#201- Calef Letorney and Community, Confidence, and Cloudwhispering

Calef Letorney was a professional whitewater kayaker back in the early 2000’s who made the switch to paragliding and has never looked back. When you think of places to fly, you don’t often put the North East US on the list. The mountains are relatively small and flat, there’s a lot of trees, cloudbase is low, and the weather is fickle. But after a few seasons in the Colorado Rockies, Calef moved home to Vermont, and soon realized that to continue enjoying paragliding he needed to build a community to fly with. So he learned to be an instructor, then a tour guide, then an SIV instructor, and finally started training other instructors to help the cause… and the rest fell into place. Where a few years back you’d be lucky to have two paragliders on launch in Vermont, these days when the weather cooperates there’s often 40+ and a solid crew chasing cross country flights. In this fun episode Calef discusses his own approach to SIV (no scary stories, it should be “anticlimactic”), a few  “code brown” mishaps from his  early days (including standing on speedbar while taking a pee, oops!), the psychology of decision making, the Dunning Kruger effect, the low probability / high consequence nature of accidents, how losing a close friend early in the sport affected his approach to flying and a lot more. Enjoy!

Check out Calef’s school, Paraglide New England

To hear the bonus episode we did with Calef about “leaving the nest” click here.

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Speaker 1 (0s): Hi there everybody. Welcome to another episode of the cloudbase Mayhem. This is a bit of a double show with k Latney. Kph is an instructor in the Northeast. He got into flying about the same time I did in the early two thousands. He and I have a very similar background, not only where we went to school in in Boulder, but with paddling. He was a very serious paddler and a professional freestyle kayaker and got into flying. And very early on, just weeks after he started flying, lost a very good friend and mentor and that shaped how he has gone about his progression very interestingly, and became an instructor when he moved out to the northeast.

He's also a very successful businessman in the Land Rover parts industry. And he moved out to the northeast and was challenged to find people to go fly with and didn't have much of an XC scene happening out there. So became an instructor really just to build a community. So this is a really inspiring story about how you can build up a community to have good pilots to go fly with. And he obviously wanted to be a good pilot. And to be a good pilot, you gotta surround yourself with other good pilots.

So, became an instructor and an SIV instructor and has had a huge impact on flying in the Northeast. He frequently guides in other parts of the world with the guest we've had on the show several times, and you all know well Nick Greece. And so he spent a lot of time in VA and spends a lot of time thinking and talking about flying. He's very articulate when it comes to that. So we also talk about heuristics and the kind of low probability and, and high consequence of accidents and or the nature of accidents and the psychology of decision making.

And yeah, it's, it's all just really fun to go through it. And then of course when we end it is what, what happens many times is the guest I have on the show will reach back out and go, oh, I wish we'd talked about this or wish we'd talked about that. And one of the things, because Calef as an instructor is he really feels like the, one of the riskier places we have in our careers, flying careers is when we're first kind of pushed outta the nest. You know, you get your, you get your intermediate, you get your, sorry, your novice license, your P two here in the States, and then you're kind of on your own.

and it can be a tricky time 'cause you don't know what you don't know. So we got back on and recorded another hour long show really focused on this stage for people. So if you're brand new, you just got some equipment and just done your first lessons, this is a show for you, we are releasing it as a bonus episode. You'll find a link in the show notes for this one. And we talk about launch techniques and what Kayla calls the pro launch, how the constantly bearing wind factors in foot movement, first moments of flight, getting into the harness, picking soaring distance from the Hill locations to look for lift and what he calls the honey model.

We talked quite a bit about Kelly Fina's concepts in mastering Paragliding, which were great to, for me to even review as it had been a while for me. Talk about shapes of thermals and ya and roll and pitch and all these things that are hard to grapple with when you're first getting going. So if you're at that stage or just beyond it and want a little review of a lot of great concepts, check out the bonus episode as well with Calef. And in the meantime, enjoy this talk. It was a lot of fun.

Cheers, Calef. Good to have you on the show, man. We've been, I was just going through my email stack from you over the years. We've been talking about doing this for years, literally a long time. So I know a lot of things have changed since we first started chatting about doing all this. But let's go into, you suggested this and I dig it. Let's go into your origin story. How did you get into all this nonsense of flying around in the sky?

Speaker 2 (4m 27s): Well, thanks for having me on the show, Gavin. It's an honor. So it started in college, I think 2005. I was at a kayaking party hanging out with some of my whitewater kayaking buddies. And one of 'em was telling me about, you know, this thing paragliding, which I'd never heard anything about, and how cool it was when this guy got, you know, when he got tall and everything got really small and the school buses and the people and everything was small below you. And you know how it's a lot like kayaking in the sky and the air currents and you know, very similar to water.

And, and I started learning in college and I spent, so in Colorado, I learned in Boulder Colorado. And I spent two seasons out there. And pretty quickly,

Speaker 1 (5m 13s): Are you a buff?

Speaker 2 (5m 14s): Yeah,

Speaker 1 (5m 15s): That same. All right. Yeah. Very cool. That's similar histories.

Speaker 2 (5m 20s): Yeah, so I started out University of Richmond in Virginia and you know, looked around, I was like, all right, this place isn't for me. Moved out to Colorado. My brother was already going to school out there, so we were rooming together and I was kayaking as much as possible, getting a, getting a degree in economics and pretty quickly found paragliding. and it just grabbed me like, like nothing had in a long time. I had been kayaking pretty seriously all through high school. One of my friends likes to describe it, like going to the Hogwarts of kayaking.

So I was in one of those kayaking academies where we traveled all over the world and competed in whitewater kayaking and all that. And I was just looking for something else. You know, I sort of had burnt out at that point having done a lot of competitions and then, you know, they called it professional, but you know, making some money whitewater kayaking for a couple years.

Speaker 1 (6m 15s): And was your thing kind of creaking? Was it hair boating? Was it, was it slalom? What, what kind of, what were you chasing?

Speaker 2 (6m 21s): Freestyle. Yep. Okay. Yeah, I was like three time national champion and I won Worlds the year. It didn't count in the under 18 category, so it was pre worlds, like they had that competition every other year. And then, yeah, I was at one point traveling around with a friend in a company vehicle. They gave us Chevys. I was, I was pounding for Wayport at the time and I was, you know, with the guy was his mid thirties and beating him and he was starting to have shoulder injuries.

And I looked around, I was like, all right, now's the time to go to college while they're going to college is good. You know, before, before it, before that story ended up me being not really having a plan B. So I went to school and then fell in love with paragliding and eventually got talked into moving back to Vermont to get involved in the family business, which is selling Land Rover parts just for the old classic Land Rovers. And having learned in the Colorado community where there was just incredible mentorship and instructor all over and SIV readily available and fantastic regular conditions with good soaring, you know, flying a lot outta lookout in Boulder and, and taking trips to Salt Lake City and having access to all these incredible pilots.

Moved back to Vermont and there was some good sites, but back in, this is like 2007 or so, there wasn't much of a community or much flying. So they were teaching me where to get to launch and then the new kid shows up and I'd soar for hours and they'd be kicking stones in the lz, like, how'd you do it? You know? So I started by training the guys that were already there who had, you know, some, some 10, 15 years of experience but weren't, you know, hadn't been taught the way I had been taught. And that really helped.

Speaker 1 (8m 15s): Fascinating. So, I mean, they had, they had a lot more years than you did, but it just, is it, is it that much tougher of a place to fly or was it just the lack of instruction? They just, you'd think they'd come out and get some hours in a, in different sky But that, that's interesting that you, you were able to, you know, come out there with relatively less experience from Colorado and have more ability.

Speaker 2 (8m 37s): Yeah, I think if you have to learn these things and figure 'em out yourself, it takes exponentially longer than if you're able to have mentors whispering the little secrets, you know, Dale Covington and Kristen Croce were some of my early instructor and, and the tips they taught me about how to feel the glider and, you know, everything from what you're doing with your outside hand and where you're looking and all that stuff, you know, it's hard to come up with on your own. And I think the conditions,

Speaker 1 (9m 5s): I imagine Lookout was also a pretty good place to, I mean, I've never flown Lookout embarrassingly, I've done very little flying in Colorado, but I understand it's, it's pretty low, right? It's kind of tricky to get out of.

Speaker 2 (9m 17s): Yeah. And interestingly enough, I had the same mentor as Will Gadd, which we connected on a couple years ago. This crazy guy from Arkansas, Mr. Who's just got the most biggest heart, but also can be kind of hard on the rookies and kind of runs it a bit like a drill sergeant. It was a, it was a great place to learn how to fly. Yeah, they really took me under their wing and I, I, I received a lot of help from observers out there, just kind of, they had a great community, you know, and when I came back to Vermont, it was like, all right, we need to help people come up through the ranks so I can, we can have some folks to soar with.

