Episode 169- Alex Schweig and not being a passenger to destiny

Professional chef Alex Schweig was born in Peru and didn’t grow up around sport. In his teens he became fascinated with watching the paragliders at the coast in Lima and started groundhandling. Not long after he got into acro, got bit by the flying bug and learned German so he could move to the Alps and become a full-time pilot. Flying in all its forms is now his full-time job and passion, but because he didn’t grow up taking much risk and being around risky activities Alex has a very methodical approach to learning and training which we dove into in this talk. Alex likes to say “flying bags around the sky with grace and tact” is important, style is important, and style isn’t just the physical movements we make under canopy but the holistic approach we take (or should take) to every aspect of flying and life in general. I really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you do too!

Alex is on instagram @airxperience_austria

Alex organizes and leads tours to South America. Check them out here.

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Topics we discuss on the show:

  • Learning to fly in Peru
  • Acro and proximity flying
  • Groundhandling
  • “Grace and Tact” and style
  • Refining your style
  • The importance of having other passions when you fly
  • Maintaining the desire
  • Approaching the sport when you’re young
  • Ground suck
  • The importance of where you live if you fly
  • Upcoming dream gear…

Mentioned in this show:

Yassen Savoy, Will Gadd, Seb Ospina, Veso Ovcharov

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Speaker 1 (0s): Hi there everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Cloudbase Mayhem. No housekeeping. Today we can get right into this show with Alex Schweig. He is Peruvian born and got into flying down there, Mira Flores, and then shortly afterwards, got a little bored with that and decided to pick it up a bit, cut into acro, still in acro, learn German. So he could move to the Austrian Alps and get a job and work in flying and picked Garlits and very famous acro spot. Really good place to train a really good place to send it.

And he's doing all of those things. So he reached out to me with the terrific email about how he approaches safety and risk and progression and the value of proximity flying and ground handling and all the things that we hear about on the show, but really enjoyed his perspective from the email and what he was talking about. So reached out and did a show with him and he's been flying for 12 years as big ambitions just recently did his first comps down in Columbia, the Columbia open and the British open.

And it's been doing a lot of flying with Gossan tabla, legend comp pilot, and I just really enjoyed this. We spent an hour together talking what we all love. So please enjoy this great talk with a fascinating individual, Alex spike, Alex, welcome to the mayhem. I'm glad you reached out to me and kind of funny timing. I was just looking at there's a few people I like to follow on Instagram and just saw one a year.

A nice photos. I think of flying with the Austin this winter down in Columbia. I understand you just spent quite a bit of time down there, but I thought where we might start is, you know, maybe a lot of our listeners aren't familiar with you. I wasn't. And I had to kind of, since you sent me that email, I had to have been following you a bit on, on the social media stuff, but why don't you share with everybody your brief history and why we're going to chat today?

Speaker 2 (2m 17s): Thanks, Kevin. Yeah. As an avid listener of the podcast, it's quite a pleasure to be here. I'm not yet a household name in paragliding. Hope to be someday. Basically I was, I was born in pedal means I grew up in soaring on the coast and Lima. It's a popular coastal soaring site, but boating around gets boring pretty quickly. So that took me into the pursuit of acro flying and ground handling and proximity flying and there's wider kind of flying style.

And that ended up bringing me to Europe in 2018 for, for big hero tour. Long story short, I found an opportunity in Austria learn German within a year. And the next year I basically living in Austria and working as a tandem pilot, something I had already been doing in Lima as well on the side. But here took upon a more professional notes and kind of expanded my network of contacts and my interest in paragliding to the point that this year I went on a, on a cross-country exploration trip with, with an ex-colleague of mine.

Yes. And Saba FISA is a well-known PWC pilot. And that opens the door to this next chapter in my adventure of flying, which is the world of cross country, which I find very, very intensely interesting.

Speaker 1 (3m 36s): And you've got, you've got a German accent. Is that just from picking it up and being over in Austria? Have you spent a lot of time in Europe previously and also you don't look Peruvian, so what's your, what's your background? What's your heritage?

Speaker 2 (3m 49s): That's that's that's funny you say that I tend to pick up accents pretty quickly. It's since I started living in Australia, picked up a pretty bad country, mountainous, Austrian dialect as well in German, which is A bit of a fun note. Eh, my family is mostly European and backgrounds, but I was born in Peru. My mother was born in Peru as well, but I'm here on a, on a Belgian passport. Thanks to the fact that my dad was born in Belgium. So I've made things quite a bit easier.

Speaker 1 (4m 20s): Did, did you learn in Peru? Did you learn in Lima on the sites we've all seen in front of the building is kind of the restoring site.

Speaker 2 (4m 27s): Yeah, exactly. So basically that there's this site that everybody knows the one in front of the big buildings on the coast, it's called meta Flores. I didn't learn exactly there. I learned further down the coast at the site where the people who got kicked out of the main site went to fly because I was 15 years old. I, I never actually took a course to learn how to paraglide. It was basically borrowing equipment and playing with it. And about six months of ground handling before I ever got my feet off the ground.

And to this, I credit this, this love for ground handling has made me a much better and much more intuitive pilot, I would say.

Speaker 1 (5m 8s): Do you think all that plan around on the deck led you to acro too? Cause that's, you know, we see all the acro pilots are just so, you know, that's something we hammer on the show all the time is how important ground handling is and just how fun it can be to, you know, w we want to encourage actually pilots to spend a lot of time doing it, but D do you think that's what led you to ACRA or is it more of the flying and just kind of getting bored with the rich storm?

Speaker 2 (5m 35s): I'm going to get on the side of the XC pilots, who don't like ground handling and say, okay, it can be really frustrating at the beginning, but once you get into a certain flow, it can be extremely rewarding. And of course, at some point, this playful, either proximity, very close to the ground or handing the glider from one side to another, spinning it, jumping around this of this kind of playfulness of course can turn into the same kind of emotions in the air. And as soon as restoring from one side to the other becomes boring, you start looking to get upside down.

