New Zealand Nationals 2017

New Zealand Nationals 2017

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A few weeks ago I participated in New Zealand Nationals which were held in Rotorua, in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island and brought together 80 pilots from 10 countries, including 12 women.

Photo by Kris Ericksen

This summer was very wet and windy in New Zealand so I didn’t really believe we’d get much flying during the comp’s week. Luckily I was very wrong – Rotorua delivered with six flyable days and four valid tasks from two sites: Paeroa and Kaimais.

A year before I took part in one of two rounds of Nationals and I was a first lady there, however I wasn’t a permanent NZ resident yet so even if I had won both rounds I legally couldn’t fought for a female’s championship. I thought this year would be the same as my application for residency had been already in Immigration Office for quite a while and didn’t look like anything would change. How surprised I was when it finally arrived… a day before the comp started!

Photo by Jo Hjortshoj

So this year quite a few people expressed how ‘of course’ I’m going to win women’s class’. Yes, it was my little personal goal for this comp, but hearing it so often put quite a bit of pressure on me and learning to deal with all this pressure was one of the most interesting lessons from this week. However not the only one. I had participated in a couple of small competitions before but this one was definitely the most serious, with a few good foreign pilots flying hot Zenos and Enzos, with real gaggle flying and great organization so my learning curve during this week was very steep.

On the first day we flew from Paeroa Range. I flew alone most of the time and when I finally landed 10km short of the goal I realized that there was quite a group of pilots ‘sitting on my back’ and using my decisions. What a naive greenhorn! I decided to pull back during next days, fly less cross country style and use other pilots more. Eva, current (and multiple) NZ women’s champion landed a few km before me with other girls bombing out even earlier so it seemed after first day I was still in good position to fight for a trophy.

Photo by Jo Hjortshoj

Second day I took off early and with a couple of Zenos was at the cloud base 45min before the start open. As an XC pilot I’m not used to hanging in one place for so long under the soaking cloud and also till now it felt really easy for me… so I started wandering around…. and I lost the lift!
Flying on the North Island is very low with cloud base around 1000m and week thermals – it’s a hard job so every meter is precious and I just lost concentration and lost it like that!

Photo by Jo Hjortshoj

Ok, I thought I scratched my way up once on this ridge, I can do it again. However since I took off another 50 pilots took off as well and there was a real mayhem of scratching pilots desperate to climb. I soon realized that we disturb each other so badly that no-one will climb. It also didn’t help that I fly quite heavy on Mentor 4 Light XXS (remember that I mostly do hike & fly in the mountains so I have light gear and no extra ballast to leave at home for weak days) and to make things even more hopeless, a huge cloud came in, weak thermals switched off and we all went to the ground. I was so pissed off at the bomb out paddock that I started cursing in Polish and even a company of very good and experienced pilots who also went to the ground didn’t help.

Good company on the bomb out paddock, photo by Peter Allison

Other pilots who managed to reach cloud base went to the goal following soaking clouds, but I was the only donkey who made a cloud base and then went straight to the ground. To make things even worse Eva was in the ‘goal’ group gaining over me massive 400points. Ok, I thought – I simply can’t gain back 400points over Eva who’s been flying here for 20 years so now I can relax, and focus on learning.

Third day was canceled due to massive over development in the weather forecast and although some of us made little flights it was a wise decision – there wasn’t enough time for the task before the rain came .

Free flying under dark clouds, photo by Rhys Akers

Fourth day brought us to Paeroa again (I started getting a bit sick of this hill) and this time I felt super chilled – with 400points loss to Eva there was no pressure anymore, just a joy of flying with friends and learning. And I flew so well that day! I managed to stay at the top of the leading gaggle for a half of the task before I lost them on a long transition (remember – Mentor XXS versus Zenos!) and I arrived to the goal only 6 minutes after the task winner. I finally made goal, I was finding thermals and climbing faster than most of other pilots and I realized that technically all these hot comp pilots don’t really fly better than I do, they just fly more performance wings and have massive experience in comp flying so fly much more consistently. It’s such a different sport to lone xc flying in the mountains…. As this time Eva landed out short of the goal my point loss to ~200 points, still massive but not so hopeless anymore.

