Stefan Bernhard has only been racing paragliders for a short time and was recently ranked in the top 15 in the world. In this episode we find out how a former German Air Force fighter pilot has taken the skills he learned flying in the military and now flying civilian aircraft to free-flight, and the many things missing from most of our own education. How much should new pilots rely on passive safety? Free flight is an “extreme sport” so why do we try to dumb it down? What lessons in tactics and strategies cross over from flying military jets to paragliding? What’s missing in our flying schools and what should we change? The danger of having easy access to an extreme sport and not getting the right answers, the importance of calibrating your mind to flight, expectations vs reality and a lot more. I think you’ll find this talk incredibly informative and inspiring. Enjoy!
Stefan is an instructor for Jocky Sanderson’s Escape XC. Find out more here.
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Speaker 1 (0s): Hi there everybody. Welcome to another episode of the cloud base mayhem. Got a great show for you today with my friend steppin Bernard, a former air force fighter pilot in Germany, and has just recently in the last couple of years, gotten super into comps. And as of last check is already in the top 15 in the world, so has taken how he learned how to play fly fighter jets into the world of paragliding, and that you're going to find it super valuable and informative and inspiring for we get to that.
Just want to, again, mention that these bonus shows that we're putting out. We just put out another one last week. That was the third installment of the red bull X outs interviews that I did. So I interviewed the athletes right after the race. This third one has Maxine PNL and Willie canal, Marco energetic her get her genetic. I never know how to say his last name, even though we're good friends, but, and others, including myself. And I think you're gonna find these really fun if you're having trouble getting these bonus episodes, reach out to me, just go through the website, send me an email.
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If you're having any trouble with that, please let me know. And we'll straighten out. Yeah, this show Stephan. I first met Stephen a few years ago down at Columbia. He and I had a pretty good race at the British open. And this year he's been on a great run. He won the Colombian open, did great again at the British open down roll. The Neo, he has, he was top 30 in the super final. I think last year has won task on the PWC. He's just become really good, really fast.
And he credits a lot of that to the training he got in the air force. And so we learned a little bit about his history. Now. He pretty uninspired by his first few lessons and kind of the real push on passive safety rather than making pilots safe. And just the differences that he saw really coming up through the very professional commercial side of aviation and also the military side and what he was being taught and also kind of the peer group and some of the early disappointments.
And then now where, where he's come to now with his own flying. And he's been able to take a lot of those lessons that he learned in the air force directly to flying. And I think you're gonna find pretty valuable. Stephan is also a guide and instructor for escape, exi jockey Sanderson's company. And he's been doing some pretty fun stuff and opposite sides of the world, taking people flying in cool areas. We learned about some of that. So please enjoy this great talk. My friend, Steph
Speaker 0 (3m 51s): Bernard, come on. I want to see your face
Speaker 1 (3m 60s): Stephan, what a joy to get you on the show. Thank you so much for your time. And I guess we all have a little bit more time these days with the scan thing, but I understand, I understand you guys are getting back to the air as we are here, which is, which is exciting. We'll see how that all works out, but I thought a cool place for us to start you. You've got a long history in aviation, not just free flight, but you've got, you know, a whole bunch of years in the air force. And then now you're flying for med jet, which is kind of cool.
And that'll, we'll talk about all that, but I understand you got into flying specifically paragliding before your air force days, and then you drifted away from it for a long time. So I thought we'd go back to the very beginning, you know, kind of how you learned and it sounded like it wasn't super encouraging.
Speaker 2 (4m 50s): Yeah. I mean, where do I start? It's quite difficult. I mean, this, you imagine as a professional pilot, I was always fascinated by flying as a little kid. I grew up slope. So every free hour flyer was dreaming of flying. So actually my first contact with like paragliding hand gliding most when I just started the air force. I mean finally after school applied for all this got into the air force training and just the form of flight training would have started.
I wasn't an offensive school and the friend of mine decided that that was the first contact I had. So I actually some quite interested in the base, it was in the mid eighties way back, but the thing was, if we would have made it, they would have sent us right away to the States for one to two years to our training. So we went to that course or is short and was fascinating. I mean, flying like a bird. We have these little heels running down initially and just doing the first hops on hang gliders, not doing big flights.
And then it came to a stop because I had a little motorbike and my friend on the back on one of these days for training again, they crushed us and he broke his wrist. And that was basically the end of this course. I'm sorry. Very good friend. Maybe it's for the better. I don't know if he would have survived anyways.
First contact. Well, I made it through the training, got sent to potty training. I always said when I come back to gym, I definitely want to continue that because it was like a dream money, always watching no model airplanes. And now it's sitting yourself in one of these flying machines, feeding this weightless, feeding, leaving the ground and just, it was crazy so well after the States came back and was stationed in way Northern Germany, no mountains, no nothing.
And then the intense world of being a fighter fight had started. So time was limited. And guess what? I bought a surfboard because the course was 10 kids hang, gliding, drifted away in the nineties. I guess it was my wife. In these times we had two small kids. I was figuring out doing something together in this environment, right? I think you haven't been going to right now, as you know, having a job, even a fighter pilot is a job wife, kids who build the house time's limited.
And the thought about paragliding, there was something a friend of mine mentioned that might be something you can do where I can combine everything, put it in the trunk, go on family vacations, go hike up, somewhere flying. So we both my wife and I started that course with this goal on the horizon. And for me then being basically getting into that simple climbed mountains, fascinating by it because I was applying mountains in general, really fascinated me, looked really promising.
I went signed up for school in Germany. Well, to be honest in the nineties, I wasn't too much impressed by the way, it was approached at least in the flood school when I was training, because that's the background that I had from the air force, which is, well, we can imagine really professional training approaches. It's really amazing how they get you to a level within a year, which you would not expect by just a good training setup.
I expected something similar from the paragliding world, not in this complexity, but when you go there, they have a school to the booths. We had to do 40 flights and there's basically more or less 40 flights at the end of the night. My, my test, you go and you have a license. Didn't really know a lot about flying.
It's kinda like when you, when you have a baby at the hospital and they let you go home and you're like, wait a minute, where's the manual. There's a manual. And there's no money. These days, roundabout 30 or some ideas and fighter pilot flying make 29. It was really full on.