Speaker 1 (6m 10s): How did you, how did you kind of start breaking into acro? Where did that, how did you, is that, is there other good places for that and Peru or

Speaker 2 (6m 19s): So? Not really on the coast, it's a coastal soaring site. The one good thing is if the wind comes in early, during the day, it mostly holds during the whole day. And it means you can do many sort of save runs, but the truth is you're applying at most, at best 200 meters over the ocean with waves, with power lines underneath you, a highway on the, on the coast and buildings behind you. So there's no possibility of actually throwing a rescue. It's not a good acro spot, but it did allow me to get an insane amount of air time in, in the few years that, that I was flying there.

Speaker 1 (6m 54s): And I imagine you, you know, when you're, when you're restoring like that, and it, like you said, it does get a little dry after not too much time. So you start spending a lot more time getting close to things, you know, proximity flying and, you know, scraping your feet and, you know, just making it more fun, which is also obviously, you know, anytime we're playing with the ground, it's a little bit more dangerous, but it's also really good training. Did you, did you find that that was, that also kind of helped you prepare for acro?

Speaker 2 (7m 22s): Yeah, it definitely, definitely one of the sites we started flying out, eh, once I got bored at Flores, Paracas, it's a, it's a coastal soaring site, about three hours away from Lima. This I can recommend to everybody. It's a beautiful, beautiful place in the desert, inside a natural reserve. And the whole fun there is you can, you can fly barefoot, you can touch down on objects, you can fly very close to the ground and the sensitivity and this playfulness, for sure.

It will reflect in many other aspects of flying because you're making corrections all the time. You're always in constant movement. You don't stop adjusting the angle of attack, the turn, the pitch of the glider, including weight shift as well. And I, and I believe I really do believe that this intensity of play has a positive effect on all aspects of flying.

Speaker 1 (8m 14s): Did you compete? Nacro

Speaker 2 (8m 16s): Not my, my level in acro is pretty intermediate. I took part in the last acro world cup in Albania last year, but my interest right now is, is, is not really competing at high level in ACRA. The level that pilots have reached right now is, is pretty crazy. I'm content being an intermediate pilot.

Speaker 1 (8m 37s): Yeah. How did you switch or have you switched? I guess when, when did the XC start?

Speaker 2 (8m 44s): Yeah, for me in Peru, XC was, was never really a thing. I kind of observed it as a, from the side because there are cross country pilots and there are cross country possibilities, but, but it was a complicated place to fly. The Andes are very aggressive in geography, as well as in climate. And that, that never really peaked my interest. Once I came to Europe, I realized that there was so much potential to learn cross country, but anyways, I was way too concentrated with whole history of, of my Acura flying here in Europe.

And I worked together with yesin, eh, as a tandem pilot, that skeleton it's a popular acro site. And at some point during one of the summers that we worked together, he told me, get across country ladder, get a competition ladder, you have the skills to control it. At which point I said, no, I don't. But he told me to get across country glider, prepare mentally and go down with him to Columbia, to do some exploration flying. And this was, this was the beginning of what I hope will be a pretty long and savory career and cost them to fly.

Speaker 1 (9m 51s): I like you, you're the last sentence in your email. And you're kind of introducing yourself to me was a laugh a bit at our shameless pursuit of living from piloting flying bags around the sky with grace and tact. It was a great sentence flying, flying bags. I love that around the sky with grace and tact, what does grace and tact mean to you?

Speaker 2 (10m 15s): For me, it's pretty important to have a distinctive style. I think one of the things that we can radiate around in our, in our pursuit of flying is not only our emotions, but our style in the air as well as on the ground. And it's important for me to show who I am in the air. Not only, not only so people can recognize who I am, but for me to always look for a certain harmony and a certain grace in my flying in the same way that the mark of a, of a top chef can be recognized instantly, by the way they play with flavors, I would, I would really love for the mark of my flying to be seen instantly in the air.

Speaker 1 (10m 56s): I've never heard an analogy with food, with flying, and we hear about the chess board and the sky and flying chess all the time. But I'm also a foodie. I'm not a chef at your level by any means, but the cuisine in Peru is world famous these days, especially in Lima. And that's, that's an interesting analogy to Thai food, to, you know, style, the style of food and the complexities of flavor to flying. I like that. That's interesting.

Speaker 2 (11m 26s): Yeah. I think, I think there's a certain analogy to be made between the activities that one pursues in life, be it rock climbing or skiing or cooking or music or flying. I think everybody can put their own spin on things. And I think it's pretty important to refine this, this distinctiveness, not on, not in the sense that you have to be a show off about it, or people have to recognize it instantly, but it gives you a very beautiful goal to work for in, in, in ever refining your own style and your own image also of yourself.

Because for me, motivation is a big thing. I've been, I've been flying for almost 12 years by now. And it is a complicated thing to take care of my motivation to make sure that I don't lose the motivation for flying to make sure that flying is always a pleasurable thing and a thing that I can always learn from. And not that flying becomes a routine because that's the point where I guess it can become pretty dangerous when it's just the routine and it becomes careless. And you don't care anymore about showing your style or refining your style or working on your technique or learning when it becomes a careless pursuit on the side.

I guess that's when it can also become pretty dangerous.

Speaker 1 (12m 38s): That's one of the chapters in my book, killing complacency and it's because complacency kills it's yeah. That's, that's good that you bring that up. We'll get toxic. We know have done that. Did that expedition with him a bunch of years ago across the Rockies and for him style was really important. What that, how style you've mentioned style now a couple of times, how do you think of style?

Speaker 2 (13m 2s): Yeah, for me, it's the distinctive mark that a pilot leaves in his flying that can be recognized in acrobatics. It's pretty easy to notice. You've got pilots that have a very aggressive style, or you have pilots that have a very technical, clean style in cross country. That's more, well, not always more of a subtlety there. Some pilots who have a very Cindy's style. So to say they will go out in front of the pack and not really care about anybody else's line choice and just do their own thing.

