Peter Brinkeby: When nothing else matters

Saturday 22 December, 2001

Snapshots of Slovenia … paragliding in Tolmin in 2010

Paragliding and hang gliding is a head game. And nothing proves it like competition. Peter Brinkeby (SWE) was first placed pilot in the 2001 PWC series until the final competition in Tolmin, Slovenia. First published in Cross Country magazine in 2001

“You will do it Peter!”

My thoughts are totally focused on today’s task.

Somebody else is saying, “I really hope you win”.

I was quite relaxed this morning, but now, here at launch, I am starting to bite my nails. “You are the champ!” says another friend, and I can’t help myself from mentally projecting an image of me on the podium.

After all, it’s been a very good year for me in the competition scene and all the flying has been easy and fun. Why should it be different this competition? The glider is excellent, and my confidence is high.

My ego has gained a serious boost from all the support and success, and it continues to feed itself with thoughts that are somehow a bit alien to me. It’s the last PWC competition in Tolmin, Slovenia and after leading the pack for most of the year, I am now realising just how close I am to victory.

In the beginning of the season I was convinced that it was all folly. After all, in a hundred years time, who will remember which paragliding pilot won the World Cup 2001? Then I started to think about what actually matters in life.

Like all professional philosophers, I couldn’t come up with any good answers. Is it achievements, productivity or humanitarian efforts? I suppose if we spread just a few positive vibes around this planet, that is a lot better then affecting our surroundings in a negative way, but what actually matters?

Since I ruled out achievements, discarded the productivity and postponed the humanitarian bit for later, I had to find something else. Maybe it is not the result that counts, but the act itself and how we do it?

I believe if we commit ourself to any task, the only worthwhile challenge is to try to do it to our best ability, even if we know it’s folly. When we perform an action well, it is a lot more rewarding than when we do it badly!

With this in mind at the beginning of the PWC season, I wrote down the words ‘Impeccable Intent’ on my vario case, as a reminder that I should try to use every little bit of my willpower to get as close to perfection as possible, with no expectations as to the end result.

It worked! I flew like a rocket and was enjoying the instant gratification in the form of prizes, fame and respect. But as soon as I start doing something well, my ego kicks in saying, ‘Dude, you’re really good at doing this.’

And sometimes it continues with a quite annoying inner dialogue, always boosting itself and distracting my being from performing the actual task. For example the last task at PWC Castejon: I just won two of the tasks and I was more than 300 points ahead of the second placed pilot.

I couldn’t believe what was happening when I found myself at least five minutes ahead of the gaggle only a glide or so to the goal line and my third task victory in the same competition. My ego went ballistic!

‘Man, you’re the man!’ something inside of me said. I started to think about how good I was at flying and what I would say to the world’s press and thousands of groupies that surely were waiting with anticipation at the goal line.

Only Bollinger has ever won three tasks in a PWC and I was about to repeat that feat! And what happened? I was too busy thinking about myself that I completely forgot to think about flying… I made one mistake… two mistakes… three mistakes and landed 30 metres short of the goal line! Damn!

There is a state of mind that I suppose is the seed of my attraction to adventure sports. It’s the moment when nothing else matters and all the attention is fully focused on the present moment. I think it is easiest reached in a life threatening situation, but also possible with meditation or plain focus. I call it ‘inner silence’ and I wrote it down on top of my GPS.

It is the moment when we forget to worry about how we look, what others are thinking about us and what is expected from us. It is a moment where you don’t think but just act. It’s a state of mind when the body reacts to the sensory input without being processed through the self conscious awareness. Direct, uncomplicated and beautiful.

It often happens to me when I’m paragliding, and especially in competition flying when there is hard core flying, sometimes in gnarly places and a lot of good pilots that push you further. I wish I could stop my inner dialogue at any given time and reach this state of mind, especially when it is needed.

And I really needed it now. My mind was in a mess. National press from Sweden wanted to speak to me, strangers wanted a photo with me and pilots and friends constantly reminded me of how close I was to the big title. I had to get away, so I ran down the mountain side to a quiet spot, trying hard to get a moment of inner silence, and then back up to the take-off to finish off the World Cup for this season.

The flying in Tolmin is absolutely astonishing. Deep gorges with turquoise rivers cutting through lush, green mountainsides coupled with steep intimidating rock faces. It’s right up my alley, so to speak.

As soon as I took off I felt the soothing effect of the beauty of the place, and I felt confident in my paraglider and focused in my mind. The rest should be easy, as long as I get to goal, I thought. I stared at the sentences I wrote down earlier to avoid any further distractions of points, tactics, opponents and petty details.

In the usual manner I booted down the ridges, trying to get to goal in the fastest and most efficient way. But in free flying it is hard to predict the best route and this time I was wrong. Extremely wrong! In three consecutive days I bombed out before the goal line and the effect was that I missed the podium, dropping to a lousy fourth place. Double damn!

‘Does it matter?’ I ask myself. Well, yes if you think about all the publicity you get and the advantages of that (some cash, some fame and some free beers). But if you can do without that, it is really not any difference if you are first, fourth or forty-sixth. To me it is the collection of experiences that matters, and this year’s World Cup was a great one! Thank you to all my wingmen and wingwomen, I hope I’ll see you again in Mexico.

Peter Brinkeby

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