Because back in the day, you know, it was a handful of us in Vermont and so on a weekend there could be nobody to fly with, you know. And so if, you know, it came down to somebody had to do it, I didn't feel like I was the most qualified, but there needed to be somebody around sort of taking the P twos out of the, there was some schools, but they just stopped at P two, so they'd get folks in the air and it was kind of scary 'cause you know, there was some P twos that didn't really know what to do after that. And I think this is a, a challenge that's pretty much everywhere in the country faces.

That's a sort of a critical part in pilot's careers is it's fairly well-defined what to do as you go through your training and your progression and then you get to P two and a lot of schools wave goodbye to you and then you gotta make the transition to mountain flying

Speaker 1 (10m 38s): By the gear. Good luck.

Speaker 2 (10m 40s): Yep.

Speaker 1 (10m 41s): Yeah, right. Was your, just curious about paddling because it sounded like that was, that was a big part of your life. Was paragliding the end of your paddling or did you still keep paddling?

Speaker 2 (10m 51s): Yeah, so after I graduated college and was definitely flying at that point, I taught for a traveling kayaking high school for a semester teaching video editing and coaching the freestyle program, which was, you know, like a video productions course and coaching freestyle, which was fun. But yeah, I was definitely dragging a paraglider around with me in addition to the kayak. and it was, it was clear at that point that I was more interested in flying than, than kayaking.

Speaker 1 (11m 26s): That's pretty interesting. 'cause I, I you, you've maybe heard my story of kayaking down in Mexico and I was, you know, same, very intense. I was never very, a very good play boater. I was more creek stuff and without going into it, 'cause I've told the story before, but basically died in a waterfall and should have definitely died, but basically died and you know, one of those miraculous kind of, holy cow, I got to survive and I never, I got right back on the river that day and then, you know, and I've paddled some fun stuff since the cell way in the middle fork and Grand Canyon and fun stuff.

But I was never able to get back on the horse. and it was, which is interesting to me because paragliding to me is, you know, I'm sure like yourself, I've lost some friends boating, but nothing compared to flying in terms, especially in terms of the injuries. You know, you get the shoulder injuries and stuff, but it seems, maybe that's a numbers thing I, but I don't know. But the, it seems that that paragliding if anything is even scarier or it can be.

And, but that's been something that's held my attention for a lot longer than, than kayaking did. I, I'm always interested too with the relationship with kayaking and flying that it seems to be a common one that, that people who kayak will Gadd talked about this a lot. Very, they get it. They, they get really good at paragliding really fast. It's the hip movement, it's the risk, it's the flow, it's all those things that

Speaker 2 (13m 1s): The fluid dynamics, I'm often building mental models of what the water would be doing as it's moving through the mountains. Absolutely. It's interesting you mentioned the risk. I always sort of thought paragliding was significantly more dangerous. And then I saw the whitewater deaths this year in the US there were like over 30. Now granted they're counting people who were like, you know, tubing with a cooler beer tied to their foot and that sort of, sure, you know, stuff but dumb acidy, I guess the big, big water year out west and a lot of people getting after some flood stage stuff.

But yeah, we definitely lost friends in both sports over the years. Unfortunately, a big part of my origin story is that two weeks into my paragliding career, that guy I was telling you about that was at the party who convinced me and who's actually a good paddling buddy of Mike. He had the fight of his life and then attempted wing overs and pounded in and died on the scene. So like right in the beginning of my paragliding career, I had this big loss, which really sort of informed, you know, how I learned and how I thought about the sport.

And then I had a pretty, pretty exciting intermediate syndrome 'cause I got good fairly quickly and at the start of my second season was like right away out soaring march thermals. And, you know, so I had some exciting moments I'm happy to tell you about later. And that sort of all factored into how I think about flying and, and the work I'm doing now to help students progress hopefully without any setbacks. Because like you said, you know, you're sort of touching on the fear injury stuff. A near drowning experience kind of ruined the sport for you and, and you haven't been back much For me, I was just competing in freestyle a lot and every weekend we'd go creaking and whatnot.

So I really enjoyed, you know, waterfalls and challenging whitewater. But you know, I was one of the guys who, you know, I, I was almost never swam, like the last time I've swam was actually that guy Max, he used to be the guy who would run the worst lines intentionally and his nickname was Chun Boy. And he just loved to get hammered. And so after he passed away, I did some Memorial Chun boy wines until one time I just got stuffed down below a waterfall and had to swim out.

And that was my homage to Max. But we had these conversations where I was like, he kept saying, yeah, Calef, you're gonna be a great paraglider 'cause you never swim and you're always so calculated with your kayaking and you always nail the wine. And, and you know, I'm like, but Max, what's that say for you? You're like the worst. Like, you know, we all laugh about how like your reputation is for just getting spanked at all times and you, you're the guy who can just take the beating the hardest first of all. And he was like, oh, I'm afraid of flying and it keeps me safe. And then he gets to 14,000 feet in Aspen one night, you know, and the fear goes away.

So, you know, a lot of it's really challenging 'cause a lot of this sport is, you know, you're as good as your worst moment. Right? And you know, convincing yourself to be afraid of things you, you don't quite understand, you know, and maybe that the old guard or telling you should understand or, or be afraid of. It's challenging because, you know, there's a lot of bad decisions that result in excellent paragliding and it's really the feedback system's all wrong, you know?

Speaker 1 (16m 19s): Yeah. You, we, we had a good discussion via email a while back about a, a, a avalanche podcast that you really liked and put me onto and where they talk about heuristics and just that bad decisions being, being granted terrible results, you know, bad decisions just ending in an epic pow day and making good decisions ending in a bad day because you, you're, you're, you're not skiing the steeps. And so it's rewarding all the wrong things, which I think we find, you know, will, Gadd talks about that a lot.

We find that a lot in flying, don't we?

Speaker 2 (16m 53s): Yeah. I was actually having this conversation just last night. We have a WhatsApp group with all of our graduates and soaring students that are continuing, you know, soaring practice with us. And one of the pilots was saying how she felt bad that she had driven down and kinda had kind of left feeling bummed. And I let her know that I had been talking with one of then instructor and thought she did the best piloting of the day because it had gotten clearly kind of windy and we saw some, you know, challenging launches and she just made the responsible decision that she didn't, she didn't feel it and she went home and you know, unfortunately that feels negative in the moment, but avoiding having, you know, one of those career changing experiences or at least a bad enough time that you scare yourself is, is crucial to having a long career.

You know? 'cause it's not a particularly physically demanding sport. We can all do it well into our, you know, mid seventies or until you pound, right?

Speaker 1 (17m 52s): Yeah. Yeah. And it's a long time pound long time hurt or Yeah. You, you seem to keep gravitating towards instruction. You, you talked about you instructed and freestyle and then you what, what makes a good instructor and what makes you, why do you think that's been the case? What, why do you like instructing what, you know? I've never instructed anything. It, it's just, it's an interesting personality trait.

Speaker 2 (18m 17s): Yeah, that's a great question. I guess I never really thought about it, but I was instructing fairly early in paragliding. I remember when I was in vi a Bravo in my second season and I just discovered this place and it was like, this is the most amazing thing in the world. Like, you know, and, and then when, you know, new pilots would show up right away, I'd start teaching them like, you know, from here's a good place to get your breakfast quesadilla to here's how you get to launch to, you know, here's the route we've been flying to get back to town.

and it was a little harder to get back to town back in, you know, 2007 when the gliders weren't quite as good as they are now. But yeah, I don't know, I don't know that I'm a particularly natural or talented instructor. A lot of it's need and ability. I keep saying if there was somebody better at it around me, you know, near me, that I would let them take the responsibility in some ways it kind of, it's a lot of work. It's sometimes feels a bit like a responsibility more than something that I'm doing out of enjoyment.

But, you know, for me the goal has always been to build the paragliding community locally. That, that I want to, to make the flying buddies that I want to have because otherwise, you know, we'd have good pilots moving to town and they wouldn't see anybody flying. 'cause there's nobody out flying and if there's not a community, there's some excellent pilots passing through that don't hang out with you. And, and, and it all sort of builds. So it's not like I'm responsible for training all of the pilots from beginning to expert or even, you know, the ones that show up from other schools from having the novice P two rating up to expert.

But just helping foster that community so that when people, wherever they, however they come to you, they, they show up and they see this vibrant flying community, you know, people helping each other and talking about, you know, when and where and how to fly. And then, you know, afterwards hanging out and grilling and, and, and all that, that community aspect builds on itself and it attracts more people, you know. And I'm also really conscious that I think maybe Whitewater seeing its heyday, we certainly recognize hang gliding scenes heyday and I just love paragliding.