Speaker 1 (13m 31s): Yeah. Like, yes, you're learning, you're learning. So it came to that.

Speaker 2 (13m 37s): It's been fun to learn with him. He's a, he's a character, he's a very good friend, but he does have a very distinctive style in the sense that he will push forward with us online choice without much regard to whatever the pipe wants to do. And so, in a sense, that's a very distinctive style. Other people will be mathematical and calculating and very much the contemplative chess player about it. It really depends for me. It's working towards an aesthetic that I can be completely happy with.

And that identifies me as a person in the air on the ground.

Speaker 1 (14m 14s): You've said that you Mo you know, you learn German. So you could really bring your passion to a place where you can get the hours. You know, one of the best in the world because you've got the Acrow site and amazing cross country and typically pretty good weather for cross it's. It's an area I know very well. It's very special in the Alps as are most of the Alps for flying. When you say work, is that tandem work? Are you working in paragliding or is that with chef? Is that being a chef?

Speaker 2 (14m 46s): No. A cooking was something I left on the side in about basically about 2015. I took the decision to leave cooking on the side for awhile and dedicate on a career in paragliding. So to say the easiest way to start with this was, was tandem flying, work out a flying school doesn't really pay that. Well, a ton of flying is a good opportunity to have a very intense season and then take most of the year off to dedicate to my own flying. And the opportunities I found in Austria for tandem flying were very good.

And not only that, the opportunities that I found to relate to a community Gallatin is maybe not the best ever could replace, I would say for ganja in any case, but the community that gathers at Gallatin is very unique. I think it's a, it's a completely unique community. There's only one like it in the world and it's right there. It centers around this camping site called camp candy by those who know it. And there's just such a colorful and flavorful mix of people from all over the world who come either to fly acro or do safety trainings, or just dedicate the time to being happy and colorful.

Speaker 1 (15m 58s): You're 12 years now. And pretty diverse. Sounds like, you know, you did the, you learned in Mira Flores and did the, the Ridge soaring and then acro, and now you're in, you know, one of the mega places for, you know, it's kind of an Annecy of the Alps kind of place to train and fly you. You mentioned motivation. Have you had times where it's, it's been harder to motivate harder to get out the door and, you know, get the hours

Speaker 2 (16m 31s): For sure. There's been a few moments in my flying career where I've almost dropped out of the sport entirely because I pushed myself too hard. I have a low tolerance for frustration. That's something that one should recognize and, and handle carefully. So for sure, there's been moments where I w where I was angry at flying, where I was angry at the fact that we spend so much time just waiting for the chronic conditions. I was angry at the fact that acrobatic flying is, is very much a pursuit of repetition and repetition and repetition, and sometimes making the same mistakes over and over and over again, and mixing that with risk makes it even more complicated to manage.

But one of the important things for me is just to, to keep things fresh, to mix with other outdoor sports right now, one of my biggest pursuits at the moment, the skiing and ski touring, and that's something I can very easily mix with high mountain flying, for example, doing a long ski tour and flying down, or actually flying up to then write down.

Speaker 1 (17m 37s): Yeah. That makes it fun. Isn't it? When you, when you're, when you're mixing activities, it's a, just a little bit of spark.

Speaker 2 (17m 46s): And I, I see many of course, I see many young people around me who are pursuing the sport very intensely, and they attain an incredible level of skill in a very short time. Sometimes that makes me a bit envious because I look at, I look back at how long I've been flying. And sometimes I can't do all the tricks that some of the younger guys are doing, but then I realized that for me, pursuit of Free flight is much more of a long lasting thing. I want to do this for the next, I don't want to say a number of years.

And in that sense, I have all the time in the world to diversify and pursue different directions and flying as long as it keeps me safe, happy and motivated.

Speaker 1 (18m 29s): How old are you?

Speaker 2 (18m 31s): I'm 27 at the moment.

Speaker 1 (18m 33s): Okay. Still pretty young, 12 years, just trying to do the math here. So you learned early 15, 16 years old.

Speaker 2 (18m 40s): I had my first flights alone when I was 15. It's a bit of a funny story. Since I guess this story has been repeated over and over again in the history of paragliding, but I was ground handling on somebody used equipment. I was already keen to get off the ground. Somebody gave me a radio, switched it on, took off. As soon as I took off the battery diet boated around for about half an hour, the top landed on my own. And then I decided I was a pilot. And a couple of years later, I actually got a license of my own.

Speaker 1 (19m 10s): The, any accidents.

Speaker 2 (19m 13s): That's a, that's a good question. I've, I've kept myself very, very much out of risk. I mean, not to say out of risk, I've kept myself out of unexpected encounters with the planet. Let's put it that

Speaker 1 (19m 28s): That's a good way to put it. You haven't hit the ground hard. Just hit it normally.

Speaker 2 (19m 33s): Oh no, I've, I've, I've hit the ground hard enough to bounce, but not enough to cause any long lasting damage. It is very much in my interest to keep it that way.

Speaker 1 (19m 44s): Chalk that up for me. How, you know, I, I have often said I didn't get into this sport till I was 30 mid thirties. And I've often thought, you know, given my background and my love of speed and ski racing and just all the stuff I did when I was young, I just don't know that I would have survived this sport. If I had done it, like you did it. And you know, at that age I'd anyway, I've always thought I'm pretty good. I think I'm happy that I, in some ways I'm bummed and I mean, we learn better when we're younger and you know, I would've loved to have been doing the X ops 20 years ago instead of when I started 42, you know, pretty much definitely past your physical peak kind of thing.

So, but on the flip side, I've just not got, if I would have done this when I was 15, 16, I want to kill myself. You know, I just didn't have the respect for, I don't know, death that I do now and risk. And, you know, I was pretty loose for a long time and went back my ski racing years. So I'm wondering how, you know, we, we want young people to get into this sport. You got into it young. What do you think the differences are? What are, what are some of the things?

