In March after “immense deliberation” competition pilot Mads Syndergaard bit the bullet and launched his very own Open Class paragliding competition series. Called the World Paragliding Series and with the tagline ‘Free Our Wings’ the idea was to strip the rules and regulations out of paragliding comps and put the Open Class fun back in. Now, with three competitions on the cards for this year, we asked him how it was going
Mads… you recently went public with your idea for a pure Open Class paragliding series. How has it been received? How much interest have you had since then?
There’s been a lot of support coming through since the idea was first published. Ironically, in the first few weeks I got maybe 5-10 emails a week with declarations of support, and then suggestions about what extra rules I should put in place – it seemed many people saw it as an opportunity to get their own particular agenda sorted, their pet peeves, if you will.
But as it happens the whole idea is to roll back the excessive rulemongering, so the ideas were mostly misplaced. But I’m pleased with the interest and support the idea has generated.
And you have a series of dates now for three competitions. What are they?
Each event is seven days, with the seventh day being a ‘reserve’ day. We’ll be going to Krusevo/Macedonia first, from 22-29 June. From there we have a two-month break and then we go to a new venue in Greece called Itea, a pleasant coastal town on the Gulf of Korinthia, only two hours west of Athens airport.
The dates for Itea are 18-25 August. We round up this first season in Roldanillo, Colombia, from 30 November to 7 December.
And has that initial interest translated into people signing up for the competitions? What sort of numbers do you need to make them viable?
I’m hoping for no less than 70 pilot in each event, but have space for up to 125. The registrations have only been open for a few days but there are already some 45 pilots registered in total.
In order to increase my chances of not losing a lot of money on this first season, where I understandably need to prove myself to some sceptics here and there, I have made it possible to become a paying supporter without actually participating in any events.
This costs just 20EUR a year (25 for PayPal users) but if enough people show their support in this manner then the chances that the idea will survive into the future are increased even further.
And any interest from the manufacturers? What have they been saying?
Almost all I have spoken to have liked the idea – some have opted NOT to show their support on the website just yet out of political considerations, but in general I haven’t heard from any manufacturers who DIDN’T like the idea.
At a small Paraglider Manufacturers Association meeting in Bassano a couple of weeks ago I was hoping to gain more official support for the idea, but the abysmal weather caused several key players to cancel their participation, and that was a shame.
It is no secret however that many manufacturers lament the loss of the laboratory that the Open Class was, and are interested in reviving that.
And what about the PWCA? Have you heard from anyone there? What have they been saying? Are they for it or against it, or don’t care?
I have only spoken informally to Goran [Goran Dimiskovski, PWCA president] during the Bassano PMA meeting. Basically Goran and I agree wholeheartedly about these matters, and we have discussed them many times before.
However according to Goran the PWCA cannot exist without having the possibility to arrange events in France, and that defines their stance on the Open vs. Serial question.
I did get the impression that on a personal level Goran would be happy to see the idea flourish and perhaps beat the way towards a more sensible solution to the whole affair.
And any word from CIVL?
No formal comments from the CIVL
Briefly, there is a lot of talk about insurance, valid or not, around Open Class gliders. Have you looked into this? What’s your take on it?
Mmmm, tricky. Basically I am of the opinion that ‘my’ guys and girls are grownups and can handle the responsibility on their own shoulders. I have made no secret of the fact that I will NOT be taking out insurance against liability claims, and since I also own no significant assets there wouldn’t be anything to gain, financially, by suing me.
We do have a fairly elaborate liability waiver, and I plan to make no secret of the fact that paragliding is dangerous and that pilots should only take off if they feel they can handle the potential consequences during my briefings etc. All in all I am of the opinion that all this would make my case a fairly strong one in the unlikely event of a lawsuit.
Besides, we specifically make NO demands to the wings flown in the Series – our stance is, you fly what you want and take the flak if something happens. The reasoning is, IF I were to start limiting the wings in any way then someone can always say afterwards that I didn’t limit them enough – whereas if the wings are up to the pilot, then so is the pilot’s personal safety. You fly it, you carry the risk.
You’re planning to take advantage of technology to make scoring all online – no downloads, no scorers HQ… How does that work? And does it mean the end of protests and complaints?
We will still have an HQ, since technology has a habit of causing trouble. But I’ll be doing the troublesome tracks myself, thereby saving the scorer.
As for complaints and protests we are still operating within the Section 7b framework so no changes there, but I think anyone who has been doing this for long knows that protests, complaints and bad flying conditions go together like Hans and Gretchen, something that I have always considered ‘proof’ that the complaints are really just vents for other frustrations.