And then I come to this paragliding world. It's not possible. Flying was invented a hundred years ago. And these guys, he had try everything from scratch again. Right? You can save them a lot of good lessons in the last 60, 70, 80 years. But it was a bit strange. And to be honest, well, I drift a little bit negative to this world because completely expected different people like something like a found in the mountains.
How do you say there's a low profile guys, you get judged by what you climb. How can you say that? There's a lot of humility, but I called them a bit harsh. I don't want to blame people, but a little bit of a, one of the world's right? It had the label of extreme sports. And you saw a lot of people showing up relatively easy access to extreme sports.
Not a lot of people that were extreme and the way they were treated in that slide training, I think was not for the benefits. It's more that psychological game. And that's what I didn't like. And even, I mean, you didn't get a lot of answers. You had so many questions. I remember these is perfect. Whether you look at the sky, you have an aviation background and the guys says, Oh guys lost flights. Two o'clock. The phone comes through.
It comes through. And so, so we get all these questions. Every takeover was standing up there and it's like, you didn't just get the tools you needed to make a good decision. And the thing that's the main thing is training to make good decisions. And long after that, I just realized that it's more or less time to stop, to have a bee in the beer garden that the phone was coming every day.
For me, that's a middle example. How this world wasn't these days, I think I don't know too much. I think it developed dramatically. They have really good people. Now the programs and the instructors are trained differently and a lot of good feedback from some schools here nowadays. But in these days, if I look at myself, I struggled with that a long time, because for example, in the air force, you're the same, you're young guy. You step out and say, Hey, welcome.
You made the selection. Yes. The class they give you the training, the academics, all you need to know. And then they take you out to Twain every day. And in the beginning you need. Cause it's very, very important. No matter what you do offline, you need a calibration of your mind. Is this safe? Is it unsafe? Is it's on the line because as a beginner, you don't have it. You don't know if these turbulences are too strong or too soft. Is it handlebar or not on this to try it, but in an hour game, well, you don't want to try everything yourself at the first time alone, because you cannot say stop.
And I had a lot of learning myself to do it, to find out what our limits were, where is it safe or where is it unsafe? And again, maybe an air force example. They teach you aerobatics right from the beginning. And the first flight always, they show the red line. This is a stall they spend you. And it's like, and to show you how to get out from the, these are the first slide in the normal training, just to show you where the boundary is to calibrate your mind that you developed a feeling.
Well, I think I have to watch out draw this sound speed. This feeding on the stick rule. I think we approaching the limit. I have to be careful now. And this is what I really missed in paragliding in the beginning. It's a different concept. If you look at it. And a couple of years later when I started again, it was a big topic for me. Talk to a lot of people now are just ready to go. I think that sometimes we do a little bit of a wrong approach because at least here in Germany, I think we stress too much.
The passage safety. I know the background, it is a approach to flying. We make the environment safe and the gliders say everything's safe. So the people don't get hurt. But I believe in a little bit more different approach. I think you have to make the pilots safe, separate lines.
Speaker 3 (15m 11s): It's surprising. This has come up quite a bit lately. You know, Alex Robey was the first one to really voiced that concern about, you know, if you, if you really stress the pilot safety, you take away the autonomy of the pilot and the desire to, you know, you're aviating slope lighter. They can collapse. You got to take responsibility for this. There's only so much we could put on passive safety. And if we, if we offload it, if we offload the responsibility to passive safety, we never really become autonomous silence, man, who really brought that up.
I like, I, I don't, I'm not familiar with it, but it sounds like the API, that API system, the Swiss system handles this pretty well. Like they put a lot of emphasis on SIV and you know, like SIV in the States is totally elective and you have to really chase it. It's not part of any, it's not part of any of the, any of the ratings we get. And in fact, you know, in a sense, Uber bill looks at it negatively. Like it's a, it's a potential way to get hurt.
And so they don't push it. And it's just the total opposite of what we need, excuse me, what we need to be doing. I, I believe
Speaker 2 (16m 28s): I completely agree with that completely Gavin, because this is how I saw it coming fresh from this extreme to that, because I think it's even more important in a nonprofessional world where you do not try every day train everyday and be current everyday to go, I don't know what to combat or something like this. I have so many examples. I mean, especially in Germany, I don't know how in States, people are always talking about LIDAR classification.
So you say, what do you fly at this? And then you fly to Gladys. What's the difference between that? And then the beginning, I don't know. I wouldn't classify it like this. And I did a lot of motorbiking too. So after two or three years to the racetrack and stuff, like if you're in the motorbike world, which is other dangerous world, nobody is classifying the motorbikes and would make the bike responsible, right?
Everybody can buy a 200 horsepower motor bike. Then the approach is more well, train it, be careful and handle it. And nobody that is fine for blinders. When I always see the training, you know, all these, let it fly, hands up, let it fly. Now, imagine you on the motorbike and your knees on the ground and your front view starts drifting. Nobody would tell you to take the hands up if cover it, right? That's insane. So stuff like this, it would be the opposite.
You have to know what the line is. What do you do when it happens? And basically the training, especially in the nineties was way too much focus in Germany on the job. And I think that has a bigger implication because if you learn it like this, especially if you're somebody who it might be just a normal person, not the most talented or whatever, it gives you the wrong feedback because the gliders were designed to more or less or the inputs.
So how will you get the feedback of your own actions? If the glider is not translating this to emotion, that movement, or, I mean, I saw people taking off in guy from Bork on training as an, a glider. They launched a glider and they started running like a, like a sprint they're moving arms up and down, up and down. You look at the slide on top. You just ignore speed in the air. Right? So, so my approach is more, why not build a glider who doesn't let you take off if you do that, right?
If you do that, you should not be able to fly or stall or whatever. So you never get the feedback that you do something wrong, dominant down too much. Yeah, definitely. And this, this, this was the training. Like same. If the SMEs, these days, I was expecting something like this in the, in my training, like dismiss due to I think, and now they do it, but definitely not in the nineties. And they said, Hey, you cannot fly. Are you crazy? I'm not eating the stall.