What can you tell people that are listening to this who are maybe younger as a bit of a heads up? I'm not looking for anything. I have a be careful, you know, or go slow or, but I, you know, it's, it's, you're, you're very different when you're 15. And when you are, when you're 35,

Speaker 2 (21m 15s): A hundred percent, one thing that probably made a big difference for me was that I, I wasn't involved in any sports at all. I was not, I was not interested in sports until well, after I started paragliding, paragliding was, was an activity for me. Otherwise I was, I was quite a stay at home kid and this made me much more reflective. I would say it made me punish myself a bit harder for my mistakes and really try to punish myself every time I would put myself in danger.

I would very much reflect upon it because I hadn't been exposed to this kind of danger before in my life. And with paragliding came also the pursuit of other sports and also some injuries on the side. For example, I got really into, into mountain biking or really into downhill mountain biking. And then the injury started coming and I eventually left the sport because I thought this was unsustainable for me. And so one thing I would, I would recommend probably younger pilots is to really think about how long they want to pursue a sport and not burn out in the first few years.

I've seen way too many amazing talents get to a very high level and then just disappear. I guess it's a, it's a good idea to have in your head, how long you want to do a sport for what your goals might be in the sport. What are you willing to risk? How much are you willing to put on the table to attain a certain level of proficiency in the sport? If anything, just to reflect more upon the things that we do to reflect more upon the times that we put ourselves in, in moments of unnecessary risk and to have an open mind for other people's comments.

We all know that there's, there's a breed of pilots that only sit on the takeoff and tell everybody how dangerous conditions are. And then actually never fly. Even when the conditions are perfect blue birthday, but it's fine to listen to them, but it's also fine to develop a criteria to digest. What kind of information is actually useful to you. So I guess having an open mind, listening to people who are more experienced, but not necessarily eating up everything that everybody tells you as well.

Speaker 1 (23m 28s): Yeah. That's a, that's another chapter in the book. It's a hard thing. Sometimes. I think for, you know, for veteran pilots, it's pretty easy to decipher, which is which, but I imagine that's hard. I don't really remember that we flew more in places when I was coming into the sport where there weren't many people, so I didn't have to deal with that too much, but it's, I imagine that it's hard to figure that out when you're a a hundred hour pilot, you know, who are they, who are the guys that are, you know, constantly ground sacking and for not much reason, versus the people that you really should be listening to.

You know, it might be Kriegel on launch, talking about challenging conditions. Probably want to listen to that.

Speaker 2 (24m 8s): Yeah, exactly. If somebody is throwing feedback at you, eh, I think it's pretty important to have an open eye and see who is actually on the other side of the mic. In my early days, I was, my motivation was thrown down quite a bit. My pursuit of acro and my positive Acrobat, a high level was thrown down quite a bit by the fact that nobody was flying out with the coast. Everybody saw it as something intensely dangerous. And I was shunned away from actually pursuing this so intensely because it was perceived as something that would cause a public accident, get our flying site closed down.

And in the end, moving to Europe and finding such a massive like-minded people and such a massive young people who would embrace this kind of activity and say, that's, that's perfectly fine with you. Do, we're actually way more savvy than you are. You're actually a conservative one compared to all the variety of Praysee birds out there. That was, that was a big eye opener for me.

Speaker 1 (25m 6s): Yeah. I think this is one of the most important things. If you want to get good, you got to live in a good place to fly in it. I think that's just so critical. Often overlooked. You need to be in a place that you can get the hours and you need to be in a place where there's a lot better pilots than you are

Speaker 2 (25m 21s): A hundred percent. I think one of the most important things is just to surround yourself with pilots who are way, way better than you are that's for. Once you learn through osmosis, you get to see a reference point and locate yourself somewhere on the proficiency scale and figure out what your path is to getting to a level similar to theirs. At the moment, I don't have a fixed home at the moment. I just move around wherever I get the most flying hours. And in this way, it's, it's a nice challenge as well, to organize one's life around flying conditions.

Speaker 1 (25m 58s): The, you recently started flying comps, I think in 2020, did your first done Columbia? If I have that, right. I'd love to hear what you're learning from guys like Yat-sen and, and how that progression is going and kind of what your goals are with that in the future.

Speaker 2 (26m 18s): Yeah. Actually my, my first too high level comes with this year. So 2021, I did the Columbia open and then got accepted as a, as a wildcard at the British open download the new year. This was an eye-opener

Speaker 1 (26m 33s): This year. You've just done your

Speaker 2 (26m 35s): First. It's just this year. And I have the Navy open coming up in may. And from there, honest, they'll have to figure out the rest of my calendar. It was, it was pretty much an eye-opener to see the level of pilots flying competitions, the speed at which they calculate their proficiency in handling their gliders, how good they are at climbing is a real eye opener. I would say that's the biggest difference between being proficient that acro flying and keeping a lighter open will not teach you how to climb fast.

That's a, that's a skill completely of its own.

Speaker 1 (27m 14s): The British open. I didn't compete in the British this year, but I have in past years, it's, it's pretty world cup speed. This year. I watched it from afar. It's fast. How did you find, was it, was it encouraging or was it really, really humbling?

Speaker 2 (27m 29s): Both. I love to, I love that many were saying the, the speed of this year's British open was similar to PWC, which makes sense, because most of the PWC pilots this year, we're using it as the, as the warmup. Yeah, it was, it was a bit of an eye-opener for me to realize how much I still have to go before I get anywhere near being a top level pilot. But it also gave me a good sense of the fact that I'm already in a good position to start with.

I can push confidently on a two liner, actually, there's this time that I spent down in Columbia. So we're about 60 something hours flying two liners and 1,500 kilometers flying in down Columbia was the first time I'd ever spent any time at all on, on two liners. So I arrived in Columbia and two days later, with three hours of sleep, I was flying 70 K behind Yassin on a, on a zeolite.

Speaker 1 (28m 31s): That's a good time.

