On 3 August 2014 Mark Watts broke the UK paragliding and hang gliding distance records, flying 275.5 km from Milk Hill, to Cromer, Norfolk. This podcast interview (click Play above) by Hugh Miller, one of Mark’s flying friends, was done in the back of a car after both pilots flew a slightly less epic 17km on Friday 8 August.
Mark is as well-known as any British pilot – a very respected XC pilot, one of a handful of Brits to ever win a PWC, he’s also a former British Champion and XC League winner. You could say he’s done it all – and that includes setting the current Out and Return Distance record of 103km.
A hugely natural pilot, Mark has been ‘on it’ for the past two seasons, chasing down the big flights with a nutty crew of equally obsessive pilots that on occasion has included myself. In November 2013 he seemed on top of his game, flying 370km in Quixada, but earlier this year, he admitted a knock to his confidence. Others flew past him on big days from Bradwell, and Leckhampton. Mark was going quick, but was failing, in his own words, “to finish it off”, often landing by 4pm after taking over-optimistic glides that didn’t deliver.
But towards the end of July, after what has undoubtedly been one of the best XC seasons on record, Mark was back on form. We flew 228km together from Sharpenhoe to Axminster in Dorset, and Mark was back to his usual self, pushing out front, out-gliding and out-climbing me, demonstrating that his hallmark confidence had returned. Five days later he knocked out another 200km flight from Frocester to Eastbourne, but clipped airspace.
I’m mentioning all this because I think they all contribute to his success on Sunday 3 August. This was a day when a lot of good pilots were on the hill, ready to go, but it was only Mark Watts and Al Wilson who really took advantage of the insane opportunities presented by the day (Simon Twiss also flew over 200km, from a different site).
Mark’s earlier knocked confidence helped temper his ballsy style and ensure he stayed in the air for long enough to go really far. His airspace mishap was a reminder to triple check when it came to navigation. I really think these things were key to his eventual success. But above all Mark’s talent in windy conditions came right to the fore. He is the kind of pilot who can rip up through the windshear to base while others flail around at the thermal’s edge. As Adrian Thomas said, no-one deserves the record more than Mark.
The race is now on for the first 300km in the UK… but given the size of the island, there are very few sites left with that kind of potential!
See also: Records fall on UK’s Super Sunday
‘The stuff of dreams…’
Ridiculously epic. Guy Anderson, stranded in rainy Serbia, had posted on Telegram that Sunday had ‘record written all over it’. Despite the forecast gale, a Northern crew has headed down and they find Rich Osborne, Annee, Andrew Craig and me drinking tea at the Milk top car park. Doubts are expressed to them, on the basis that it’s howling; then Kirsty’s Enzo 2 pops up on the front spur and makes surprisingly rapid progress into wind. Right, off we go. Wagga leads the way as usual with Kirsty, Hugh, and Barney testing the air…
Al Wilson flew 268km on the same day, and set a UK Distance to Goal record while he was at it. To read his report on the day – click through to his tracklog and select ‘Storyboard’.
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