My Private Competition

Steve Mitchell - 25/04/2002

Steve Mitchell (looking all of his 45 years)

It’s late in 1999 and I’m flying less and less and what’s worse I’m thinking about flying less and less.

I’m your average Cumbrian pilot; fairly introvert, SIV trained and AP rated and fed up. Most of the people I began flying with are now into mountain bikes or have given up or have retired. I know I love flying paragliders but work is busy, personal life is changing and becoming busy, I just don’t have the time, the inclination, THE PASSION for it any more.

I decide to give up paragliding after I have taken part in the British Paragliding Cup 2000 (BPC 2000). My hope is that competition will rekindle my passion for the sport. After paying the £10 registration I slowly dwindle back into apathy whilst waiting for details of the first round, which was to be held in the Lakes. The weekend of the competition was bright and sunny and windy and I am totally out of my comfort zone. Registration, briefings, task boards and “cool n groovy” looking pilots totally faze me; I take off on the first task on a hill (Souther) that I know backwards. The goal is Bothal and I’ve marked it on my map and GPS and I fly straight to Mosedale and land on the road to Carrock. First day, first round 3.1 Km in the bag, maybe competitions are not for me, but the crack was good and the pilots were really friendly.

On Day 2 something happened that changed my whole approach to flying and competitions. The First thing was that I was greeted at the breakfast sign in with congratulations for being in first place???? This was very strange; I went into Keswick with my brother (Ian) for a coffee as the current leader of the BPC. After telling him about the previous day’s flight and checking my landing co ordinates it became obvious that I had made a mistake. The error was soon corrected and I slipped quietly back into obscurity. But I now felt totally different about the competition, somehow my confidence had increased and I felt much more relaxed. The next task was the same as Day 1 apart from a turnpoint out in front of Carrock. I took off and flew over Souther for about 35 minutes watching pilots attempt to cross to Carrock and bomb or just get back to take off.

I then saw a group head off with much more purpose and they were maintaining height across the gap, I followed them and in order to catch up I stomped on my speed-bar. My old Edel Sector took off and with hardly a whisper from my vario I found myself amongst a gaggle of pilots on the southerly screes of Carrock. I felt on top of my game and in total control of my wing. I looked around and checked the conditions and what the other wings were doing; it felt a bit leesideish and the wind direction and punchy thermals made life very exciting. I saw Andy Plimmer's wing go before I heard the Bang! and then he was decked, Wow. I thought whatever hit Andy will probably catch me in a mo, bang! I knew I’d lost a lot of wing and I was just topping out on the scree slope so decking was not an option. I lobbed myself over to give opposite weight shift and slowed what was left of my wing with a dab of break. This reaction made me skim so close to the scree I had to lift my legs and corkscrewed me slap into the core of a perfect little thermal that whisked me out of the scree and put me atop of Carrock. I managed the turnpoint and landed somewhere on Caldbeck.

At the end of the Lakes round I’m in 14th position in the BPC and I feel like I’ve just learned to soar again.

I went to Kilin for the Scottish Open and the weather conditions meant that I flew but only got “take off” points. I had to miss the SE Wales round due to work commitments and so I’m now equal 24th in the Cup.

By now I’d teamed up with Martin Gill and we share a lift to the Ochil Hills round. We also land together on the first task and score the same points. Competing around thunderstorms is quite an experience for me. The whole of this event was excellent and people in the competition were really flying well together, competitive yet safe!

I need to mention the BPC 2000 organisation at this point; Chris Burns, Neil Craigmile and their team made the whole BPC event a joy.
I leave Stirling in 14th place knowing that I’ve had a great BPC, I can’t go to the last round, the Snowdon Open, so I’m resigned to finish somewhere in the middle of the table.

August 2000 sees me in Vermont and New Jersey, I’m working on a couple of management and graduate training events. I’m due back in the UK the Friday before the Saturday start of the Snowdon Comp’ and then on to work another event on the Sunday. I get an email just before flying back that says I’m not needed for the UK work and so I fly back to the UK and travel with Martin down to Wales within 3 hours of landing at Glasgow. We arrive at a pub somewhere close to Harlech exactly at closing time and spend the next couple of hours getting seriously sociable. The next morning I’m completely jet lagged and approach the first task fairly laid back. The task was a tricky 20k cross wind race to goal and the take off, above Harlech, was a rotary nightmare. I had real problems launching the old Sector and finally got airborne with Calvo’s help with 15 minutes of window left. Phew! I thought as I flew away from take off, “Steve your reserve!” I heard shouted from the ground and yep, my reserve handle was flapping around madly. I successfully stowed my reserve handle at the same time as I lost a good portion of my wing, I knew this take off was gnarly. There were very few people in the air by now and so I took a small thermal up to cloud base and pushed along, following my GPS. The clouds were big and sucking everything skywards I had to fly “Big ears in - Speed bar on” just to stay legal. After 30 minutes or so I saw the goal line and flew the final 5km without any loss of height to arrive over the goal field with plenty of height. As I landed I saw Andy Plimmer packing so I went over and asked him where everyone else was, feeling sure that most of the field had flown here hours before. I’m the first one here said Andy, you must be second. The next days task was cancelled due to thunder storms and I finished the BPC in overall 3rd place.
I entered the 2001 Nationals and flew in the Open at Piedraheta achieving a PB and having a wild time.

If you’re in a bit of a rut and have got your pilot rating then give the BPC a go. I found the standard of safety and pilot that I flew with in 2000 exceptional. It’s improved my flying, my motivation and my circle of friends. It got me to see the National championships from first hand and made an old man very happy.






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