Speaker 2 (28m 33s): Yeah, it's quite the experience I would say. And then following the essence pace through the back country of Columbia, doing some exploration flying, that was interesting to say the least. And that's where the competitions, I would say that the one thing that makes a huge differences is the climbing because gliding, finding good lines when you're a gaggle flying is, is possible, is not that difficult, but being the one who arrives, even if you arrive low the thermal and being the one who reaches cloud-based first or reaches the altitude at which you want to drop that thermal and go full bargain first is, is an art in and of itself.

Speaker 1 (29m 16s): What, what little things were you picking up following Gossan around? He's a good climber. He tends to just, his downfall is impatience, but it's, it's a, it's something we all just love about him. He's he's always out leading. It's fantastic to watch, you know, the Russ, Russ who won the world championships this year always talks about discipline. So Yassin probably wouldn't, I don't think would say yes, discipline, but he loves pushing, but I'm curious, you know, being able to fly with him outside of the comp environment, what you've learned from following him around in the sky.

Speaker 2 (29m 55s): I wouldn't call it impatience. I would call it pickiness. If a thermal is not right, if it doesn't have the right punch to it, he's just going to completely ignore it while somebody who's just learning. And somebody more conservative like me is probably going to scratch around and in a plus 0.2 and think, okay, I'm getting hyped. This is perfect. And not actually go in transition again, to find that boomer waiting for you two kilometers away.

Speaker 1 (30m 25s): Yeah. Yeah. Just learning when to smoke through something, maybe sometimes a little bit slower, you know, just backing off a little bit. If you get a bubble versus turning, is, is one of the critical aspects of doing well in comps because when it starts getting really fast and you know, at the world cup level, you know, one turn that's, it's not well used as is, you know, we don't want to go backwards. You'll you'll just never catch the lead gaggle again. So that becomes a really critical skill is knowing when to what's good.

And what should just be, when should you move on?

Speaker 2 (31m 1s): Yeah. The craziest thing about complying has been basically every time I've made a wrong decision, I've had this horror moment where I've just been down somewhere low scratching around trying to get back up to speed, and then watching the whole field, just fly over me 65 kilometers per hour. It's a, it's a horror story that's unfolding in front of you, But it's, it's such a roller coaster of emotions in, I mean, acro flying is, is something I love and I'm going to love forever. It's, it's very intense.

It's very rewarding. It's very much instant pleasure, but the roller coaster of emotions throughout the whole day, that that unfolds within a country comp and participating in an event like this is unbelievable because you can, you can have your heart sink to the bottom of the ocean while you're 50 meters off the deck just scratching in some windy place. And then again, you're on top of the gaggle on a big Thermo with all these world-class pilots speeding away and being the one who's breaking away, which, which did happen to me once in the company, it's such a feeling of acceleration.

It's amazing.

Speaker 1 (32m 10s): What are your goals, Alex? You know, you've, you've had this kind of a pretty nice mix of various different aspects of flying proximity, flying acro. Now, you know, more recently cross-country sounds like a little bit of exploration flying with the Austin in the last 12 years. What are the next couple and five look like to you?

Speaker 2 (32m 31s): I'm going to say the next couple of years look quite a bit like pursuing cross-country competition as well as keeping my current acro level and always expanding upon it is probably going to get into some exploration flying as well as something I'm extremely keen on. And in the next five years, I'd like to start participating in some hike and fly races. This is probably going to be one of the toughest challenges for me because it's the first time in my life that I'm a physically active person. And I really want to get up to speed and up to shape in order to participate in these kinds of competitions.

But I have to do it in such a way that I don't injure myself from overuse because it's a type of injury I've already had from so much flying. Flying is terrible for your shoulders. Just to give an example,

Speaker 1 (33m 17s): Acro, flying's terrible for your shoulders. Yes, indeed. Okay.

Speaker 2 (33m 22s): Acro flying and landing 300 times a season is also not very often.

Speaker 1 (33m 26s): Yeah. I hadn't thought about that. Yeah. Tell me about tandems. This is something I've always very consciously avoided. My whole flying career is I, because I hear from depends on if you talked to you, you saw talked to some tandem pilots like Seb spina, who just loves it, you know, and he thinks that really helps us flying and he just, you know, it's good money, but it's also just a, he really likes that aspect sharing, flying, but you talk to a lot of tandem pilots and they'll say, you know, the, the one thing you want to do, if you want to become a good pilot is not do tandems.

How you feel about that.

Speaker 2 (33m 59s): I've I've been doing tandems for the past six years. I'm going to say one thing about that and flying it's, it's wonderful to share the joy of flying with somebody who has no responsibility whatsoever with the sport In the sense that they're just out there to have those 15 minutes of amazing fun. And you're showing them that this brand new perspective on life. And when we learned to fly, our first few flights are like being attendant, passenger. It's all new. It's all beautiful.

This new sensation of flight is something undescribable and it's being presented to you and this, this awe and this admiration slowly fades, and it gets picked up again. Every time you discover a new Akron maneuver, every time you fly a new place, but with time, it kind of wears off. And with tandem flight, I feel you kind of absorbed this from the person in front of you. Every time you do a tandem, when you make somebody intensely happy, you kind of absorb this new found awareness for flying again.

So I greatly enjoy it. It's just a reason to be in the air many, many hours of the year. It does allow me to be very flexible with my, with my time. It's a good motivation to be an extremely safe pilot. There is no making mistakes in time of nobody cares. If you land on your ass, nobody cares. If you, what kind of tricks you fly in the sky For tandem flying, you have to start perfectly every single time, no matter what conditions and make sure that the person in front of you feels the confidence to entrust their, to those.

There's no making mistakes and there's no taking dumb decisions.

Speaker 1 (35m 44s): Yeah. I imagine that's really an aspect of our sport where this, you know, being mindful of complacency is a big one. I'm sure when you're just doing laps, you know, and just doing sliders and kind of quote unquote the same thing over and over again, even though even flying tandems has never, they don't know flights ever the same as another flight, but the, I imagine that's something you have to remind yourself of pretty consistently. Is it, or is that, or is it just as just natural?