And so if I wanna keep paragliding and have people to do it with, 'cause we all know it's a lot more fun with other people, then it's sort of on all of us to latch onto that next generation and, and help make 'em into our future flying buddies. I think, and this is a bit of a generalization, but I think some of hang gliding, they started eating their young rather than fostering their young, you know, I think there was a bit of a, like the new guys show up in some places I've heard and, and they were sort of forced to drive for a number of days and kind of not really accepted.

'cause there were some really cool pilots and the sport was really cool and it was really going places. And that's not really the welcoming atmosphere that gets people coming back, you know, and, and there's many, many factors involved, but, you know, I think we can all play our part. You're certainly playing your part here with this podcast. You know, it's, it's up to all of us to keep the sport going.

Speaker 1 (21m 34s): Yeah, you're making me feel bad about our own community. You know, in Sun Valley we, we've had this big issue in the states and with all the lift access places with insurance and, and not being able to fly a lot of these, a lot of the, you know, famous Lyft places, Lyft access places that we've had for a long time. Jackson, Telluride and Sun Valley and Utah and all over and, and, and back east where you are as well. And it's, it has really crunched our scene and, and it's, it's become, you know, much more of a hike and fly club, which is great.

And that was kind of the direction it was going anyway. But it really does need a lot of fostering, you know, the, the, the speed community has been, has done a really good job with that where I live, where there's, there's, there's events and there's barbecues and they're getting people into it and especially young people into it and, which is terrific. But yeah, you, you're right. I mean, it, it requires effort. You gotta put some effort into it. How much of your instruction has been informed by the, the death of your friend Max? Because you, you said in your, your emails several times that your own approach has been pretty conservative.

Your approach with instruction is, is pretty conservative. Was that, was that a direct result of, of, of seeing that act? I guess you didn't actually see it, but the, it was in your neighborhood, but or is that just the, the natural flow of, of what you've seen in sport?

Speaker 2 (23m 0s): You know, it's really interesting. Conservative is extremely subjective. Yeah. Some people think I'm crazy, you know, and I've even had other pilots and instructor saying, I'm going way too fast because, you know, in short order, sometimes we have pilots go from a trip or two to Mexico and then a couple months later we're going to cloudbase and we're flying cross country together and accomplishing things that seem really dangerous. But in my mind it's like, well, you know, cloudbase is thousands feet off the ground, the conditions are lovely.

So it was perfectly safe, you know, all about maximizing safety margins of course. And, and thinking about decision, decision making processes that are going to create long-term success rather than short-term term satisfaction. Yeah, A a lot of it for me is also what's gonna be fun. Like, you know, we, there's a lot of logistic flights that you could take to get you down where you're gonna be pointing to the wind for 30 minutes.

And I don't find that enjoyable. And, you know, having done it for, you know, a couple seasons now, I'm not really interested in doing that as much as I was when I was, you know, more horny for airtime as a younger pilot. That sort of seemed like a good trade and I'm, you know, maybe getting a little older, I guess turning 40 next year.

Speaker 1 (24m 25s): Yeah. You know, the first time I saw you was, you know, one, one of the board meetings we had recently, I thought, oh my god, he's a lot younger than I thought. For some reason I thought we were closer. But you, you seem, you seem wise for your age, you must have been been through a lot. Let's switch to that for a sec. You, you had some, you know, engineering background. You got into the parts business, which I think you're still doing right with with Land Rover.

Speaker 2 (24m 51s): Yeah. Are you still

Speaker 1 (24m 52s): Kind of running that for the family

Speaker 2 (24m 54s): Economics? Yep. And then later I studied business and got an M B A and it's been really challenging of course, working with your family at times, but incredibly fulfilling in, in a lot of ways. and it just this really cool niche industry. We sell parts for Old Land Rovers and we've just gotten lucky in so many ways that these old land rovers have continued to get cooler and cooler and people keep bringing 'em into the US if it's over 25 years old, it doesn't need to meet D O T or e P A requirements.

And so we're getting into the years that they built a lot of Land Rovers and so all these old junk trucks come over and we can sell you everything but the vehicle identification number except for the vin you know, chassis bodies, you know, brakes, engine transmission, the whole thing. And so, you know, it's really special that, you know, we're now seeing third generation customers. My father started the business in 1979. He didn't have a garage. He'd show up to people's houses with tools to fix their trucks.

So at first he started as a mechanic, you know, in the winter he'd bring a big piece of cardboard to lay in the snow and fix their car. And you know, we sold off the mechanic part of the business in the late nineties and I joined in 2007, then we had 15 employees. We're up to about 38 now. Whoa. Yeah, I've been working really hard to sort of think more like a manager and an owner and creating efficiencies and processes and keeping myself out of the day-to-day.

So when I go teach paragliding in Mexico for two weeks, you know, there's a lot of emails happening at night and stuff, but I, I'm not doing the daily work. I'm, I'm more leading projects to create growth and efficiencies and stuff like that.

Speaker 1 (26m 47s): Okay. You and I walk into a party, we don't know anybody and, and we're, we're trying to make friends and somebody comes up and says, Hey, who are you? What do you do? How do you answer that question?

Speaker 2 (26m 60s): I sell old car parts and for fun I teach paragliding.

Speaker 1 (27m 4s): Okay. So it's basically those two. How, what would be the percentage of car parts versus teaching paragliding?

Speaker 2 (27m 11s): Well,

Speaker 1 (27m 11s): In terms of your, in terms of your bandwidth and your time.

Speaker 2 (27m 15s): I'd say it's about 50 50. But we do, I do a lot of working. So like, fortunately paragliding often feels a lot like fun. So, you know, it doesn't really feel like working when you're coaching from the air. I, I try to do a lot of coaching from the air, you know, after I get everybody in the air myself, I launch and soar with 'em and we're talking techniques and whatnot. But yeah, you know, about 50 50, I'd say

Speaker 1 (27m 44s): Teaching from the air guiding. Okay, so you go down to va you and Nick's have done some stuff together and you, you got, you know, VA is pretty spicy. A lot of accidents go down in, in va. How nerve wracking is that? That's always been something I've thought about doing. I've thought about doing, you know, trips in the Alps where, you know, because I know the Alps really well now after all these races, and it'd be fun to do a kind of a, you know, a high end you're going to really cool huts and doing and you know, and you could use, you don't have to hike all the time.

You could use, there's lifts everywhere there, but you could do a really cool tour of the Alps for, you know, a week Toby Cologne. That's kind of how I got into it. I used, used to do trips with him and the Alps from kind of nice up to Nessy or an down in nice. And, but they were really budget end and you, you know, you could do, there's some pretty rad places you can go in the Alps with great food and good flying and all that. And, and I know it really well now. So I, I've often thought about that, but then I always think, yeah, I don't know if I can handle the stress of just, no, don't go in there.

No, don't go in there. Don't go there. Don't, please don't do that. You know? Yeah. You got these people on radio and stuff, but I, it makes me nervous. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (28m 55s): What, what

Speaker 1 (28m 56s): Is that like, don't go behind the pinon, please.

Speaker 2 (28m 59s): Don't do, there's a lot, A lot it because like, like we were talking about, I think before we started recording, you know, as soon as pilots are in the air, it's like amnesia, like the stuff you told 'em 30 seconds ago, they just, they they're, they're hungry, you know, they're out chasing it and it's really, you know, there is definitely some shepherding from the air that, you know, you gotta have the radio quick and be comfortable piloting either with one hand or have the microphone away that you can be talking while you're doing it.

But I also ch try really hard to create safe situations. I'm not going to va in middle of January or February. I'm going in early December when it's a little mellower. There's less people we are, I really like to have a mixture of pilots so that we've got some newer pilots and some more experienced pilots and the newer guys are getting out a little bit earlier and we're, you know, remote controlling 'em for a while and then naturally they sync out. And so, you know, when you have a mix of, of, of students then, you know, later where I'm up in the air doing a little more cross country and maybe doing tasks that land at the lunch spot and, and the vans running around picking people up.

And so then we all debrief over lunch and then go back for the afternoon, that sort of thing. Really like doing trips to Kike Chile, we got one coming up in the fall for that. Another great destination. So yeah, there's definitely some stress involved. It's not vacation, you know, you're really trying to build people up and give 'em awesome piling experiences, but also sometimes you need to, you know, be firm when something's going on that's not safe that needs intervention and, and sometimes people don't understand and, and you need to try to explain in, in various ways, you know, to break through whatever's going on to get folks piloting more safely, you know, building in bigger margins.