I mean, I was flying. I said, well, it's a glider. I'm vulnerable. Might be weather coming up. How do I get down? It's not an airplane. I can just push the stick forward. And this plane goes down for the speed breaks out in land. The only thing that taught where the beginners, but why not teaching me this spiral? Because this is the most effective way to do it. No, no, no. Are you crazy? That's too dangerous. Let's see. I think completely opposite. I need these tools and then need to master it and I need to train and learn it with an instructor who can show me and tell me what I do.
Right? Enrollment, where it's a dangerous before I have to train it myself alone with low hours somewhere because I want to learn it. So Stephan, is that why you left the sport? Cause you, you, you stopped flying for a dozen years or 15 years. I'm right. Yeah. It's like I had some crazy first two years. I mean, I was younger. I expected something different, not much time. So basically after my training, I immediately decided this it's not my peer group.
This kind of environment does this, this, I think jockey named dead ones, ground suck. And that made it right to the point. And I was sitting in a bus and when the first year is family vacation, so I wanted to fly and it's like, Whoa, beautiful Bay. A little bit from the left. And then like 20 guys sitting there only a few girls everybody's shades, nobody's saying hi, when you come to the takeoff, everybody's looking really, really cool.
And every time somebody took off, there were comments. Like, I don't know, like the crowd of birds, write, write, write, write, write, shouldn't take off. And there was going on and on and on. I'm like, dude, do you either want to do this sport? So pretty soon I decided, well, it's not what I found in mountaineering skiing or motorbike world.
So, whereas it's more like, Hey, nice. Where are you from? Let's fly together. Think and make some realistic judgements. And then, well, give the other some respect to make their own decisions. I mean, I I've so many of these examples from the beginning, I remember, well, just everybody approached them bosses like, okay, I want to get away from this crowd. So I got this great book from Oliver, rest in peace.
I met him in my potty training. He wrote a book like the, the hundred most beautiful flying starts in the Alps or something like this. I think it's quite now. And I said, well, let's take these hundreds takeoffs off. I think I've made 30 or 40 in the first two years. And my approach was only fly once, said everything and then move on and go somewhere else and try it. But I, for example, what I just explained in Bassano I had a happening that was on call. What data was to say.
I think that was the day of my, when I did my check ride, it wasn't a neighbor Valley. And then I just moved on. That was my first flight. There was a guy obviously very nervous. It was the, the South stake of Justin in front of the gun. I think it's very famous now. And hundreds of people go there. It was crowded. But of people there again, the same crowd, Brown sock, proud, mostly watching, not taking off themselves. Everybody looking cool. Again, a bit of a strong wind, but quite nice.
I mean, doable to the, on your reverse launches and stuff like this. And this one is elderly guy coming there and wants to apply, obviously preservers to see. Nobody really helped him to open the glide. Only one guy got up and like 30 others just watching no comments. And then he messed up his takeoff twist the dog the wrong way. So we've got direct the next Bush tumbled over bar and nothing happened. So I think I was the only one who jumped off basically.
And to help them, everybody else on the wrong word, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So the guy was there and it was shaky and he was sweating and saying, come on, calm down, turn the wrong way. So do it again. Come on, let's sit the minute I want to talk. So, and I calmed him down.
Then I helped him to do it off and then talked a little bit with him. And I was a beginner, you know, but at the end he was calm again. And he said, I think it's so much appreciated because I needed that basically. Then he took off. But again, I started to have this strong disconnection again, with these people that were there that day, it's like, don't want to be like that. That's what I meant.
This is why I tried to move away from it. So I threw for myself a bit lighter and combined with family vacations and stuff like this. And I think the only thing I had was that I didn't have a peer group. My friends went up flying and I was living in an area where there's no flying sites for, I think, 800 kids around in Northern Germany. So then at the end he died, basically it just drifted away.
And I said, well, that's not what I thought about, but still reading all these stories about guys like you doing this crazy mountain stuff. And so, well, it must be out there somewhere, but probably not where I have been the last two years. I didn't find it there. So back to flying back to the air force that kept you occupied. Obviously your kids kept you occupied. It just kind of remained in the back of your head. So I never sold the equipment.
I still had it. I mean, finally then after, when I started again finding my old glider in the basement, after 15 years, I sold it for a hundred bucks. I had a good peer group when I did some assignments and finally ended up in cologne, joining up with some old friends from the air force again. And I think that's my main Thea group, like four or five guys.
We did all this climbing, mountain biking, skiing, ski mountain, or you name surfing everything the same. It's like this connecting you had from the air force, which can be really strong and nobody was paragliding or say like this two of them were but stopped too because of different reasons. And funnier one of my best friends here on the probably listens to the podcast he's flying for Lufthansa.
And he also always tends to paragliding, Hey man, you have to do a license. Let's do it. And still having this hike and flies, mountaineering stuff in our mind, climbing up, flying down, going light in all this and believe it or not after the financial crisis, basically my company for a year and the kind of a job program was pretty nice. And I'm the at time because it was changing fleets. So he did his license on paragliding and that was the initial kick for me together.
They both the same way, the Swift equipment and started taking flying. And that was my reentry into the, into the sport again. And that was 2012, 2012.
Speaker 3 (28m 3s): And then how can you kind of encapsulate since then, you know, kind of compacted together in terms of where you, you know, how, how have you approached when you came back to it? How did you approach your training in a different way than when you did it back in the nineties? How did you kind of go from there and to being a comp pilot now?
Speaker 2 (28m 27s): Well, I mean, they've always experienced, I was talking before, I didn't want to go on this side of the sport again and I was really happy to fly. We did a little hike, the fly, but for that one and persona and just getting back into this and then you had to work and I had a whole year off. So at that one point, I made a decision that, well, why not designate this year now to do some sort of training and more or less, I put myself on a little road map, what I wanted to do for stuff like this.
So I said, well, autodidact is a little bit difficult in this sport because you mess it up. You might hurt yourself. So I was looking for training. So the first thing I did basically, obviously I booked in SRV to try finally, to make a list of stalls and stuff like this. I looked into a second SLV does this actually, where I met jockey. And it was really great. And I looked around on the internet for XD courses because I just want to do further the, not the top to bottom so that before more or less, there's some small funded 30 case flights.