This means that it is possible to address these concerns before they become issues, something I have done a few times already during Nordic Open events.
Apart from that you’re trying to keep organisation to a minimum, to keep it all streamlined. How are you doing that? Is it working?
All we need locally is a transport/retrieve coordinator and someone who can arrange the parties! This can even be done by the same person. We’ll also have paramedic support, but that is it really.
I have arranged comps with that level of admin before (the late Xavier Murillo used to call me the Swiss army knife of comp organisation) so I know it can work. But it does make for a pretty busy week for myself and those who help out!
They’re all going to be Cat 2 comps aren’t they? How ironic is that? That the FAI Cat 1 comps have to be Serial Class, but your new series of Open Class comps is now going to be Cat 2. I’m scratching my head at the logic of that…
Initially I wasn’t very keen on that myself, since the hope is that our cumulative ranking will soon become more prestigious than the WPRS ranking, just as was the case for the PWCA ranking before the shakeups. But I have to admit that many pilots now consider the possibility of earning WPRS points decisive for their season planning, and that has meant going down this route.
In my view it isn’t as ironic as it looks at first glance, since this is really a win/win situation for all. Within the CIVL there seems to be individuals who can now see that the ban was premature and ill-considered, but the political will to heed the advice of the various working groups and lift the ban is simply not there.
With this new initiative everyone gets the opportunity to see if the wings were really to blame for all the hoohaa, while nobody except me is sticking their heads out. This has got to be a positive development for everyone!
Personally, what have you got on the line here? Apart from obviously a lot of time, are you investing money? Are you looking for sponsors?
IF we can see that we’re a success after this first season then I will offer manufacturers the opportunity to become supporters. So far, the bill is footed by the pilots, and they get to vote with their feet if they like it or not. I believe that relevant partners will present themselves once we have proven the viability of the idea, and they will be welcome.
If this year goes well, what happens next? Will you suck it and see or do you have a Five Year Plan? Do you see it is a niche competition series, alongside the main PWCA and CIVL Serial Class competitions, or do you hope to grow bigger and take over?
I never agreed with the move away from the Tour format in the PWC. I concede that it leveled the playing field, and initially that looked like a good thing.
But now we can see that the interest in the whole thing has waned even more, and even faster, than the ban on the Open Class wings can account for, and I personally believe that this is due to the loss of prestige in the Overall title and the whole series of events in general.
IF I’m right then hopefully we can rebuild this prestige within a fairly short time frame, just under a new name. I’m not out to compete AGAINST the PWCA per se, I’m just wanting to show an alternative route.
Finally, what’s your glider of choice going to be for this year? Why?
I’ll be flying the finest paraglider I ever flew, the UP Edge XR two-liner wing. I only got to fly it in three comps in total (Porterville, on a sub-optimal proto, Bright Open and Nordic Open Serra da Estrela in 2011). In the last two events I was second and first respectively, and I was even organising the Nordic Open – so the wing works! I’m looking forward to that!
For those who don’t know, describe the difference in performance and feel between that Open Class glider and say, the Enzo or the Gin Boom 9?
I haven’t flown either of the wings you mention – in fact I haven’t flown a non-UP wing in more than 10 years. But at the core of it we’re talking the joy of riding a thoroughbred racing machine compared to faffing about on a souped-up family estate – there’s no comparison at all.
And to make matters worse I do believe that the racing machine is safer for racing than the souped-up estate. It’s logical really – we almost never push the real comp wings to their limits (I don’t anyway) whereas the Serial Class wings are ALWAYS right at the limit and beyond. This isn’t what they’re designed for, and the safety suffers.
And finally, what else should I be asking you? Tell us what you want us to know…
Since I’m the one sticking my neck out here I get to address my own pet peeve (see above) and that is that trimmers don’t belong on free-flying wings. So we will be sealing trimmers at neutral on wings flying in the World Paragliding Series. The seal is such that it can easily be removed after the comp (and put in again at next registration), but in the WPS there is going to be no positive nor negative trimmers.
Over time I expect that the manufacturers will follow suit and not manufacture comp wings with trimmers, and if that happens then my little crusade will have made a positive difference. If people will then also stop killing whales and sharks just because they can then I will be one very happy puppy.
OK, thanks Mads. Good luck with it this year
Mads Syndergaard is author of Flying Rags for Glory: An A-Z of Competition Paragliding. He blogs at blog.syndergaard.dk and writes a regular column, Mads World, for Cross Country magazine.
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