You know, trying to get them to understand that just 'cause nothing bad happened this time doesn't mean it's a good idea to fly that far over the back and perk yourself in the wind while you go up. And you know, there's, we've seen some people put themselves in fairly precarious situations that if it weren't for having, you know, somebody on the radio could end badly. And, and I guess there's a bit of a, an awareness that you have to, it takes practice so that you can do your own piloting as well as keeping an eye on, you know, eight people. Right now I'm trying to, I'm trying to run smaller trips.

Last year we'd gotten up to running trips of 12 people with four instructor, but I think we're going back to one van tours, which is just less stressful.

Speaker 3 (31m 32s): Hmm.

Speaker 1 (31m 34s): What, what have you seen change for the good and maybe for the bad since you, you know, got into this in the early two thousands and then started instructing mid two thousands it sounds like, and you've been at this for a while, there seems to be, you know, a few years back we were all pretty worried that we were heading in the same direction as hang gliding. and it doesn't seem to be the case, you know, I think Covid helped in a sense. It got everybody outside Hike and Fly has taken over the, the scene in a crazy way.

You know, there, it's not just the X outs now there's dozens and dozens of others, including my own the X Red Rocks, which is really exciting, you know, so the gear has, has certainly helped with this. You know, we're not lugging around these huge packs, you know, there's a compromise there, which we've talked a lot about on the show, but the, what I guess what I'm saying is, you know, the numbers are, are are looking maybe better than they ever have right now. There's a lot of people, you know, the scene in Boulder's insane, the scene in at at Tommy and SIV Simone's place in Austria is insane.

The the, the scene in Santa Barbara is crazy. I mean it's just, you know, it's in a sense there are more young people right now. I was just in Chelan for Nationals in June chasing it and chasing it hard and flying well than us old timers have seen in a long time. It's, it's, it's a really exciting time for the sport. Also a little bit scary, you know? 'cause they're, they're chasing their heart and they're, they're new to the sport, so it's great to see. But it's also, yeah, you know, for, for those of us who've seen a lot of accidents, it is a little bit scary.

But I'm just curious what you've seen and what, you know, what, what are the trends? What are you excited about? What are you worried about?

Speaker 2 (33m 25s): Well, I think some of it is regional as well, but I do agree that there's, I think globally paragliding is enjoying a moment. I think the GoPros and 360 cams have made it look really cool. And the speed flying is especially captivating for people. You know, I, I bumped into somebody a couple months ago who started telling me that he'd never paraglide, but he watches this guy on Instagram and it turns out it's a speed pilot I know really well.

and it is like, you know, random people love speed flying. Okay, cool. So that's really cool. But I think the sports really progressing in terms of technology for sure. The glide ratios keep getting better and, and they keep getting a little bit faster and they keep getting safer. And the packed volume's huge. Back in the day we were traveling with like the size of equipment that's now my tandem gear, you know, and I'm about to go on a work trip and I'm gonna sneak in next CW and a speed wing and a mini wing and you know, another, the other harness.

And it's all gonna be smaller than the one glider I used to take back in the day. I'm gonna have three wings, two harnesses, you know. So it, that, that really helps for sure. But I think Covid really put things in perspective. I had a lot of people say, you know, I just want to do something with myself. Like we were stuck at home and faced with this crazy upending of the norm, you know, the what we're, what's normal and and pace for our own mortality and let's just go send it.

Like this is really cool. Like I've always wanted a paraglide now's the time and I really benefited from, from c O D because I had some great instructor that had nothing else to do but hang out in New England and and teach. And those opportun, you know, now that the pandemic has wound down, people are getting back to their normal occupations. And so I've been losing instructor to better, you know, their normal careers and stuff.

Speaker 1 (35m 27s): Yeah, this is interesting. You know, sun Valley's having one of the worst summers in terms of tourism in a long time. And this is on the back of the best summer ever last year. All my buddies that are guides, I just talked to Chuck the other day, he's having the worst tandem season in history. All my buddies that are guides are, you know, they're painting and doing other stuff with their lives this summer. 'cause I, I think people shot their wads covid, you know, they, they bought their campers and their, all their travel tickets and it, it's interesting 'cause apparently Europe's having this, the busiest summer ever, you know, so I think a lot of the folks that were planning Europe trips in 20 and 21 and 22 that didn't get to go, you know, so they're all over there.

But yeah, I mean it's, it's, it's gonna be interesting to see how this all shakes out. I wonder if that kind of growth will subsist or will will keep, keep happening.

Speaker 2 (36m 22s): We're not really seeing the dur the downturn over here in Vermont in the northeast U S A, but I've long been wondering if all those, you know, mountain bikes that you couldn't get and all the stuff that was campers and outdoor equipment that was, you know, really in demand in the pandemic and there was way more demand than there was supply. You know, it's like rock cl bouldering crash mats. Like bouldering went through a big peak back in the day and then there were a bunch of used crash mats cheap when people got bored of bouldering or whatever.

And I'm wondering if, all right, we're gonna start to see some pretty good deals on rt, you know, RVs and mountain bikes Oh, big time and skis and all that stuff. Because when people, like, you never know if it's like that parcel there that's separated and it just keeps going up to cloudbase or if it's like a high pressure day and it's gonna come right back down and there's like a stickiness that it, it overcame briefly. But in the end, you know, we're a pretty weird group of people that actually want to do this more than, you know, just to have that, you know, bucket list experience.

You know, that's actually one thing I I'm sort of going through right now with my business is I'm, you know, winding down the tandem operation. Of course, you know, Bella and Jamie and they've moved back to Europe since the pandemic and they were happy to run a tandem business. But to me, tandems don't really contribute to the mission. The mission is to build a piloting community. And if they're just a tourist, like even if there's decent money in it, it's just not worth the effort for scheduling and communicating and getting folks to the mountains and all that.

'cause it doesn't contribute to more paragliding. It's just like we gave them a great experience, which I did my first commercial tandem in a year now that I, you know, have less tandem pilots working for me. And I actually really enjoyed it. It was fun, it was cool, it was great giving that experience. And I had, we had like a lovely 40 minute flight and we, you know, gained, you know, a thousand feet or whatever and the ridge back and forth and then went and landed when he started getting a little woozy. But you know, it was cool to revisit that part of paragliding that I hadn't done in a while.

Yeah. So anyways, yeah, I've ne

Speaker 1 (38m 36s): I've, I've never, I've never done it. It's always been, it's another thing that I've always kind of avoided because I thought, you know, if, if I love this so much, I was always a little wary of the tannin thing. 'cause I would talk to tandem pilot, especially the ones in interlock and you know, the ones that are banging eight, 10 a day and you know, hey the, the worst thing you can do for your own personal flying is tandem flying. 'cause you just, you don't, you get the hours. But it's interesting because, you know, the, a lot of the tandem pilots I've spoken to lately almost refute that it's almost the other way around. You know, they love giving the experience, they're making good money, they're still flying.

And you know, Sebina is a classic example of this, you know, one of the best World Cup pilots in the world, you know, just competed in the Iger again and you know, he's having a really good time and he's one of the interlocking guys. He, you know, he's, he's a seasonal tandem pilot. So I mean, I think you can manage it, but I've just, I've always been afraid that it would take away from my own personal passion of, of flying, especially xe

Speaker 2 (39m 33s): Well you had him on the show earlier, Andre the cosmonaut. He does an excellent job of banging a tandem out in the morning and then sending it cross country as soon as the conditions turn on. So you can do both. It's definitely a, a balancing act for sure. Yeah. The, the work side of it does, does take away in some regards. You know, like a lot of times I'll launch the, you know, the fledglings the, the novices that are just learning to soar in the morning and then, and then I'll start having a bit more experienced pilots soaring with me in the afternoon and maybe I'll do a triangle or an out and back rather than just trying to punt it down, wind as far as I can.

And ideally get back in time for like a 3 34 o'clock again with the, with the same novices. So you can have a lot of fun around it. But it's, it's certainly not just all fun if you're, if you're teaching and helping folks.

Speaker 1 (40m 31s): Are you, are you still teaching SIV?

Speaker 2 (40m 34s): I am. If my, my beach ever comes back, we've had some record flooding and I've heard all this the weekend after the state capitol flooded, we were okay, but there was not much beach left and it has kept raining and we've had just repeated flooding events and now there is no beach left. And so I've canceled all of SIVs for the next two, three weeks. We'll see what happens.

Speaker 1 (40m 58s): So let's talk about SIV for a little bit. Is it the, i I don't know your system out there. You talked about it in one of your emails that you, you like to keep it to the basics, but this was several years ago, so maybe you've changed things, but how, what does SIV look like to you? How important is it? How do you, when do you recommend people do it? You know, all the, all the kind of classic things we hear about SIV, but what's your perspective?