And I have found only one in Austrian these days. I went to that one. So the thing is I more or less wrote myself a list of what I wanted to do is like more the SMEs handling aerodynamic envelope of the thing. There's some major differences to airplanes. Like we don't ever reach it. We don't like negatives, collapses, stuff like this and stalls.
And then basically building on these, just mechanical, flying to the skills and all your glider. I'm going to the next step. They see how to use someone's environment for this. I just went on the next day. Cause not that I learned so much there, but I realized very quickly under this, the red line through all this, this is mainly a mental game because I think the paraglider in general is the easiest tool.
You can fly with this. The only airplane I can say, when you don't do anything twice straight and doesn't crush you. So actually you don't have to do anything and still ask so and the skills to manage it as a normal glider in normal conditions, not extreme. You can learn this. Almost everybody can learn this. It's more about the mental game in your head. Am I on top of it? Am I scared and anxious and the decision making, and this is what I had to learn.
Whether we are so vulnerable on this thing and this point of no return, once you up that thousand meters above the ground, there's no way to get down now. So the decision making, that was the main thing.
Speaker 1 (31m 32s): Did your, did your training and did your flying in the air force, do you feel like that really impacted how you approached kind of relearning flying? What, you know, were, were there lessons you've learned and in terms of approach to risk or the mental game that you were able to bring across that might be new to those of us who haven't flown airplanes?
Speaker 2 (31m 55s): Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think even more than how I approach a client, have it a bit structured. It's like a checklist. You want to know how you approach is get your, the knowledge straight read about weather and stuff like this and the decision making. And then later, definitely. But at the air force base, I learned that my own judgment sometimes is wrong.
There's a lot of studies might notice the 10,000 hours say or intuition versus rational decision making and all this can be quite complex. But all that say we are all really emotional or listening to our feelings. But if you are a brand new beginner, like even a small kids in a dangerous area, you cannot know if it's dangerous or not. So fear is not a good adviser in these scenarios.
It always puts you on the very, very safe side. Sometimes most funds irrational. Sometimes it's climbing, no, you can train this too. If you save on the rope, why not try to move? If you hold your hand in the rope, that's fine. But still you feel that fear to do it. Then you have to say, well, everything is safe. That's so in this paraglider world, I think it's very important. What I see eight, I need to find where is the limits were getting dangerous, but in a manner to be on the safe side, because the worst thing in paragliding a thing is that you scare yourself too much.
If you have a very close call, if you have a gross misjudgment, if you hurt yourself, if you have an accident or something like this, the thing that can throw you back a big time, not many people can handle that very well because it's very deeply inside of you. It was trust and stuff like this, but how do you approach it? Now? That was my analysis in these times because the whole like official paragliding was always talking about, Oh, it's too dangerous. The food is coming. The glider is too big for you.
There's so many examples of this. So how do you approach us? And for example, how I tackled this, I was flying on this Swift, which was a B in this time, the call that I was flying a glider and before stop, and everybody says, Oh, go slowly. You know, you have to change. I think you have to look at the individual that is in general. True. But then also for yourself, you can see, well, some people are really talented.
You get people who start this sport really, really good after two years already and other state 20 years and don't progress much. So I said, I want to fly for competitive glider because I was doing some smaller comes through. I did all my homework. Like my SLD is ground tending on my small way. And I got through that feeling. It's holding me back. So I bought the use and four D with me and everybody was saying, plaque, that's not good.
You should do this. And then it's like, well, in general, they were right. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to encourage people to go and throw away and go to a two liner right away. But the way in this was the force approach you asked for, Hey, I a used one because I didn't know myself that I'm able to fly it. I left the question open. It's like, well, everything, I'm not the most untalented fly my whole year and things it's a certified lighter.
So the glide itself is not a prototype. Everything tells me I should be able to learn and handle that one. So I put myself in a safe environment. So if I can tell me that it's not a big loss the winter time. So it just went off generally temporary and really still days basically from ski slopes and did normal life and just played with it just like no left, right? Small wing Wingo was, and then do little spiral. Oh yeah, light's different. So that's what I mean with a built up approach.
That's an air force approach, build up approach to it step by step by step. And once I was comfortable with that, I took it to competition space. And then you push it more in bars and stuff. And maybe one add to that. It's a very good example. Even in my mind with that background and all this thinking I did. I remember one of these winter days taking off with my mantra and four, and it was a little bit wind up there. Nothing, everything completely safe, just not very still here.
So the glider was moving a bit, but in my mind, the mind theme was Whoa, a decline. And I watched myself just like doing all this left, right? And the brakes a bit two centimeters here. And after a minute say, and it just forced myself. This is keep your hands still. And watch the wig nothing changed. And it was only this mind thing is like, there was nothing going on. It's just my mind and I have to control it. That's controlled.
It took a deep breath and that was completely gone. And this is kind of this buildup approach, which you have to do. And for me, that was, I identified this as the biggest problem to get out of these worlds where I trained to learn mentally and to approach it in a healthy, safe, but a rational way or to progress. That's what I tried to put on the mind.
Speaker 3 (37m 52s): And you, you pretty quickly got wrapped up in kind of the comp scene. I understand you, you know, you, you, you felt like that, that the comp scene just pulled you in. And I mean, I think this year, you know, you've, you've, you've had some great results. You're now 15th in the world, you know, so that's pretty meteor, that's fast. That's a, that's a quick, you know, going from 2012, you know, basically just learning really a new to, to be in 15th in the world.
What do you credit that to? What has been your approach? How have you approached progression and training?
Speaker 2 (38m 30s): Yeah, I think that started in that year 2012, because from the mindset where I wanted to go, because initially, like I said, it was more the mountaineering side, but now at this time and this whole year off and what I did in the same year when I, well, I did the SIV with that mantra. And then I did a second SOV because again, I need to do an SUV with debt. And this is where I signed up for jockey centers, escape adventures.
And I think jockey, if you listened to that, thank you so fine. I think you read the reading without you or would not have pushed it to the limits, not to the limits to the place. And right now I think, you know, a jokey is an awesome guy and he has this opposite attitude. The attitude I always was looking for, looking into the positive side of this for joy.