Speaker 2 (36m 12s): No, it is. It is a hundred percent true. We, we tend to, we tend to become complacent pretty quickly with repetition is something I notice. And every time I notice a mistake in my routine, when I'm flying, I have a very, very structured routine that goes from the moment I laid down my backpack on the ground to the moment that I pushed some passenger off a mountain. And every time I noticed a mistake that I've made in this routine, and I try to be pretty hard on myself because this could interfere with somebody's safety and mine as well.

It is, I'm not interested in injuring anybody and I'm least interested in injuring myself.

Speaker 1 (36m 50s): How many people would you guess? A hundred? Okay. You take a hundred people for a tandem. How many of those hundred decide I want to do this? I want to become a pilot.

Speaker 2 (37m 0s): I would say it's not a, it's not very many. Just the 1%. I honestly don't know. I could say, I could say a number, but it would be, it would be pretending that I, that I know,

Speaker 1 (37m 15s): But it's not

Speaker 2 (37m 16s): The pursuit of flying is a, it's not big. No, I would say the pursuit of flying is, is such a technical thing. And it's such a commitment in time, money and dedication and mental bandwidth. Most people that I fly with, at least in the place that I do fly with, because it is a touristic place. It is a family holiday site. So just, they're just there for a joy ride.

Speaker 1 (37m 40s): Yeah. I'm, I'm fascinated by this. Y you know, you're, you're quite interesting. I don't know that there's that many people that get into this sport that come from not a very sportive background. And I'm always fascinated with this, with my own group of friends. You know, my, most of my friends, I mean, nearly all of them who I do, you know, pretty, pretty wild things with whether that's, you know, snowmobiling back country or ski touring, or I'm kinda like you with mountain biking, I've kind of given it up.

I've got hurt and hurt too many times, but you know, th these are people who are very competent in the outdoors have, you know, played in the outdoors, their entire lives. They have no interest in flying. They love my stories and they liked watching the films. And, you know, they're fascinated by it, but they're not even interested enough to go have a tandem. That's interesting, you know, that it's, you know, it's one of these things that I think most of us have in us in when we're a kid, we look at birds and want to fly, and I certainly wanted to fly, but I didn't get into flying till I was in my mid thirties.

I didn't really know what it was before then, but we don't, we don't see it like you do on the Alps, you know, here in the states, it's just not everywhere. I'm like it is in the app. So it's, it's pretty hidden. But, but yeah, the question is, you know, why do you think it's, it only reaches out to a very small percentage of people because when you take your passengers tandem, they don't know any of those things about gear and time. And, you know, they they're just, oh, I'm flying this. This is pretty neat. I want to get into this, but it doesn't seem like that's the case.

Speaker 2 (39m 20s): I would say, I would say flying is something that you're born with the desire to look up into the sky and want to be there. I think you're either born with it, or you're not, you can certainly grow into it, but I feel like this is a dream that is like a gene it's it's within you. You can either choose to explore it or not. I was a pretty nerdy kid. Most of my childhood was spent reading and doing some kind of pursuit that was not really very related to sports.

At some point, that became an obsession with airplanes. I was very much into building and flying radio controlled airplanes, and that led into paragliding because at some point I realized that these, these airplanes I was building and the joy I had in flying them were not enough. And as soon as I saw people actually flying on the road, there's this spark and, and this dream was born within me to actually take part in that. And at the beginning, there was no ambition. There was absolutely no desire to do anything, but just sit up in this chair in the sky and watch the one from love from this very contemplative metadata position.

But that slowly became the pursuit that has become now that that has been mixed with being a multi-sport mountain athlete, participating at a high level in competition, which is something that I never desired before until this year. It's been an interesting journey. And then, and to observe myself from the outside is very rewarding as well. Flying has brought me everything I have in life, personal transformation, a very, very rewarding and very lifestyle friends, a job traveling to, I think I've flown in about 13 different countries by now.

So yeah, the pursuit of flying I would say is it's either something that's deeply ingrained in you, or it's something that you can appreciate and participate in as a passenger, but it's, you're not going to be pulled into it because you think it's too extreme or too complicated, or you're just not drawn in that way to experiencing its contents constantly

Speaker 1 (41m 36s): With your accurate background, what would you say about the importance of SIV and XC?

Speaker 2 (41m 44s): I would say cross-country pilots have a bit of a, of a way to go. I observed a few incidents in the air in Columbia. I saw some very interesting save at least situations, including like a full one rotation tumble over and answer after an asset metric collapse, very, very enlightening to see from a distance, but it just shows me, but it just shows me the level of SIV that many top level cross-country pilots have is insufficient.

And I would say any amount of accurate training and any amount of just control training, including ground handling and close to the ground, flying and playing is not just rewarding, but it's going to exponentially increase anybody's level of safety during, during this pursuit of cross-country flying. Because to be honest, these, these cross-country gliders, they're not, they can be extremely aggressive and very punctual situations, but an accurate glider is more demanding when it gets out of control.

I would say things happen quicker. And the fact that you become proactive in controlling an accurate glider throughout maneuvers and throughout the learning process of acro gives you a lot of mental bandwidth to be able to play with when you are in a, in an emergency situation, because there's a lot of things that your hands are doing without you ever having any idea what they're up to,

Speaker 1 (43m 19s): What would you like to see more of in our sport now, Alex, when you're, you know, you're in, you're in a major hub, but what do you think is missing or what, or whether that be training safety instruction wings here,

Speaker 2 (43m 34s): I would like to see, I would like to see training follow a more natural path because I'm a student fresh out of flying school has a very confusing career ahead of them. I would like to see training. I would like to see training follow a path that leads them depending on their interest, through a safe way of progression to attaining the goals. Because right now you leave school as a beginner pilot, and you're basically out on your own, like you can decide to take her cross country course, you can decide to enroll in a safety training, but these are all very, very specific things.

And there's not too much string actually binding together.

Speaker 1 (44m 20s): I'm amazed that this is something that comes up all the time and it doesn't matter who I'm talking to or from where they are. And we, I mean, I know there are places that training is better than other places, and I won't get specific on that, but the, you know, and there are of course instructors who are better than other instructors, but that that's just the case in any sport and any, anything we undertake, but this bird out of the nest thing and kicked out of the nest is, is incredible in our sport is something that comes up over and over and over again.