Speaker 2 (41m 24s): Yeah, I never intended to be an SIV coach. When I founded the business, there were three partners and maybe one year into it, the acro guy, you know, decided that he didn't have time and, and wanna take that risk anymore. He, he left and, and we, we had been having a little bit of disagreements about techniques 'cause he just wanted to teach folks how to be great.

And I was like, yeah, that's awesome. But like, if you tell them to exit the spiral by switching direction, like 75% of 'em are gonna really screw it up and go into the gliders. So like, let's talk about how to get out slowly and when they mess that up, how to get back in and like keep it straight and not let it roll the opposite direction so that we don't have the lines go slack. And, and he was very quickly like, you know what, I can tell you that you're gonna be better at this and want to do it, so why don't you coach the sis I'm out. So, so I sort of got like thrust into it mid-season with a, with a booked SIV calendar and I called Rob SPO up and he was like, I don't know bro.

Like I, I I don't think, well I guess you could probably do it if you keep it pretty mellow. So I was like forced to come up with my own curriculum. 'cause you know, I'm, I was an advanced instructor at the time. I had all the qualifications. I should have been able to do it. I'd done a half dozen SIV clinics. I was pretty comfortable full stalling and wing overs and all the basics. But the reason was that none of my students had local training. Nobody had local training. It's like Florida or Utah Colorado, maybe there's just this entire part of the country, you know, that two, 2000 miles.

There's no SIV in sight and it's a pretty big ask to tell one of your students, okay, go for a, you know, a week long trip out to California to do this scary training that, you know, and our number one canceled, you know, between like trips and soaring instruction and tandems and everything. SIV gets bailed on the most. 'cause as it comes up, people always have life events or stuff. You think everybody's nervous and it's just a weird different thing. And, and so, you know, it it, it's hard to convince people to, to travel for that.

So it was like, well I can't be putting out generations of pilots that are wanting to fly country, cross country, but have never done any SIV. We gotta do it ourselves. And fortunately our original business partner came in with all the knowledge of the boat and the towing and all of that. So we were all set up and then we found a beach in New York and I went to the, the town owned the beach and I went to the select board meeting and pitched them on the idea of leasing us the beach.

And they were all about it. They were like, it's gonna put us on the map, we're gonna have something cool that's our own, you know, 'cause it's this sleepy part of New York on Lake Champlain. And yeah, it's been a, it's been a big process. I actually hire three US Coast Guard commercial captains because we're on international waterway. We have to have proper commercial captains running our boats. 'cause Lake Champlain goes up into Canada. Of course, yeah. And tow techs and all that. So it's a big production to put it on, but it's totally worth it in terms of, of building the community and piloting success and, and so my friends know how to get outta the sky in a hurry and can deal with collapses and yeah, I keep it fairly basic.

We really focus on, you know, instant recovery, energy management and, and smoothness and getting outta the sky in a hurry. And basic drills on that stuff. It looks a little bit like the SIV I originally got back in 2005, 2006, but I've also been hanging out with this Canadian kid. He is been teaching me tons who will like show up and start doing infinite tumbles and twister, you know, helicopters and twisters and all this stuff.

So we get this real acro pro that comes out just recreationally and hangs out with us once in a while. And so we've been learning some, some of the new techniques. 'cause he's all dialed in with the acro scene in, in, in Europe and in in Turkey and all that. So it's been fun. But yeah, it's not about, so like when I keep saying basic for me, you know, I don't teach people a full stall on their first SIV, you know, unless they're exceptional and I don't have 'em spinning and I don't make 'em throw the reserve. I want them to leave, ideally dry and with a smile.

And that way they're excited to do more of it, you know, and and for me, a really big win is if they've blown up a couple really big collapses and dealt with, dealt with the different varieties and, and done, you know, several different forms of, of collapses on one side and you know, are you holding it in, making it fly straight? Are you leaning in and going with it perhaps towards auto rotation if you're feeling, you know, bold and all that. And then, you know, we're starting to get them doing spirals and ideally asymmetrical spirals.

I think that's just a fantastic way to demonstrate energy control and dissipating energy. And, and I don't, I intentionally don't teach stalls until they're second or third SIV. 'cause I think it's pretty easy for people to do a stall with a coach on the radio following the voice in your head, but to have the presence of mind to really learn anything. So it's not just something you've done once, I think is beyond most people. They just remember, oh my gosh, that was crazy.

and it was just this really overwhelming event. We can talk more about it later. But the first time I tried to full stall in the wild, it did not go well.

Speaker 1 (47m 7s): Let's talk about it right now.

Speaker 2 (47m 9s): Okay. So this was the second time I threw my reserve. Like I said, 2006 to 2008 were fairly exciting. I was invited to Bravo. I saw a guy over the back, we were fairly low. It was one of those days where you couldn't get out and it was getting fairly mean. And in retrospect, maybe it was rotor, but I see a guy just pop up in some really strong lift and then like half his wing gets wiped out and he just runs.

And I literally said out loud pussy and I flew over to it.

Speaker 1 (47m 45s): That's where I'm going.

Speaker 2 (47m 47s): That was great. and it wiped out the inside of my glider, which I haven't had happen too many times, if ever. So I was already dropped in a fairly robust turn because I lost like 60% of the side I was turning into. And I'm thinking to myself, don't spin it. Don't spin it. And at the time the SIV clinics I had taken hadn't really focused on looking at your wing when things get exciting. And so I was trying to feel when not to spin it. And if I'd looked at it, I would've known when, when, not to spin it, but I was focused on going straight, you know, and, and, and all the curriculum is lean away breakaway.

And now I talk about, you know, a decision point. Like, like I, I tell pals they need to have like a flashing light, a proximity alarm in, in the, in the instrument panel of their mind that you always know when you're, when the proximity alarm's going off and you must fly straight. But if you don't need to fly straight, don't create an incident by making it fly straight when you got enough room to wet turn nine degrees or 180 degrees while the collapse works itself out. Well I was insisting on making it go straight and then before you knew it, I spun it of course big spin with a, with a collapse.

And I'm like, oh, I've done this. And that's you

Speaker 1 (49m 1s): Spun, you spun the flying

Speaker 2 (49m 2s): Side. I spun the flying side. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, I, at the time I probably had 200 flights, 250 flights and a hundred hours. You're new, you know? Yeah, yeah. Which you and I say, yeah, super new. But these days, like you're, when you're working with beginners and they're like, oh, well I've got 150 flight or intermediates, like I've got 150 flights. And it's, I remember being there, it's this point of pride. You've worked really hard to get those 150 flights. You feel like you've learned a lot. But in the grand scheme of things, as you just said, I was so wet behind the ears.

And so, oh man, having just spun my glider, it's like I practice as a bunch of SIV, here we go full stall. Right? But you know, everybody talks about the full stall being this great reset, but it's like, yeah, if you've done 75 or a hundred, they're great. But like, if you've done three or five over the water with a coach following the coach's directions and it's just all like, adrenaline go crazy, like pulling it off in battle when you've got a spun glider, like I'm stalling the glider and next thing you know, I got three riser twists and a stalled glider and I'm looking at like six, 800 feet of altitude.

and it was like, well this seems like an optimal time to deploy my parachute. And I fell down through the trees and walked away and flew the next day. and it was fine. It was benign. Yeah. It led to some lasting fear for a while. I was like looking around at my carabiners, like this is all that's holding me onto this thing. You know, it's not rational fear's, not rational, but you know, it manifests like, oh god, yep. Tiny little piece of aluminum or is trapping me. This thing like that slowed me down a little bit in, in the grand scheme of things, you know, but, but yeah, so I don't think that full stalls, you know, until you have the other skills really dialed and then have done a bunch of 'em are gonna be a particularly meaningful reset for most people.

And I didn't, didn't, you know, except for having spun accidentally, I didn't really need to full stall. I just, I just thought that was the go-to after you spin.

Speaker 1 (51m 0s): I, I'm curious, you know, in your instructing and, and doing all the SIV training and is is the ultimate best thing that people get. Well I should just ask it like that. What is the ultimate, best thing that people get out of SIV and then I'm gonna come back to what I think.

Speaker 2 (51m 18s): Wow. So for me, it comes down to those three things. Disaster recovery without overreacting and handling it well. Energy management, getting outta the sky in a hurry. You know, if something happens and your wing ends up sort of below you and off to the side, is this an opportunity for a sweet asymmetrical spiral turn or a wing over? Or is, are you gonna overreact and handle it badly? And, and getting outta the sky in a hurry I think is a, is a big one. It's not uncommon that I'm on launch with new pilots and, and we're talking about the conditions and I'm pointing out some overdevelopment in the distance and talking about how, you know, recommendations from the U S H P A or not flying, if there's any overdevelopment in the sky at, you know, at that rating and you're like, well I can always get down with big ears and speed.