It's not about getting scared and stuff like this. We do that to just have fun, enjoy flying with each other. And it was such a great, positive motivation for me to meet him there and to do his SIV course with him. So we helped me basically mastering this and poor, and we do a little, little bit of a in NSC. And then he said, well, I think it was, was it him? I think him, or did I sign up myself?
He said, why don't you come to the shopper open next week? I'm at a time and stuff like this. So basically it's through him and his courses. I more or less ended up in the shopper. I think by now everybody knows that it's kind of beginner. It's more or less designed for B gliders, sea gliders. They don't want to line up. It's like a step in competition where the focus is on flying together, learning together, having a beer together. The evening jockey does the briefings every evening talking about the past.
And basically if there are, why not let's do that. And this is basically where it clicked. I did really well in this company. I think I won in my class there and it was such a feeling of, wow, finally, the people sitting together, this enthusiasm about the sport, you fly together, you have problems to solve. Then you have a beer together to talk about it, to do it again the next day.
So I had to feeding that this is the environment and these days I didn't plan on going to work or something like this. So it's like, well, this is a training ground. That's what I sort of training ground where it can progress quickly. And that was it for me. Initially it was these coms where I think of besides the basic flying skills on handling a glide on, I learned the most because I mean, everybody I think would agree is doing forms in environments like this.
You just learn so much in so many long time. And the basic thing, they give you a problem to solve like a task. And the term bond is there. And it's not a question. If you should fly there, if you go for yourself, should I fly, right? No, you have to fly there. And this kind of environment, I think made me progress so much. You try stuff. Sometimes you fail, you bomb out. And so what does that do right now?
And then the air force life kicked in again, because I've found so many things terrors again, from my efforts like this basic stuff, they taught you in the beginning, it's like this. I don't know if you've heard this. We've had this seventies, proper planning, prevents piss poor performance or decisiveness was always very important. Either you go for on and off the low level, somewhere on these days, still, it goes really quick, everything.
So it has no time for hesitation, but you want to make good decisions. And what I saw on the conference too, is like how you deal with frustrations or wrong decisions like dammit, I should have gone there only really bad thinking. And this is what you learn in foster. It's really well. It was a mistake. Don't think about it. The more you think about it, more you're behind your airplane, but it's happening in front of you. You cannot change it.
And this acceptance of the things you cannot change to just let it go and not get emotionally involved and just deal with the situation right now, this found in paragliding comes to seem to so many times after learning, he would say, Oh, I should've done this. Should've done. That's fine. Maybe for debrief. But a lot of people in the air get quite emotional by that. And then miss out to assess the situation in front of you get too wrapped up in what just happened instead of what's just ahead.
Exactly. It's like, I mean, in hindsight, I thought a lot about my, what was normal life for me and my squadron and stuff like this, how you deal. I mean, you fly with your buddies in a squadron, not everybody's your best friend, but most of them it's intense. Your life depends on each other and everything. And it's not always like, say like this. It's so intense. You don't have the time to be always nice. Debriefing is very straightforward and there's this too.
And you have to be able to disconnect emotionally, even if you're angry at yourself or maybe angry at your body, because he did something when danger you or, or sacrifice the tactics and the way you do it in the air force, you get called science. Sometimes it's blue, one, two, three in the formation. That's not the Gavin and Stefan debriefing. You would do it the same. You depersonalize it stuff. And I found out from this fighter party where that helped me a lot, because sometimes in gaggles it's really tense or cylinders really close.
Some people fly too aggressive. So I never get angry at somebody never, ever. My picture is what I see. It's just a situation in front of me. It's moving objects. I always call it some people often. So it's not pilots of people. While if I know you kick me out, people have problems with that.
It's not only in Comstock flying somewhere. It's not about blaming others or things. It's just like, well, there is an object. Who's just not crossing my flight path where I want to go. How do I deal with that? I can continue in that crash or I have to deviate or something like this. And that, that makes it very unemotional for me. I just react to things that happen in front of me. And again, an air force thing is that's what they teach you in air combat all the time. It's always this assess predict maneuver.
And that's a constant loop. I mean, even in the corner velocity. So he cannot go over the top predict. He will have to come down in five seconds to the right maneuver. I pull lead to that point, but then you don't stop. So you do that at the moment. You assess, predict, maneuver, you start again. And that is so quick that you always get in this loop.
And this is the same, like what you can use in coms that in general, this assessment observation, that you're always stemmed everything and assess what will happen next. Then you predict where you want to be or not. And then you maneuver.
Speaker 3 (46m 53s): That sounds a lot, like that sounded a lot like tactics to me. And you actually mentioned tactics just very recently there. Let's talk about tactics a little bit in comps and then maybe specific, you know, you won the Colombian open this year and then did really well the next week in the, in the British open, which is to me, you know, pretty fast world cup. There's a lot of talent at the British open these days. Yeah. Tell me about tactics.
Speaker 2 (47m 21s): Yeah. Well, for me, it's a little bit, I always say it's chest in the air. I mean, probably a lot of people would, would say like this, or sometimes even titled it from my effect ground slow motion, air combat, two dimensional. I don't know. It's like a, I can eat my banana on a big lightens and do that on. It's like if somebody put it all on pause, I don't have to be on it right away.
So it gives them a lot of times to do that. But the base line of thing about all these tactics is this observation and assessment what's happening. It can be simple things. I mean, I had that evening PWCs. I think it was one task in Brazil last year. It's pretty good. I think I finished six or seven tasks. I learned a lot during this competition server, some good in front of Excel.
Remind me to give you an example of one task. Basically messed up my seventies. Let's let Nick start there. I'll remind you right now. Let's hear that one. What is it? It's a very good example. A lot of things come together really good for me. I was doing well. I was like top 10, top 20 at the end. Like I said, I made it to FIPSE and flying everyday long and hard tasks.
So like I said before, you have to have attention for detail. This proper preflight planning, prevents poor performance. Everything. Because as you know yourself, the higher level of the competitions are the less mistakes you can make because the one who makes the fewest mistakes probably wins. Nobody makes any mistakes, but there's no room for big errors. So it was pretty nice doing really well.
Take off, everybody's getting ready to go. And I put my stuff together. I have a coffee moment. I'm pretty relaxed. I'm never really excited. And some is a man where's my cockpit never happens to me.
