PWC Aksaray, Turkey

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PWC Aksaray, Turkey

Postby Garcia » Tue Sep 14, 2021 5:04 am

First I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who supported Logan and I getting to this event. I hope to continue to give back to the paragliding community in Santa Barbara. Please reach out with a direct message if you have any other questions on the race or my experience.

Also a big thank you to Gavin McClurg who acted as a large mentor for me during the race. Logan, Gavin and I all stayed in the same hotel and we got to debrief every single day. At breakfast and dinner it was all PG talk and all about racing. He even took the time towards the end to analyze tracks with us from each task and go really in depth with some racing theory. It was one of the most impressive things I think I have seen a pilot do, not only give hours and hours of mentorship and advice to Logan and I, but to also crush his own race and place 4th overall at the end of the week.

Aksaray Turkey is located on the Anatolian Plateau in the heart of Turkey. It was an important stop over along the Silk Road. Our flying arena was located on the shoulder of the Hasan Dagi Volcano, an hours drive from the city. The volcano has two summits, the 3,069 meters (10,069 ft) high eastern Small Hasan Dagi and the 3,253 meters (10,673 ft) high Big Hasan Dagi.

There were a total of 12 pilots out of the 115 from the USA.

Task 1 - An 86 km course was set for the first task of the event. It was a blue day and conditions were fairly cross from the NE on launch, but it was working. I was fairly nervous going into this event, even knowing that I had the lowest ranked letter in the competition (N). I had fairly low expectations, which was a good thing. I felt almost 0 pressure from myself which is not the norm for me. It was a good relaxed place to be in.

Once the task was set we all finalized our equipment and got ready to go. Before I knew it we were at the back of the line. Logan 2 spaces ahead of me and Reavis 2 behind me. We spent 45 minutes waiting with our kits. Watching the most horrendous launches ever. While most of the field flew at a world class level, 50% of them couldn’t ground handle at all. It was comical and frustrating standing there in the heat dressed for near freezing temps at top of lift. I remember Logan taking off, and then Reavis and I were next to each other. It started to blow down and almost died. 30 minutes to start, Goran, our meet director, said “not to worry, plenty of time”. Well there were still another 20 pilots behind us waiting, it was stressful. Finally with 22 minutes to start Reavis and I got off the ground. Luckily the Start (Entry) cylinder was only about 1.5km from launch, all we needed to do was get one climb and we would be in the game. The climbs we found off launch were weak and out front, we ended up getting pushed pretty far out front but it was working and we stuck with it.

The first 20km of the course gave the option to either stay on the volcano or run the optimized line through the flats. In some ways it all worked out perfectly being forced into the flats early. I nailed the start and started to charge down the course line. I can’t really describe it other than saying I was totally in the flow of things, but the first 40 km of that course was hands down the most fun and focused piece of racing I have ever done. What really showed that was having scored 125.7 lead out points that day, out of 146 available. Leading Points are awarded to encourage pilots to start early and to reward the risk involved in flying in the leading group. Pilots will get Leading Points even if they landed before goal or the End of Speed Section. Lead points typically start at 20% of the course line and stop around 80% of the course.

One thing I had learned from the Pre PWC in Macedonia 2 weeks prior to this event was how to attack. I also learned the hard way that attacking for an entire race is exhausting and to fly at that intensity is extremely difficult. I slowed down on the way to the 3rd turn point. I got low and had dust devils everywhere. Something clicked this day and I ignored the dusties and used them as information instead of letting them scare me to land like I normally do. It was a bit nerve racking knowing that the only pilot that was lower than me and just in front of me was the best wing handler around, Pal Takats. Pal showed me the climb and we were out of there. I then consciously told myself to stop racing, just slow down. I topped the climb out and 1 by 1 gliders started to pass and mark the way. I shared a few thermals with Galen before reaching the 3rd turn point and then she full bar’d out of there and continued with the chase gaggle. I gave up a few opportunities at this point in the race, but didn’t really care. I forced myself just to chill the hell out and enjoy the flight. All those bombouts in Macedonia were fresh in my mind and I didn’t want that feeling again after such a good start.

After that 3rd turn point things became difficult for me. I had to really stay focused in order to make goal. I had bombed everyday in Macedonia because I flew far too aggressively. I stopped thinking about my position and reminded myself that if I just make goal, that's all that matters. Especially at a race like this.A few low and drifty thermals kept me alive and I made my way into the goal field. I was 83rd into goal that day, out of 115. I was ecstatic and couldn't believe it. I flew to the best of my abilities that day and it showed. Having such a fantastic start and middle of the race allowed me to jump ahead in the scoring and I ended up in 74th for the day.

I enjoyed the moment and began to focus on what I could improve upon for the next day.

Day 2 was canceled due to strong OTB winds, I spent the day walking around Aksaray and resting up for the next day.

The next 2 tasks I fully bombed and screwed up the starts. The flying was light and technical. The gaggles were extremely aggressive both of these days. Launch is situated at 1950m and the inversion was at 2200m. It was super stressful and I couldn't hang on. I tried launching really early on the 2nd task and a bit later on the 3rd, but neither worked out for me. It was a bummer but really emphasized the fact that climbing is everything in racing. That was one of the biggest takeaways this week is that if you want to race or fly efficiently it is all about how you climb. And sometimes, when working with others you have to find ways to climb to the top without always being in the core. It's an odd thing to adjust too, especially when I am used to banking it up on a tip and finding my way up, but that doesn’t always work out when you have 100 others in a gaggle with you. Finding weaknesses in the pilots in front of you and learning to cut in at the right time as to not be an asshole but still out climb others when you can was a difficult task for me and is on my list of things to continue to improve upon.