And it's like, well maybe seven, 800 feet per minute if you're really pulling on it, you know? But like when you get caught it's, 'cause there's rising air, I think

Speaker 1 (52m 14s): It's going up at 10 meters and it, it's, yeah.

Speaker 2 (52m 17s): Yeah. I think freedom units Gavin okay. Feet per minute. So yeah. So, you know, if you can't get outta the sky in a hurry, how are you gonna beat it down? You know, your best chance is to run away and, and, and, and so I really like to have people, I think it's a total win if I can take somebody who's a novice pilot and they leave really comfortable with collapses not being much of a concern as long as they have altitude, not overreacting and, and then really, I like to see spiral control, can they enter and exit spiral?

and it, it's, the capstone is if you can do like a nice asymmetrical spiral, just the repeated entry and exit of a spiral, maybe getting a little bit oval eyes and coming over the top of the glider. And even better if you can demonstrate wing overs, which as you know, is a significantly more challenging maneuver that I think very few people actually do. Well, you know, if they can show that energy control, I think that's a huge win. And then down the road, of course, we're happy to teach stalls and i, I do some spin appreciation, like, you know, just the start of a, a spin with folks so they can see what it looks like when it breaks and, and get them thinking about watching their glider and what it looks like as the glider starts to peel away and, and stall on one side and all that.

Speaker 1 (53m 37s): So I would totally agree with everything you just said. and it, this was just something that popped in my mind as I was just about to ask this, that question. I, I, I wonder where just, you know, the SIV training has implanted awareness of the ground and when to throw, because the, when I have the accidents I've seen, most of them are launching landing proximity stuff, right?

That's what we all see. And very few happen up high in the air, but the ones that are fatal, they

Speaker 2 (54m 16s): Threw too late

Speaker 1 (54m 17s): Or didn't throw at all. Right? I mean, the, especially at the World Cup level, the, the accidents that I've seen in World Cups and in comps are people trying to solve it too long and they lose their awareness of the ground. And to me the, the most valuable maybe thing in, in SIV is not recovery, which is very valuable. Like you said, those three things. Energy management, getting to the ground, recovering, you know, doing the right thing at the right time.

Of course, that's why we go to SIV training. But, you know, I, I, I heard Theo talk about this de bl who's the master of, of Asked Acro is just that, how long do I have? How long do I have, you know, the, my Wing is in this configuration, seen this before in SIV. I know that that triple twist you're talking about with a deflated guider is I don't have this move in 800 feet. So I'm throwing right now, I, I don't have the time to fix this.

You know, I, my most recent throw was down in Naite after va. They took us all over there to kind of explore this new site that's just inland from, from port of Vallarta. and it was the first flight there. I was crushed tired. I'd just done the super final and we drove all night and the flights got all messed up. So I got almost no sleep. And that should have been a red flag, you know? But we're all there to kind of promote this site. And I'm not trying to break any records.

I'm just trying to fly around in the sky for a little while and land and wing blows up super low. and it was just one of those, I have no time to deal with this whatsoever. Huck it right now. I just was, you know, my SIV training took over and it was the, the takeover was, fuck, don't have that move, boom, throw it. And those of you who can't see what Calef and I are doing right now, I just looked up, I looked at the wing and went, don't have that move I, I gotta throw right now. I mean, I was 80 feet over the deck.

Yeah. You know, so it was, yeah. Anyway, you're nodding your head a lot. I I, I, I, I find that, I mean, the accidents I've seen in the air from up high, that's the only accident I've seen and I've seen it a lot, is just people trying too long.

Speaker 2 (56m 39s): We spend the first evening of the clinic, you know, doing classroom and in the simulator and spend a lot of time talking about it. I've had two close friends pass away paragliding, and they were both found with their parachute out, but not open. My first deployment was really, really dirty low, maybe a hundred feet to spare. And I can talk more about that later. But the decision to throw for me, you know, there's a, there's a lot of almost platitudes or, or, or easy sayings, you know, but when in doubt, there is no doubt.

Get it out, you know, or below 500 feet really, you know, we talk about 300 or whatever. There's also some conversation around how low is too low and, you know, if it helps slow you down, going through the trees, that's great. I think paragliding, Vermont's inherently safe. 'cause trees are really inconvenient to get Gs out of. But they're a great crash pad. I think I read from Ari that it's like the, the foam pit of paragliding, which I thought was a pretty clever co quote. And around here there's like paraglider pilots that are also arborists that are on like speed dial with like a, a rate to get your g gladder outta the tree.

And they're really get, which is,

Speaker 1 (57m 55s): I understand

Speaker 2 (57m 55s): You hilarious. s a lot of trees.

Speaker 1 (57m 57s): I remember in the, in the 2014 film that we did, or was it 2013? We did, my first really big bivy was, the first one was in beer with John Sylvester. But the second one was Antoine Laurens and Brad Sander and Nick and those guys across the, across the Sierras. And there's a line in there where I say, you know, there with, when it comes to trees, you know, there are those that have, and those that will, and on that trip, everybody that me had landed in a tree. And so, and I, I kept that going for quite a while. I was like, yeah, I haven't landed in a tree.

I had forgot, I don't know how many trees I've landed in now. I've been in a lot of fricking trees, some under reserve and some just, I just did it in the X Alps. Nobody even knows this story. But I, I blew my wing out on a cliff launch and, and blew out my slo and then forgot about it when I went and went to land and tried to do a big wing over and had no juice in my wing and just went straight into a huge tree, did a bunch of damage. This just happened three weeks ago, whatever, a month ago, you know, so yeah, trees work pretty good. I've never been hurt going in a tree. Trees

Speaker 2 (58m 57s): Work. Okay. Yeah. Well in Vermont we have seas of trees and our XE routes are fairly limited. And so a lot of people look at our pictures and they're like feeling exposed, you know? 'cause there aren't a whole lot of I've don

Speaker 1 (59m 10s): And stuff. Wait, wait, what? I see lakes. I see trees. How do you make this work, man?

Speaker 2 (59m 15s): Yeah, it's funny 'cause the hang gliders have been watching the wines, the paragliders been flying, you know, especially like Eduardo set a state record a half dozen years ago where he flew right down the spine of the greens and the hang gl were like, we've always looked at that and it is nuts that you actually did that. and it, Eduardo was like, well the clouds were working and there was some landing zones, you know, like there was a beaver pond I could have landed next to and had a two day hi, you know, a long hike out. But yeah, not a whole lot of option.


Speaker 1 (59m 45s): ARDS tough. He could, he could get out of him. Oh, that's something like that. No problem. He's a tough one.

Speaker 2 (59m 50s): Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 1 (59m 53s): Wow. So has the, the, the flying you guys have been doing out there is, is it ins, has it inspired some cool lines in the hang crew? Are they, are they, are they pushing it again?

Speaker 2 (1h 0m 6s): Unfortunately, like we've got some great fr friends in the hang glider community, but there aren't big numbers like there used to be and they're not so interested in cross country. So it's really cool when they come out and soar with us and they're zipping between us and, you know, flying around us. But I think the, the big XE days are done and it's really cool to look back at the things they accomplished. There's no G p ss tracks of course. 'cause it was before g p s.

Yeah. But they were flying from a kutney Vermont to the coast. Not infrequently they were calling 'em the Sandman, you know, and I came really close one flight, but got shut down by the coastal breeze. We actually flew from West Rutland, which was like 30 miles further. Pretty cool. The only time I've come close to doing, I did like 99.8 miles. Point to point that day. My best flight in New England. But yeah, the, the the big lines they were doing in the past just aren't getting repeated unfortunately.

Speaker 1 (1h 1m 7s): Ah, too bad. Yeah, I, I got, well you, you made a suggestion for me to get one of them on the show. The Johns, so I'll, I'll get him on here.

Speaker 2 (1h 1m 14s): He's a paraglider, but yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah, he's been pushing it. It's really cool that the distance here, back in the day, like there was like a 2010 distance record of like 40 miles in Vermont or 45 miles that stuck for, and then like 2016 the record chase heated up and it was like falling like twice a year, just incrementally ticking off. And I was always just, you know, five miles behind it. And then 2020 it, it fell like two or three more times that year and I got it right in September and held it until the next April when we flew that long flight across all of Vermont and New Hampshire and landed in Maine But.

that was just like one of those things where it's the day, right? We were going to 13,000 feet that day. And that just doesn't happen around here very often.

