Monday, January 03, 2005

Low Earth Orbit

In case anyone hasn't noticed, Abe is currently shepherding a large group of refugees from the dark and dreary winter conditions of the mainland northwest. For the second year in a row, pilots from the Northwest Paragliding Club are here to share our sunny tropical airspace. Led by our own erstwhile Seattle pilot Abe, these nice folks have joined us for some great recent flights at practically all four corners of the island. Last year someone dubbed Abe's entourage the Supersonics -- which is sort of a cute name, and it has a solid flying connotation. But then yesterday I heard someone refer to them as the Seattlites, which I think is even funnier. In fact, since they've been flying for practically every day of their visit, I think they qualify as Low Earth Orbit Seattlites.

In many ways Seattle could be considered the Sister City of Honolulu in the paragliding world. In recent years we've had many pilots from the Seattle area join us for long term stays here (Paul, Ray van Cleave, Abe, Scot, Matt from Spokane). And of course we've had quite a few vacationing pilots from the Seattle area over the years: Diane, James and Pam, Steve Pieniak, Jim Wilson, Steve and Teresa, Wrongwind (Forrest Crowell), and many others. And I know quite a few Oahu pilots have made it over to Tiger Mountain and Chelan and other NW sites over the years. The Seattle club has a very nice new website, where I learned that their club has over 130 pilots and 10 or more instructors and a host of official permitted and well-groomed sites. Compare that with our 40-50 members (in a good year) and 1.5 instructors and one officially permitted site. I guess we're the little sister in this relationship.

We have just over a dozen Seattlites in orbit here at the moment, and while it's a bit overwhelming and stressful for our more sensitive local pilots and sites, most of us are enjoying the fun and antics provided by such a large group of kindred spirits. The weather conditions have been all over the map, which is of course typical for this time of year. We had that amazing day of bumper car flying in light southeast winds at Koko Crater (as logged in Greg's article and subsequent comments), a very good westerly day of thermalling at Nanakuli, a switchy but fun day at Makapuu that started out northerly and turned super east and marginal by the end of the day, and finally a northwest day yesterday at the North Shore.

Yesterday's flights from the motocross launch in Sunset came courtesy of some rare, sweet post-frontal northwest winds, which started really strong and gradually tapered off throughout the day to end up quite light and thermic. In addition to a sky full of Seattlites (Abe, Lynn, Mitch, Arun, Randy, Heidi, Steve, Gordon, Ernie, Beth, Brigitte and several others), we saw as many or more local pilots: Pete, Ken, Bob, Jon, Chopper Dave, Waianae Jim, June and me. Plus, Skip and Farmer Dave came out of the woodwork to join us. Dave Otto from Waianae was out there on his Motocross bike. And visitors Camper John and Robin from San Diego were there as well. And Jimmy and Stef showed up with their pal Matt Gerdes. That's 28 or more pilots at one site during a single day. Now that's an impromptu fly-in! Not everyone got into the air but everyone certainly enjoyed the show. A large number of our leading lights were uncharacteristically missing (Ray and Don and Doug out of town, Fireman Dave working, Quentin and Greg recovering from surgery) but hopefully they'll all be back out as soon as they're able.

Highlights of the day included multiple spectactularly unsuccessful launch attempts, two tree crashes following ill-fated launches, XC flights as far as Waimea, a world-class acro show, and precision top-landings by the top dogs. June presided over multiple bomb-outs to the swamp as the conditions lightened, milking the lift provided by nothing more than insect flatulence to stay up longer than anyone. Then there was the unwanted attention of a very concerned policeman, whose intentions to arrest and impound were deftly defused by the eloquent defense made by our most experienced law enforcement liaison (Pete). The final show of the day was presented by Randy after he landed in the pasture next to V-land: an exhibition of expert bovine evasion techniques against a large and determined force. But don't get the wrong idea: our local pilots gave the stars of Try Hard some tough competition in the entertainment department throughout the day.

Of course, one of the coolest parts of the day's festivities was the Jimmy Hall segment: we were pleasantly surprised by the rare appearance of Jimmy (and Stef), accompanied by Jimmy's extreme acro buddy Matt Gerdes. They showed up with a quiver of shiny new Ozone wings for a promotional picture shoot, and along with Abe, put on a very nice little acro show, often way below launch. Talk about Low Orbit! They'll be out shooting for the next couple of weeks. As if the satellites aren't providing enough excitement, we have our local version of Buckaroo Bonzai and his crack team of space pirates flying upside down and shooting for Ozone!

Please join me in welcoming our fellow pilots from Seattle, as well as our other visitors. As always, let's help them become familiar with our sites and encourage them to respect our site safety protocols as well as our landowner and community sensitivity issues. Maybe one day we can send out a delegation of tropical tree landers to Seattle for a taste of some of those famous long summer days of thermals and evening glass-offs.

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