It was that time of the year again to leave the remains of Montana winter and to head toward Florida for two of the most competitive US Hang Gliding comps of the season. The thought of walking bare foot in cool grass with the sun on my back while setting up the glider always gets me so stoked to be a pilot. I mean, how good is it to converge with friends from around the world for consistently good racing under perfect clouds? Flying and racing every day for 2 weeks in Florida is my idea of pure life at it’s essence.
The first of the two competitions, named in memory for our good friend Rob Kells, took place at the Florida Ridge flight park, located just to the west of Lake Okeechobee. The Ridge is well equipped and is run by consummate professionals. James Tindle and his crew kept us all safe and efficient throughout the week. One of the best parts of the event is that there is a heavy emphasis on a Sport Class which enables newer comp pilots to learn and test themselves by flying challenging tasks accompanied by the ability to fly with more seasoned pilots. Really cool to see some of the up-n-comers making their first goals and flying their personal bests.
The Rob Kells Memorial competition absolutely lived up to my excitement with dream like flying and good racing. One day in particular Curt, Zippy and I were working well together, flying as fast and as efficiently as possible down the day’s course line. So cool flying with these guys. During the strongest part of the day, we climbed tip to tip, circling in lift that was going straight to cloud base at close to 900 feet per minute. Just as we were about to be engulfed in the cloud, we pulled in and sped up to 60+mph to escape the lift before being completely “whited out”.
As we cleared the cloud, we all flew through the misty white at it’s edge and popped out the side above the cloud’s base and raced on through the cloud canyons formed by the quickly developing sky. I laughed when I looked down our course line at a perfect cloud street, knowing that we were about to fly it’s length without turning. It was one of those moments a hang glider pilot dreams about. Ahhhh, I love racing in Florida!
The comp had it’s ups and downs and competitive excitement to the last day. With a field of close to 60 pilots, no injuries and 6 out of 7 days to race hard, the party at the end of the awards ceremony was lively, to say the least. The best part….knowing that we have only one rest day until the next comp and a whole new dream to live.