You know, we don't, depending on you, you can go through the API system or one of the others, but at the, at some point you're, you're, you know, quote unquote done with your initial training and then see you later. Good luck. It's a bit mind boggling, it's it? It's no wonder that. I think we see, we have the attrition rate that we do. And also the accident rate that we do.

Speaker 2 (45m 19s): Yeah. The issue is that our sport is so unfathomably complex and far reaching that it's, it's hard to actually create a system of education that will encompass everybody's interest. I would say, yeah, you get kicked out of the nest with a very, very basic set of skills that is very certainly insufficient for most situations in flying, except taking off in perfect conditions, flying down in perfect conditions, doing that, doing a little bit of thermal in imperfect conditions and landing and perfect conditions.

But the issue has to do with the fact that this is, this is also not any conventional sport. This is after all aviation, this is after all extremely technical and extremely reaction driven. And it's just the sport that requires such a massive investment of time and mental power. And I would say self-reflection as well. If someone wants to do it sustainably, then many people just find themselves incapable of dedicating that much energy into the sport then are stuck in this intermediate syndrome.

Speaker 1 (46m 27s): Yeah, no for sure. Alex curious, what's your, what's your biggest aha moment. Let's say in the last year with paragliding

Speaker 2 (46m 38s): Moving from an 18 accurate glider to a two liner that I've never flown before in real air and actually figuring out that paragliders can fly pretty far.

Speaker 1 (46m 52s): That's a fun one. Hey, wait a minute. I can go a long ways. This is cool.

Speaker 2 (46m 57s): Hey, wait a minute. I don't, I don't actually have to look down. I can look straight and I can actually go there.

Speaker 1 (47m 3s): Yeah, that is pretty neat. I remember my, the first time I watched the XL ops was in 2007 and I was sailing. We were, we were doing the kite surfing expedition thing and we, I was sailing up in, oh, I have that right now. And that was 2011 when I was sailing in Scotland. But anyway, I saw the first one in, in 2007 and it blew my mind. All I had ever seen was exactly what you was. People would launch off a hill and fly around for a little bit and then land right there, where you were standing.

And that's what I thought paragliding was. It just seemed the most boring thing in the world to me. And then I saw somebody put me onto the XL Alps and I watched it and just got totally addicted. And I thought, wait a minute, hold on a second here. These people are traveling there. They're using this. Like you said, what what'd you call it? You know, a bag of flying bags to trap

Speaker 2 (47m 59s): For me, it's still completely unfathomable to put my head around the fact that we can ski tour or a trail run or hike up a mountain with a, basically a school backpack and then proceed to go 300 kilometers in the Alps. For me, it's just a crazy pursuit is the fact that we are the first that humanity has, has dreamed, has always had their eyes turned up to the sky, always thought, wow, it would be so majestic the soar among the birds.

The fact that we live within the first few generations that are able to do this with such ease and convenience. It seems to me a waste of my time not to dedicate myself to that.

Speaker 1 (48m 47s): Yeah. It seems quite unfair. Doesn't it? That we didn't have plastic and nylon when DaVinci was alive, you know, that poor guy and he trumped all this. He drew it all out when he couldn't do it. No, we're very fortunate. What's the funniest thing you've ever seen flying.

Speaker 2 (49m 6s): Oh, that's a bit of a difficult one to think about that one for a bit. I've seen, I've seen many interesting situations. A thing. We, I was, I was living at a flying side called Berlin from bang. Okay, cool. Nice. I was living there last winter. And one thing we will do is just Austria is a very alcoholic country. Let's put it that way. And one thing we would just do is there's, there's like a mountain hut right next to that. They go for, it will sit on the terrorist and have some beers and just eat some imaginary popcorn and watch things going on at the takeoff, you know, with All kinds of pilots, all level of pilots taking off and flying around it's it's a circus.

Speaker 1 (49m 50s): Yeah, it is. And that is, that is, that can be quite circusy, isn't busy. It is a busy launch. It is very entertaining. Additionally would be a good spot for that. We, we constantly go through there day one of the XL. So what, what piece of kit would you love to see that doesn't exist yet?

Speaker 2 (50m 10s): I was going to wish for it, but somebody just brought it out on the market. And it's this, this, this new flare glider that allows you to have deep power, like a kite and fly closer to the ground. And I'm so stoked to try one of them soon. That's a big dream of mine to have this ability to swoop down and stick to the ground. And something I'd really like to see is a bit of an innovation in the rescue technology. And cross-country harnesses. I'm thinking of based system in a cross-country harness would not be a bad thing.

I'm really surprised nobody's brought it out on the, on the market because cross-country pilots need wait. Anyways, weight is not an issue. I myself fly with six liters of water in my cross-country harness. I'm thinking that those six liters of water could be a life-saving based system instead of just useless water.

Speaker 1 (51m 1s): Do you know about vessels harness? He's

Speaker 2 (51m 3s): Made, of course he's, he's a, has he across country on already?

Speaker 1 (51m 8s): Oh no. Oh, sorry. I didn't hear you say the cross country. Yeah, no it's acro, but you're has his artist is terrific with that whole base system and cutaway system. But yeah, if we could, if we could bring that it's I think it's common, but if we could bring that into ECC, that would be really terrific.

Speaker 2 (51m 29s): Probably another piece of kiddo would be very, very much interested in would be a more beginner friendly school harness just to avoid all the kinds of mistakes that still happen somehow with people not even experienced pilots, this is this something that's completely confusing to me. How pilots can still forget to do the leg straps and the current bar systems and the current stay up or not forget systems out there on the market, the nice solutions, but they're fiddly.

And I wish there would be some kind of a system that would make this completely impossible. The fact that you could get into a pot harness or into a, or into a school harness with your legs on done and thereby producing a deadly incident.