No, I messed up seriously, one and a half hours, window open. I might be able to make it. So, but now I have to find a car because we had to go to his mom drive it's the bus. I think the bus drive was an hour or something already. It's like that. So I tried to find the meet director and another guy, not everybody spoke English. I don't speak for the geese.
Then I found somebody might have a big story. Took forever. Finally, I got somebody with a cop car who would drive me down downtown so I could pick up my, my cockpit. So we raised in downtown with gas station, gave me the keys and said, good luck. Go went back. We were living outside of the village, even in the middle around, she found the cockpit came up again. So the majority of the field already took off really sweaty.
I get my stuff together, put it on. And I remember this moment and this, this, this air force world again, where you have to, I think the big picture when I get some of that stone over here, you have to be able to plan stuff out. Well, I really did a big mistake. I can be really upset about myself. There's some time for it. So really focused through all this and at the end, that was the second last Claudia. It's exactly the moment where the wind turned on and on this place, it can take off from the three sites.
I think we're on the South. They go for that switch to the North and they looked at my watch. There was like 15 minutes to go, going to take off at like 10 minutes to the way in the air. And that was like, still top 10. I want to do that sort of stuff. And I don't take off hours. I go over there and it's like, don't, if you go over there, you never make it to the start. Well, let's go. And then add this moment just, okay, we'll do it. When is the minutes?
Then you have to, if your skilled, you know what you handle, if you answer or not, it was a big wind sock on the left. There was two birds surfing the wind sock, a little bit showing to the center of the Thermo. And my assessment was just like, take a window. Now I go left for 200 meters. My best assumption is that there is a thermal all signs pointing for that. I go to the base and then I might be just in time, but it's to manage the guy that come to the left, go with the wind.
So I hit right away, a three meter climb. I made 800 meters. And then basically I was two minutes later. And from this, what I want to save it, that is not, Hey, look how good I am. No, it's about this things to can transfer. What is so important. You have to be able to like it beginners my mentally, calm down and let everything go and focus on the stuff, which is right there, right ahead of you, which is now in that moment, no matter what the weather did to you, what another pilot did to you, or what did you teach yourself?
Like in a bad decision? So you have to live with that and have to let it go. And I think you can train that a lot with mental training. I mean, besides my background, I use, I meditate a lot to be honest. It's like, it's a really cool way to train your mind, to let thoughts come and go. Nope. Get attached to it tomorrow.
Speaker 3 (53m 49s): And are you, are you meditating like on, you know, at the start, you know, before you take off or are you talking about like when you wake up in the morning or do you have any kind of a practice that's specifically tied to flying?
Speaker 2 (54m 2s): Yeah. It's like, it's like while ago, maybe three, four years ago, I discovered this people notice hat space like this and the, from England, I think it was a month somewhere came back and his approach was like a more Western approach without too much theory reality. It's just about the techniques and everything. I use that a lot and now basically I have a daily routine. I meditate every morning and if I miss it once in the morning, then I find something in between a time to do it.
But like, I think people who meditate would agree, it's not only about the meditation itself. I think how can I put this meditation? Maybe it's a tool, a frame to train awareness and awareness in everything.
Speaker 3 (54m 57s): Are you using that awareness and you know, kind of meditation, are you using that to help you either enter or get out of kind of a flow state when you're flying?
Speaker 2 (55m 10s): Yeah. I mean, what I discovered when I started meditating is that I found kind of the same feeding this flow awareness. And so in almost everything I did in my life, that was definitely the fighter part of life. It's very intense missions and it's hard to tell how old it was, but you get in a state like this. I found this in like climbing on the motorbike on the racetrack and stuff like it's, it's, it's just you just, things slow down.
You have a clear mind and the clear view. And I think meditation, especially in our world in the, in the paragliding world is a good tool to prep you for this moment. That, I mean, I know a lot of people who are really excited before taskforce sample, you can use that to just let it go. Breath breathing is a very big center thing. And meditation uses that as a main anchor and awareness. I mean, not only aware of the task itself or the flying itself, it means in the moment, for example, what I try to do is a lot of people, you said you have a routine, how you prep for the task.
I mean, you go into the briefing and you set yourself up. Everybody has different techniques for that, but I like to be in a bubble for myself, get my stuff off of expect, always to say like this air force background after habitat and stuff goes to the same. When you click in that, it's simple. It's not that I just have this bucket in my hand. So I really see the buckle, feed it a few when it clicks on just this moment. And it's the whole way till you take off the gliders spreads, you listen to your breath, you feel the wind, they have a quick look at some people, the glider rises.
So you go from step to step to step and not on the final glide, or somebody said, try it just to be right here right now, enjoying it. And that's a really nice feeling. And then it basically comes all together at one big thing, because you go from one moment to the next one, I'm in a very relaxed and open way. And does this the way I use it.
Speaker 3 (57m 31s): You know, one of the things that we're, we're just finishing up the book about the podcast and talking about this in the last few shows and it's, it's basically, you know, my job's done it's now in the editor's hands. It had XC mag, but it was really interesting going back through all the shows where, you know, the books based on the first a hundred shows, kind of pulling out all the best of the best and the, the, the folks that are really, really top pilots, especially at the competition and the things, but also, you know, even in things like the ex Alps and, you know, intense hike and fly races, they do a theme of like being cool comes up again and again, and by, by that, I mean, you know, it's, it's the folks that are laughing the most, that are the most relaxed that are in the most chill.
It's often, you know, the, the really consistent pilots. And now, you know, there's some young, you know, French pilots who are just amazing, but you know, the, the ones that you kind of see consistently in that kind of top 10, top 20, you know, almost every time they don't, they, they, they seem to be very detached from mistakes. Like you said. I mean, I think one of the most valuable things I've learned in flying was from Tom Payne before the 2015 race, we went and visited him in, in, in Zurich.
And, you know, he, he competed in 2009 and then he supported John Chambers in 2011 and 2013, I believe. And he, he said, you know, one of the first things he said, when we walked in, I, you know, Hey, what can you teach me? What, Tom, what do I need to know about this? Cause I was so freaked out. I was going into this ratio first time, you know, what do I need to know? And he said, the most important thing you guys need to have is, is conflict resolution. You know, conflict is going to come up and you need to figure out a way to deal with it.