Speaker 1 (1h 2m 11s): Yeah. They, so a lot of people listening are wondering what the hell you're even talking about. Well let's just define New England flying. I mean even for those of us out west, we don't really know what you're talking about too much. You know, it's a, is it what makes it so hard, obviously the trees, but I mean, are your, are your average speeds just way less because you're having to climb all the time? Is it just way more technical? Are you not getting the long days? What, describe the differences.

What's the difference between flying in the Rockies where we're, you know, 10 meter climbs and you know, going on 30 meter, 30 K glides is pretty common. What, what's the, what's the difference?

Speaker 2 (1h 2m 51s): Yeah, so I think there's a couple factors. One is that it was a pretty young community figuring it out and so we've definitely gotten better and, and, and the g wires have gotten better as well. But part of it, I think the big challenge is that the thermals are pretty anemic and rare around here. The trees do not, they don't pump, you know, like when you had Andre on the, the show and he was talking about how he tops every climb out, you know, speed to fly is pretty irrelevant if your next thermal is not guaranteed.

You know, like three hour flights are fairly long around here. Six hour flights are extremely long. I don't know anybody who's had a seven hour flight in New England. You know, it's, wow. Yeah. It's just,

Speaker 1 (1h 3m 36s): We're just getting going at seven hours out here. That's amazing.

Speaker 2 (1h 3m 39s): Yeah. Okay, gotcha. You know, my best flights are, you know, launching at 1 12 30 and landing at six 30 or, or or or you know, not full day events. And

Speaker 1 (1h 3m 53s): So you're not getting off the hill at in mid-July at eight 30, you know, a southeast slow. Never.

Speaker 2 (1h 3m 59s): Okay. Wow. There was totally different, like the earliest I've ever had a successful start is like 1130.

Speaker 1 (1h 4m 6s): Oh

Speaker 2 (1h 4m 6s): Wow. So we're not getting the long days. The really, if you find five meters per second, that is an extremely strong climb around here. So, you know, the other thing is the routes are very limited. You know, we have a couple corridors that you can put together a hundred miles and it's gonna be following one of the highways or major valleys. And those usually don't line up with the wind directions. So our cross countries are always battling back across the wind. And you know, there's a lot of times you can follow a route for a ways and then you just run into a mountain that, you know, I'm using air quotes here because the mountain could be 4,000 feet tall, but it's fairly flat and surrounded by a huge apron of trees.

So you can't really get to towards it. And if you were to get high enough to glide in, you've got like one shot to find a thermal and then as soon as you're not finding lift, you're retreating back out to the valley 'cause you've got miles of gliding to get to acceptable landing zones. And so a lot of

Speaker 1 (1h 5m 7s): There, a lot of tree landings. I mean

Speaker 2 (1h 5m 9s): We do pretty well in staying out of 'em, but there's a lot of sort of almost flatland flying in these valleys where you're finding like, you know, thermals off two or three or 500 foot little hills rather than being stiffed back up into the 4,000 foot mountains. 'cause you, you just can't work back in there before you need to retreat right away. And there, there's some exceptions to that. And we've had some days where we've actually crossed the greens, but it's at like sugar bush or like a couple places we know where the apron of trees is two miles instead of an apron of tree that's five miles, you know?

Speaker 1 (1h 5m 43s): Gotcha.

Speaker 2 (1h 5m 45s): But pretty exciting. You feel pretty exposed when you're going over the green mountains and there's nothing but trees around.

Speaker 1 (1h 5m 51s): I've seen the pictures. It's pretty, it's fascinating. It's really, it doesn't look very straightforward by any means. Okay. Dirty low. You said you'd come back to this, I always forget to bring people back to the, what, what happened

Speaker 2 (1h 6m 6s): Your first third? So it was my first international trip. I was in Nepal. I was with an instructor who's a great friend and now a great friend and he was one of my first instructor and he was like, you wanna do some SIV? And I was like, yeah, great. Like I've done a clinic before, let's do another, you know, some SIV and he has me glide out over the lake and he says, okay, now we can try that asymmetric spiral we talked about. And I think to myself, am I really over the lake?

I think I'm over the lake. But he was closer towards launch and from his perspective he thought I was over the lake. And this is one of those things where you, you wanna listen to the coach, but it's always you that's in the chair. You need to be responsible for your own decisions and I should have just said, Hey, sorry, I'm not feeling ready yet. So that all becomes relevant. 'cause after all the mistakes, I was like a hundred feet over dirt and almost over the water. It doesn't count. So I was trying to do an asymmetrical spiral and I combined his timing with the other guys amount of break pole and it, it didn't work out.

I spun the glider, which is, you know, I had 110 flights in 25 hours. I was still a P two and very rookie. And then of course did a bad job of the spin recovery tied itself in a knot. And I'm like sort of making it fly straight, not doing that great job, making it fly straight when I reach for the reserve. Well, so I was trying to make it fly straight and I was thinking to myself, he'll tell me if I need to throw the reserve. And that's something I teach about all the time. Like, don't wait for somebody to tell you. Like if you think if you're even thinking about it, now is the time.

And by the time he said, Hey, maybe you should throw the reserve. And I reached for it and got it out. I maybe had 250, 300 feet as it was dropping into like a nose down about to auto rotate curva spiral. And I just remember somebody somewhere telling me, Hey, if you ever want to come out faster, yank on that bridle. And somehow after I threw, the next thing I immediately did was scoop my hand down under, grabbed the bridle and just gave it a good yank and it popped open immediately. And I had maybe 75 a hundred feet.

I don't know, like, it was very, very low. It was open, they hit the dirt. Yeah. and it was low enough that then instructor thought the reserve didn't come out. 'cause I had gone behind like a little tiny 300 foot tall hill that had obstructed his vision and he thought I just went in. But again, I totally walked away. I got really lucky on that one. and it was crazy 'cause as it was going down, I was thinking to myself, you know, I was still very new in my career. I was like thinking to myself, what a disappointment I am to my family that I've just either killed myself or put myself in a chair and, and the pain that was gonna cause my family.

You know? And, and in that moment it's really wild how you can think a lot of things in a heated moment. But I was thinking about how bad the, the, the healthcare system was where, where I was and you know, if I did survive, you know, if I didn't fix it and I knew I needed to get my reserve out and fix it, but like what it could look like getting really broken in Nepal. But fortunately I got the reserve out, you know, having, you know, six months earlier, my buddy Max, having him not got his reserve out, maybe primed me to get it out quicker.

Yeah. P l fd and, and flew the next day.

Speaker 1 (1h 9m 33s): I, I'm always hit by these stories in a way that I, it spooks me because we've all relied on a shit ton of luck. And you know, that was one of those where man, that could have very easily gone the other way. And for a lot of people it does. Santa talked about this, you know that what if you're the guy who's just ridge soaring at the point and you have the blowout on the, on the ridge side, that's kind of a 50 50, right?

I mean, we learn how to get better at handling those things, but in the beginning you're not very aware of your glider and pressure and, you know, air speed and all these things that are, you know, important to keeping your glider open. And what if you, what if you're that dude and that dude that happens a lot to a lot of dudes and yeah, it j it's a, I don't know, there's no question here. It's just, I guess, I guess what I am is curious about, you know, as an instructor, you've been at this a long time, now you do these trips, you know, if there was something you could just take outta your brain and plan it in these new pilots, what would that be?

Because the, I mean, it's hard to, it's hard to learn without making the cheap mistakes. You know, Jeff Shapiro talks about that we gotta make a lot of cheap mistakes in this sport to learn. And, and you, you hope they're cheap. You hope they're not expensive.

Speaker 2 (1h 11m 8s): Yeah, it's really challenging 'cause we're all the hero of our own story, right? We all think that it won't happen to us. I'm exceptional. You know, nobody really can truly get their head around their own mortality or how an accident could change their life. And so, you know, it's Tricky to try to get folks to remember if they are in a situation where others are advising caution or not doing it, they need to use their imagination as to why.

And understand just how big the gap and experience and understanding can actually be. You know, I've been on launch several times and had n new novice pilots like poking me. Like, why aren't we going yet? Like, this is good. I'm ready to go, you know the limits for my rating. And they start quoting me limits. And I'm like, if you watch right now, you're gonna go straight up and backwards, you know, like it's maybe 14 miles an hour here, but we're two thirds of the way up this mountain.

And I can promise you, like, look at how that wind turbine is spinning and look at what's going on right now and look at the cloud building above us. And like you're looking at some of the best pilots in the region all sitting here waiting for it to back off. And here you are ready. You know, so, you know, I, I think the tricky part I think is mostly convincing yourself that you're having fun and you're okay with where you're at and, and not having that creep and ambition. 'cause the first time you get in the air it's amazing and that's enough.