But in a PWC everyone climbs well, so you have to just follow and hang on. Glider loading comes to mind here and while being heavy can help with speed in the core and getting up quickly, it doesn't help while you are trying to recycle at the start stuck in a low inversion. I have since decided to move from my M Meru to a size L Meru. This will be a more versatile glider for me and I can always dump ballast at launch or once in the air in order to adapt to the conditions present. While I would love to blame being heavy on my glider as to why I wasn’t climbing well, I am not typically one to use that excuse. I sum it up to being uncomfortable in a large gaggle that was aggressive and stuck to a confined area. I tend to be a bit too polite in thermals and need a bit more assertiveness, but it's hard to do when you see wings hitting each other. During the start of Task 2 there was a pretty big midair in the gaggle that somehow allowed both pilots to fly away thankfully.

Task 4 was a memorable one for sure. I didn’t make it around the course. I think I landed after 21KM or so. But we had a 4000m cloud base above the Hasan Dagi Volcano. As I climbed off launch to 3000m right away I saw a few gliders heading into the flats to better position themselves for the start. It made total sense the move they were making at the time, Matty Senior was one of those pilots who was at my altitude and we headed into the void. Andreas “Pepe” Malaeki, the German legend who was on the task committee, had the same idea. (Side note, he bombed the start that day, this made me feel a bit less embarrassed about screwing up the 2 previous days, even the legends fuck it up).

It was one of those moves that if it worked out we would be geniuses and if it didn’t, we’d be on the ground. The gaggle knows best, I know this and I tell it to students time after time. Yet I'm a sucker for gambling in the flats. We had a bit more N than W on the ground which gave me a hell of a head wind working towards the second turn point of this task. The views over the volcano were just as impressive as the turbulence we were experiencing as we climbed out from the leeward side of it. One pilot threw his reserve before the start and landed on the side of the volcano, he was ok.

Task 5 - With this being the last one of the competition I was looking to finish strong. We had a low cloud base this day and we had to wait on launch for a few hours for it to rise. Overall it was a pretty low day. I was flushed off launch quickly, a poor cycle choice had me headed out front and into the start cylinder prematurely. I was desperately searching for a climb and as I kicked my feet out of my pod to land I found a climb, it was light but I hung on to it with every ounce of energy I had. I drafted that small piece of lift for 2.5KM before it finally pulled me up into the cloud. The unfortunate thing is it drifted me to the downwind side of the start, putting me in a horrible position for this task. I ended up landing about 30 minutes later on my way to the second turn point.

That was it, my first PWC was over. The first 3 hours after I landed were extremely disappointing for me. I tried to keep my head straight and not get too bummed, it was just paragliding after all. But it’s hard when you really care about something. As I began to process the day and the week, I came back to my normal self and regained the good attitude. It was tough, but in the end it was useless being disappointed in myself. I just finished my first PWC! I was stoked!!! I had asked Mitch Riley when I got in to the race if I should go or not, I feared it may be too soon to race in a PWC, it was only my 7th race. Mitch said I should go, take the opportunity and learn. I'm so thank full I did. I finished 110th overall out of 115th. I wouldn't change any piece of my experience. Going to events like this are like going to a clinic. Even though I am an instructor I need mentorship and guidance too. It's a sport where you can never stop learning. Hands down this was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

I cracked a beer on the last day and looked at the extended forecast back at home in California to see where I could fly next.

Lessons - I received so many lessons and got great advice over the week. Here are just a few that I jotted down in this thread.

Launch timing - Get in the air early, or strategically place yourself in the middle without getting caught in the back of the line. Stage your setup area based on where the line will form, making jumping in quite a bit easier.

Flying in crowded gaggles - Look for opportunities to out climb pilots around you without being the asshole who is cutting people off. No need to spin your glider in the gaggle to stay in the core, you just look like an idiot. Look for pilots who you fly well with, mark them by their colors and/or number on the bottom of the wing. If you find a consistent place that is working, stay there and don’t try to follow around, especially if the gaggle is just going back and forth in front of launch. Try to find your own piece if you can. Remember that you’re not the only one stressed out right now.

Thermaling - The good pilots do not stop for shit climbs. It’s a race going up. Meaning that the faster your climb, the easier it will be for you to catch pilots or stay with them. If someone lower than you gets it, you need to pounce, if you are the lower pilot then you need to climb as fast as you can so you are in a better controlling position to allow others to do the work for you. Changing your loading based on the day and the quality of air/thermals you will be flying it. It can be hard to predict this, yet with trial and error and a good understanding of the forecast and where you are flying it can really help.

Speed to fly -The speed to fly at is whatever the speed of the leaders/the gaggle you are in are flying at. Sometimes this isn't always full bar. Just because it is a race it does not always warrant full speed.

Have Fun - Yes even at a high level race like this, having fun is still a key component. Keeping a good attitude as well

Consistency - The all important thing in racing over 7 days. Links to the results:
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