So it doesn't take you down as a team. And, and we just decided, okay, well we're gonna make mistakes. That's inevitable. Everybody makes mistakes. We're gonna make a ton of them. And let's, let's figure out what it was and drop it, you know, immediately we just hear it. Here's the mistake. Let's not make them again. And there's no blame. There's no, there's no tension. There's no anger. It's laugh it off and move on. And so I liked that when you said that to be detached from mistakes, I haven't had that so much in mind for comps.
And of course that makes perfect sense. You know, you know, these guys that and gals that are really good. I think one of the reasons they don't get that upset when they bomb out is cause everybody bombs out, even they'd. I mean, it's just inevitable. You're going to make mistakes. So whatever exactly.
Speaker 2 (1h 0m 14s): Yeah. Because everybody makes mistakes and we have to acknowledge this. We had in training in the beginning of our talks, it's like everybody expect a hundred percent safety and basic diet. It's not possible. You have to just realize that. And the same with no matter how good you get, everybody will make mistakes. Even the Russ makes mistakes. And he knows that you have to learn from them. And it's like, I mean, there's all these lines. I think everybody knows is that if you do not make these takes mistake is necessary to progress and learn with no mistakes.
You will always stay at the level you are. And you might know some pilots there. Few pilots will always blame something else. The weather, the wind, the pilots, or something, some ideas. And if you're not able to open up to your own mistakes, you will never change because only the mistake allows you to analyze something and to progress on to making something better. And does this maybe another example of the air force world in this 20 years, plus air force flying, I have not seen the flight where you didn't debrief and more complex stuff.
Sometimes you flew one and a half hours. Only the debrief was three to four hours and you sit down the door's closed and you have the matrix you go through versus any safety calls bar to get it out of the way. Every caveats, every radio, excuse us form. And now we deconstruct or reconstruct what happened in our world. A lot of times people think they debrief and think they debrief when they reconstructed what happened?
Oh, I saw you there. Oh yeah. Cool. And then I jumped to that Ridge fine. And I didn't catch the thermal. I bumped off, blah, blah, blah. So what's your best learn? Well, I didn't catch thermal, but the reconstruction is not the debrief. It's the base now to throw the lesson burns, it would be like, okay, you reconstruct the quicker. You can do that. The better nowadays with the GPS, like you could do that on a task with us. We had like, in the beginning we have chalks and boards and notes made in the flight. And then you have GPS.
You can do that when you know what happens. It's just not rewind. Then you can start to analyze. And then it's more like, okay, we execute the game plan, game plan today, transferring it to paragliding. Okay. My game plan was, I want to have a good start right in the front. I want to push the first 30% of the race. Then I want to hang back a bit and stay for these groups. So Mallory would ask yourself, did I execute the game plan?
I had a shitty start and no, I didn't really push the first 30. I checked in the end and push. So it didn't execute the game plan. And then you would say, well, did it work or not? It's still good. Fine. That's okay. But why didn't you do that? Well, I forgot that the main lead points from the first 30% that was distracted and my Picchu posted in the right position, seven piece again. So then things go through something like this. And then at the end of all, this, there must be a lesson learned in every single flight at the end.
Now lesson learned and LL would formulate. So if you would do the same thing tomorrow, would you do the same thing again? Or where would you do something different? Even if it's a little bit and then pushing the first 30%. And I remember exactly there were left at Thermo, but that wasn't the point of the race, but didn't want to do that because I wanted to hang with the guys and then you have the debriefing goal and you can use that. So the mistakes are very, very important. So you should embrace your mistakes.
They are your friends. So the flight without any mistake, it's kind of a sad thing because learning doesn't have to be a catastrophic mistake, especially in comps. And this is the difference between doing a joyful or getting angry or frustrated. I mean, I remember, I think it was two years ago in German open. It was really good at one task. And I wasn't they were pushing like hell on this rich full buzz feed.
And I try to stick with them and fighting and they're going and go and they'll look at my instruments. Hey guys, we have to go left. At one point, we have to leave it because the next term is like 15 cases. And they were such like racing each other that at one point I was just like, Nope. And that peeled off. And I was alone. I had to cross this whole thing and they bombed out. And at the end they said, well, we just forgot about it, but then transitioning over.
And then these two birds circling at the end of the Canyon, I was not the highest anymore. I should go there because this is a trigger point. If I catch that I can win it. So I go for that. And then I suddenly realized the rising terrain. I push the ride. I wasn't alone. Nobody else with me, I cannot reach these two birds. They're climbing out above me.
Fuck, face the attacked up my stuff. Like two hours till the next three, Jessica was picking me up there with the car. And that was the middle of nowhere. But I was just sitting down. I remember when I was mended, it was so beautiful because it was quiet and this fresh and adjust from hero to zero in like two minutes.
Right? Good. Hung back, waited for paper. And the other guys join up. These guys are incredible. There was no rush or something like this, but I'm sitting there and I remember them and that's what I wanted to say. It's like, I could be there instead of no, it just happened.
So you sit down and then you just analyze it. Very good decision to leave. The rich Mark is completely wrong. He has a critical point. So why did you do that? So the next time, and I visualize this, rewind the whole tape at the same position, where took the decision to go for this spot. It's like, Nope, don't go bar, go off bar, get backside, wait till the others come here. They have an advantage. Then you join that together.
And then I let it go. Because once you have your lesson burned, it's no sense drooling it again. And again and again. And it was quite funny because then I remember I had to wait for Jessica quad long time. And that was like just a WASC, like fighting different end. And I remember me sitting like 10 minutes on this road watching them. And this is what I mean with awareness. It's just try to be the moment. And this big mistake will throw me back in there, but it gave me a memory life.
I will never forget this day. The smell, I will never forget this hike and this magic moment of this insect, Jessica finally comes and picks me up. And then we find something to eat and drive forward. So life is good is really good. I can change it. And it's, it's more or less. It's more for me, it's more funny, but it was a good lesson learned when to risks then when not is always a big thing.