And then you keep doing it and now it's not enough to have a good high flight. You gotta go distance and if you only go 10 miles, you're bummed or whatever. But just always being okay with wherever you're at and even if it's driving down, 'cause it's not your day, just remembering that all that matters is you keep smiling and coming back for more and stay in the game and not take those, you know, 99% chance, you know, risks. Because I, I, I had, there was a really informative article I read early in my paragliding career by Mark Forger Stuckey.

I believe that he was talking about how, you know, 99% isn't nearly good enough if you wanna do this thousands of times. And I would've never thought like that, you know, that was not something that came natural, that sort of thinking. But yeah, I mean if you wanna fly thousands of times, you can't be taking, you know, risks if you think it's probably good.

Speaker 1 (1h 13m 48s): It, it's an interesting thing humans, isn't it, that we, you know, I, I always think of the Wingsuit community when I think about that, you know, and their whole thing, you know, this one flight right now is the most important flight of your life, obviously, especially with wing suiting. But it is interesting because we can jump outta planes and the first time we do it and it's just a plane drop, it's so thrilling. And then you get into base and then you get into Wingsuit and then, you know, it's not that thrilling unless you're kicking the treats ops.

And so it's just this man, the equation there is gnarly because you're just to get the same rush that used to just hucking out of a plane, totally safe. You gotta backup. You know, you, there's, there's all kinds of systems in place there in a sense. Two, you've got no backup. You're, you're going, you know, a hundred k an hour plus you, you, your splatt is, is the difference in a little tiny air current and game over, you know, that's

Speaker 2 (1h 14m 52s): What's so gnar about speed, right? I mean yeah, equipment wise, speed wings are just little paragliders, right? But from a goals perspective, hang gliding goals and paragliding goals, they're the same, right? You get off launch safely, maximize altitude, make a bunch of decisions that minimize your risk and you're trying to go, you know, stay high and go far where speed flying might as well be wingsuit base jumping in terms of goals. It's like, how fast can you go? How low can you go? So I have taught a couple folks how to fly speed, but I, I'm really reluctant just because I think it's a huge responsibility and I think that community is grappling with the, the, the very real dangers.

Oh yeah. And not sport things mean they're,

Speaker 1 (1h 15m 37s): They're, I I think their numbers are worse right now than than wing la last I heard you. Yeah. Yeah. Because again, it's proximity, you know, and the the the ground, the ground hurts. Yeah. We, we need to do more interviews with, with speed pilots for sure. I I've been watching this guy, there's, so the, the rolls they're doing are just lying Iba man, it's really,

Speaker 2 (1h 16m 1s): I'm not ashamed to admit and admit it. I fly my speed wing right side up.

Speaker 1 (1h 16m 5s): Yeah, no doubt. It's

Speaker 2 (1h 16m 7s): About ski skiing, right? A lot of time on snow, making nice turns flying over the cliffs, getting back into the powder. Nobody else gets to going fast proximity, but, you know, close but not, not rolling and going upside down near the terrain. 'cause yeah,

Speaker 1 (1h 16m 22s): It is, it is really very impressive what they're, what they're doing to that community. But holy smokes. Yeah, it's pretty intense. It's awesome. But whoa, let's end on an uplifting note. You've got some funny stories. Funniest thing you've, I'm gonna put you on the spot here. Funniest thing you've ever seen in air sports.

Speaker 2 (1h 16m 41s): Funniest thing I've ever seen. Yeah. Are you looking for the story about me, about me taking a leak while I was flying? No,

Speaker 1 (1h 16m 49s): No, not necessarily. Just, you know, it could be something you've seen not, not experienced.

Speaker 2 (1h 16m 53s): I'll tell that one because, because we're both chuckling about it now. We talked about in our email gliding into the lake in Mexico in like oh nine or whatever. I decided for efficiency's sake, I was gonna continue standing on my speed bar while I was urinating and had a massive blowout just as I had finished, you know? and it is like we, you had this moment of, well what am I gonna do? You know, do I like close my fly so they don't find me exposed or do I deal with a collapse?

So I reach up and I find the red line, I start pumping it once, twice. Nothing's happened by the like fourth one I realized I've got this Tablo in my hand and I'm still spiraling at the ground, turning into the, you know, and the funny part was that later my buddy was saying, was saying he was, I was hanging out on the roof and I saw this guy just lose control of his glider and he must have gone down for like four rotations. Did you see that? Yeah, I saw that. Yeah. That was long for that one.

Oh man. Good, good, good times. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (1h 18m 8s): So how'd you, what, what happened? Well,

Speaker 2 (1h 18m 10s): As soon as I, I figured out I had the SBI in my hand and I got the brake in my hand and like leaned away, like gave one actual pump of the side that was, you know, with the brake. 'cause I hadn't grabbed the brake handle. I was just grabbing colored lines. Yeah, it all ended fine. I just, it just, you know, lesson learned, don't stand your speed bar while you're taking a a whiz these days. I've tried to sell you on 'em a couple times, but these days we're making urinals, which I really appreciate. It really simplifies the job and it's always there. You don't have to have any planning ahead of time.

I like to launch of my fly open. You're

Speaker 1 (1h 18m 43s): Talking about the cop thing like that Marcus makes talking

Speaker 2 (1h 18m 45s): About Yeah, he stopped making those a couple years ago. We sort of improved upon the design and we're doing something similar, but my buddy three D prints them and then he uses like a vapor smoothing process where you use acetone vapors to like melt the thing so it's not porous, it doesn't absorb urine. And then yeah, it goes through. So it doesn't, like, you know, with the condom catheters, they don't have like a very good exit route. It seems to go up and so some fluids stuck and all that. And this, we burn a hole between your legs in the pod and so gravity takes it right out and down the bottom and out you go.

So it's pretty easy. You

Speaker 1 (1h 19m 21s): Should do a whole show on, you know, p bloopers there. I mean, we could fill hours of,

Speaker 2 (1h 19m 26s): I'm not, that's funny story. I'm not too proud to say I've definitely wiped urine off my goggles before.

Speaker 1 (1h 19m 31s): Oh for sure. I had a, I had a, I had a, I was training for one of the races one year and just had to go so bad. Flew from Fich and I'm heading down towards Coor and I'm tall, I gotta go. Gotta, and it was one of those, I, I could tell it had blown off and, and I thought, okay, I downwind, I, I thought I did everything right and I started going and it was just this perfect arc right into my face, just, just full flow right into the goggles down into my mouth, you know, it's just, oh God,

Speaker 2 (1h 20m 2s): Buying wasn't that bad. But what I was doing was, I was trying to use like an early funnel prototype with a garden hose. And this was before we realized that putting the hose through the pod was the way, and I lost control the, the end of the hose, you know, and that was

Speaker 1 (1h 20m 19s): Problematic

Speaker 2 (1h 20m 20s): Just flying around

Speaker 1 (1h 20m 21s): Sapping you. Oh, awesome. Yeah. Awesome.

Speaker 2 (1h 20m 24s): Yeah.

Speaker 1 (1h 20m 26s): Well, good one to end on. Kal, thanks for sharing all these great stories and knowledge and good to finally get you on the show. Man, it's good to spend some time with you. I hope we spend some more time with each other in the air one of these days. I can't believe we haven't done that before, but

Speaker 2 (1h 20m 41s): I'd love to do some flying with you, but I'm, I'm not gonna invite you to Vermont because everybody's Oh, come visit you. And it's like, no, no, no, I'll visit you. You don't want to come here. You'd be hanging out in the rain for two weeks.

Speaker 1 (1h 20m 52s): It does sound like a wet summer. It's crazy weather everywhere.

Speaker 2 (1h 20m 55s): Brutal. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (1h 20m 57s): Well invite taken. Sounds good wherever we go, let's do it. Great. If you find the cloud-based Mayhem valuable, you can support it in a lot of different ways. You can give us a rating on iTunes or Stitcher or however you get your podcast. That goes a long ways and helps spread the word. You can blog about it on your own website or share it on social media. You can talk about it on the way up to launch with your pilot friends. I know a lot of interesting conversations have happened that way. And of course you can support us financially. This show does take a lot of time, a lot of editing, a lot of storage and music and all kinds of behind the scenes cost.

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I don't like having that stuff at the front of the show. And I also want you to know that these are authentic conversations with real people and these are just our opinions, but our opinions are not being skewed by sponsors or advertising dollars. I think that's a pretty toxic business model. So I hope you dig that. You can support us if you go to Cloudbase may.com, you can find the places to support, you can do it through patreon.com/ Cloudbase Mayhem. If you want a recurring subscription. You can also do that directly through the website. We've tried to make it really easy and that will give you access to all the bonus material little video cast that we do and extra little nuggets that we find in conversations that don't make it into the main show, but we feel like you should hear.

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Thank you.


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