Fift day finally brought us to Kaimais Range. A few weeks earlier I flew there the biggest flat triangle ever flown on North Island so when I saw the task which was a shorter flat triangle I had a good feeling about it.

Start cylinder at Kaimais, photo by Kris Ericksen

I also decided to be very focused on making the goal, even if slow, just make it. So I flew quite calmly seeing other pilots racing forward, but this time I was very patient. Just after ~15 km I saw Eva making a massive mistake going low over shady gully that must gather a lot of wind, but no lift and in effect landing in an awful terrain. Fortunately I heard on the radio she’s ok so I focused back on my flying. I knew that I just need to keep going. So I came to the goal 1,5h after the task winner and 700m above the ground(?!). However it was enough to gain 23 points lead over Eva and almost 500points over third girl Liz, putting me on 23rd place overall.

On the way to first turnpoint, photo by Rhys Akers

The last day of the comp brought some wind (it’s our usual problem here on the island squeezed between roaring Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean). We went to Paeroa again, but it was already blowing so organizers took us to the small Palmers Hill with hope for a task.

Palmers Hill, photo Kris Ericksen

Ok, when I say ‘small’ – it’s really small. It’s like European training hills where students hike up and fly down 20 times per day sliding a few meters over the ground. You know Nevsha in Bulgaria or Mt Borah in Manila? Divide it in half and it’s still much higher than what we’re talking about. So you really want to make it right.

I always have a little mental problem with very windy conditions – small gliders I’ve been always flying just don’t perform too well headwind. Mentor even in XXS size is better than any other glider I’ve flown (one of the reasons why I started flying it!) but still you can’t cheat physics. So yeah, I was a bit scared, but the same time a few days earlier I had a talk with Chris who told me ‘Girl, you are so afraid of the wind while your handling skills are so good, you manage it so much better than most of other pilots… it’s all in your head!’ Ok, if it’s just in my head, today I’m going to fight it!

Palmers Hill, photo by Jo Hjortshoj

A big group of pilots is already in the air, because of my doubts now I’m late for an open start so I need to give way to a few pilots who are before me in ranking. The wind is picking up every minute and out launch marshal (awesome Col) keeps closing the launch for security reason, finally it’s my turn, but another pilot who’s been dragged around held by four other people (!) not being able to take off is… moving to my side and taking my spot?! OK, whatever, just do it girl. I go to the side and inflate my wing, Mentor goes up easily and evenly (I love this wing!) but the air is nasty and turbulent from the trees in front, I’m being thrown around a bit but steadily going straight upward, so it’s not so bad. After a few minutes I’m good 300m above the launch – exactly above the launch, so I push speed bar and start crabbing along the ridge toward first turn point – not too close to the ridge where compression may blow me to the other side and not too far in front to have some lift. After 20 minutes of this rather not interesting flying the task is canceled. Uff.

So here we are, even if a bit dissapointed with this windy day, still very happy with beautiful flying during the whole week. Everybody around have huge smiles on their faces.

The very last day brings massive wind so we hike, go rafting or just lay on the sun with cold beer in our hands. Life is good.

Good take off, bad landing, photo by Graham Surrey

Prize giving evening after the official part turned into a crazy party with a lot of dancing and these kind of stories that can’t really be told on the blog…

Winners with their trophies, phto by Kris Ericksen

I’m stoked with how much I’ve learnt – starting from the dynamicsa of competition, launching strategy, waiting in start cylinder (don’t wander around next time!!!), flying in a gaggle, to keeping pressure and ambition under control.

And oh yes, I’m a New Zealand Women’s Champion! Now it’s time to celebrate – did I mention that Rotorua is well known for thermal activity? So after an exciting week of flying just dive into a hot pool under the stars!

Life is good. Photo by Chris Wright