Speaker 3 (1h 8m 45s): Yeah. And I mean, I think there's, there's huge crossovers there to just recreational XC flying as well. I mean, you, you really do have to that. You're, that's a constant analysis and, and you know, you gotta get it right. Or you end up on the deck, then the bony end up on the deck. That's OK, too Stephan. I want to be mindful of your time. And I also just heard my little one waking up. So it's about to get really loud. So we'll, we'll, we'll wrap this up in a sense, but I know you're doing, or you have done some guiding and some Bibi stuff and cool adventures with jockey and all over the world.
What, what, what's a risk in your students and the people that you're guiding, what's a risk that you wish students would take and more of and a risk that you wish they wouldn't take more of.
Speaker 2 (1h 9m 37s): That's a good question. I mean, if you do your homework, I mean, from a baseline of, I always say this, you have to be humble in our sport. Like I think every adventure sport, which is remote, they might climbing or somebody. So because we don't have a net or somebody. So the, the outcome of huge mistakes can be fatal. So you have to be humble. And whenever you have a feeling and everybody's different kind of now I'm fighting nature.
I sometimes small, we suggest stuff like this. You always, always, always the weakest link. So out of this position of humbleness, of being nothing, being smaller than an end, playing intelligently with your knowledge and your skills, you can progress a lot. It doesn't mean you have to be anxious or something like this, but never, never forget that you are the weakest link in whatever you do. And if you build on that, then the also self confident enough to push your limits in a safe way and pushing the limits.
I don't mean I go for three minutes. I have to be, I have to push not that type of limits, but we all reach plateaus. So in controlled environments, the story, what I did with my important these days, try to push your limits or SLV instructor and try to push your rhythms or with courses with jockey, stuff like this. If you are not really sure, join a group, go on an XD course in the, the baby.
Cause in the year, two years ago and explored with people who can teach you something and be you to mind, same mindset with you. So be honest to yourself, that's the main thing. This honesty every day am I fit for it? Am I fit to be for it? Am I on my wing or not? And don't push yourself mentally in a corner where you don't belong,
Speaker 3 (1h 11m 47s): How important your you're a super fit guy. How important do you think fitness is to flying well? And, and how, how does, how do those relate the, the, do you, do you stay really fit because of flying or is that just who you are?
Speaker 2 (1h 12m 4s): I love sports. I cycle every day right now, but I think the type of flying you're doing fitness is very important. It's like you have to hike for hours, days and stuff like this. It's a complete different environment, like in a competition environment. I think in normal flying it's like in life too, the mental fitness is the main thing.
And our, I think the world we are living in the Western world, we stress the physical fitness way more than the mental fitness. It's not part of our life or society. Maybe it's way much more on the Asian or the Eastern cultures. The changes a little bit. There's this, this meditation, or some mind fit for that. What I'm doing. Can I work on that? I think this mental fitness gives you a big advantage.
Lexie flying in complying and stuff like this. You have to be able, I always say to enjoy and regenerate in flight. I don't get tired when I'm flying. Even if I have a bad night and shitty day at the moment that flyer can regenerate comfortable, honors a few grades I'll look around the longer, the better because the mental state is different there. If you don't manage your mental fitness, you will drain.
You only have a certain amount of attention bucket. I always say, and every little bit you train, train, train it. If your gear smoke fit, you train it to take off because you're a reservist get drained. It didn't start giggling already because you're not comfortable flying close to others, train into the midterm because the turbulence, your skills, when it's empty, you're tired and you do more mistakes. So for me, I think the mental fitness part is a very underestimated value or position in paragliding.
For me. That's very important.
Speaker 3 (1h 14m 18s): Last question. How has flying and put your air force into this too? And so all the flying you've done, how has flying changed your life?
Speaker 2 (1h 14m 31s): Well, it was always a part of my life. And that's a complex question because well, say like this from a young guy, just coming from school, dreaming of being a pilot, you have to doubt everything. Oh, they only take like a fuel 10,000. So want to do that. You never make this they're all superheroes and stuff like this, this experience, what the echo showed me to show me what capabilities are in myself, which I never thought I would find.
There also big point in how I see myself in life. What I do in the same time, not like in overconfidence, that's the complete different way. It also showed me the, this week. So this humbleness and stuff like this. So it's like, you have to work hard. You can achieve something that you bought with the right attitude. And this, I think for myself gave me a feeling that I can deal with life in any way. It comes to me, this, this basic relaxed confidence that I can have little things and stressful stuff.
That's the one thing. And when I always see, I rediscovered it in paragliding, because I do not find this in the civilian flying. I do that complete different world, but in paragliding the same, it's that feeling of freedom. Finally, one of the few things in our society, which are left over where you are reliable, nobody's telling you what to do and no rules and regs, it's you and only you who doesn't make the decisions and you, and only you can be playing for it, nothing else to play.
And this is kind of a constant recalibration of who you are as a person and that constant three calibration on how you should see yourself. Because I think modern society doesn't give us this anymore. Everybody's great. Everybody has a cool job for money. And so like this, and people start to believe that to the point where you really get dragged out of this environment, maybe your job, maybe the way you live, who are you?
And so flying made me, I think, deeply philosophical about that. Where am I? Is it really or not for, do I want, what is important for this not important, this feeling of just being a little messy in a big kind of environment, nature universe, whatever, giving me a very, very solid and deep gratitude for this life. This this few years I have on this planet.
So I think it's the whole baseline of how I see my life. Now. I go through it. It's smallest shoot by, by flying. Beautiful Stephan,
Speaker 1 (1h 17m 33s): Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I can't wait for us to flag in Merman a then B would be so fun and give Jessica a huge hug for me and you guys be safe, be healthy and see a cloud base here sometime. Yeah,
Speaker 0 (1h 17m 52s): The outfit will come on. Yeah, come on.
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We don't put any of that behind a paywall. If you can't afford to support us, then just let me know. And I'll set you up with an account. Of course, that'll be lifetime and hopefully in a year being in a position someday to be able to support us, but you'll find all that on the website. All of you who have supported us or even joined our newsletter or bought cloud-based may have merchandise T shirts or hats or anything, you should be all set up. You should have an account and you should be able to access all that bonus material. Now, thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate your support and we'll see you on the next show.