Speaker 1 (52m 19s): Yeah, that's a good one. It still happens way too much. That always blows me away too. But yeah, we've got to be nice if we can get rid of, you know, this is something that doesn't happen in commercial aviation, cause they've made checklists, you know, they've made you just can't, they've eliminated the dumb stuff because you have to go through this every single time. And we teach that to an extent, you know, and it becomes a thing, you know, you're, you're the Fort, the checks you do. And that's, that's something we've, you know, we've ingrained in people, but it still gets forgotten.

We S you know, we're still human. We make mistakes.

Speaker 2 (52m 55s): The one thing that the flying so many tenants, so many thousands of times by now, it has really ingrained into me is the importance of, of a standardized procedure.

Speaker 1 (53m 5s): Yeah.

Speaker 2 (53m 6s): So I follow basically the same procedure from the moment I sat down my backpack on the ground to the moment that I leave the ground. And this applies across the harnesses that I use. So for me, it's, it's very simple. It's one leg strap. T-bar on one side, T-bar on the other side, the other leg strap, chest strap, or whatever combination of, of buckles that I have. But I tried to do it consistently in exactly the same order for once. It's just easier on the mind.

And there was no way of making a mistake if you're always following exactly the same procedure.

Speaker 1 (53m 43s): Hmm. Yeah. That's really smart. I think that that's something that easily missed. You know, we talk about it all the time. You know, when you're, when you're clipping in, don't talk to anybody, then all these things. But I mean, if you just make it exactly the same every time, that's a good way to solve that. This is how you do it.

Speaker 2 (54m 2s): I mean, you never forget how to tie your shoes cause you've done. You've tied your shoes in exactly the same way your whole life. If you put on your harness exactly the same way, your whole life, it's pretty hard that you're going to do something wrong.

Speaker 1 (54m 18s): Alex, you probably are aware of this, but I've been asking you questions from this survey. I put out about a year and a half ago, and I've got a couple more and then we'll wrap it up and be mindful of your time here, but really enjoyed this. I got a couple more here. This is a tricky one, but does Free flight meat make other aspects of your life better or worse? So work relationships. I kind of thing

Speaker 2 (54m 43s): I would say, I would say Free flight has been the single most determining factor in most of my life, in most aspects of my life. So to say, it's for sure determined where I live. It's for sure determined my friendships, my relationships, how I spend my time, how I planned my year, I would say it's been positive. As I said, Free flight has brought me friendships, connections, work, and extremely rewarding lifestyle. A bit of an uncertain one at that, but extremely rewarding.

I would say it's brought me to actually love sports and love taking care of myself and being healthy and has just brought me to need some of the most amazing people on the planet. You know, the diversity of people that are attracted to Friedline, it was everything. There was absolutely everything. There's the it guys, there's the engineers. There's the, there's the hippies. There's the, the crazy skiers, those every type of colorful character you can imagine out there in paragliding.

And for some reason, a big number of them tend to concentrate around this place called camp candy. If anybody wants it, those of color in their lives, I would really suggest spending a couple of weeks down there

Speaker 1 (55m 57s): At a terrific spot. You've mentioned a few times that your, you know, your approach has been pretty conservative and you haven't had an accident, but not this for awhile now, 12 years, I'd like to just hear more about how you manage the kind of risk to reward spectrum and, and how you view luck versus probability.

Speaker 2 (56m 22s): I would say I can, I can discount the first years of my flying is being not very risky for sure. The flying that I'm doing starting from the moment that I moved to Europe is a much higher risk because it's much more real. One thing is coastal soaring and playing around on the coast. And it's completely another thing to be living in. where you can choose to take off on a day with phone probability and then see yourself flying 30 kilometers per hour backwards. If a fluid, if a, if a wind actually blows in through the valley.

So I would say my my risk level has increased, but it has increased very much proportional to my expertise and my knowledge, I would say it's very, very important for people wanting to do this for a long time to take a look at ourselves at themselves, from the outside in consider, what kind of risks are taking, consider how to minimize these risks, consider the value of, of always staying up to date and training and the importance of having proficient glider control.

You know, I, I never want to be in a situation where I very much feel that I'm a passenger of destiny and this as an acro pilot, I'm I say I'm a conservative acro pilot because I'm not very often out of control. There's as many people flying acro who get into situations with multiple twists and they get out of this situation successfully. And very often, one thing you see in acro flying is actually how many, how, how dire a situation can be and still solve itself completely on its own.

But I don't want to, I don't want to take this approach because I don't think it's a sustainable one. I'd rather take an approach where either I don't put myself in a situation where I'm out of control, or if I put myself in a situation that I'm out of control. I have the tools at my disposal to work myself out of it and not just wait for fate to do its thing.

Speaker 1 (58m 16s): It's important for us to not confuse luck with luck, with skill and the

Speaker 2 (58m 22s): Complete

Speaker 1 (58m 24s): Alex is very articulate our with you and your love, how you describe flight and your approach. Thank you very much. That was a, that was a true joy. I really appreciated this and I learned a lot. And thanks for your time.

Speaker 2 (58m 40s): Thanks Kevin. As I said, the podcast for me is, is a wonderful medium to learn. It's something that I plug into when I'm running or ski touring, or just really need to clear my mind and bring some fresh thoughts. Some of the people that you give a platform to are amazing. And I just hope that my words can inspire some people to follow this, this, as I said, this dream of flying bags around with grace and tact all over the world, it's quite a colorful thing. We do

Speaker 1 (59m 8s): Think that's a nice goal to do this with Grayson and style intact is, is important. Thanks, Alex. I appreciate it. And good luck and hope to see in the sky soon.

Speaker 2 (59m 18s): See you in the sky soon. Gavin, I don't think it's going to be very long until we meet at some Cove.

Speaker 4 (59m 22s): That sounds sounds like it sounds like it for sure. Here's what If you find the Cloudbase Mayhem valuable, you can support it in a lot of different ways. You can give us a rating on iTunes or Stitcher. However, you get your podcasts that goes a long ways and help 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 costs.

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