may know less than you!
Goal frenzy is real
“I can get in from here.” The best pilots in the world have raced to the deck because of this thought. Be prepared to catch yourself. Stay focused and have patience. Spiralling down to goal is so much better than sinking out behind the train tracks.
The best pilot is the one having the most fun
It’s true. Never forget what you’re there for. The point is to have fun and lots of it. If you prepare well, feel comfortable and stay cool then you will naturally fly well – and that means the fun is all yours.
For more tips from the experts and in-depth advice from pilots who have been flying comps for years, get a copy of Cross Country 153.
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