Saturday, January 19, 2013


I hear voices. Well, kind of. I have an internal monologue telling me things. It guides me, and tells me what I should or shouldn't be doing. When I fly, hike, surf, or do something else somewhat dangerous, that voice often times personifies itself into two beings. One is a base jumping, death defying, maniac, and the other is an office sitting, family man.

When I paraglide, I have to listen to the “maniac” just to take off. I have to listen to him to get in the water to surf. Without him, I would never leave the safety of my home. But I need to remember, that he is a greedy bastard, and only wants glory. The other voice is always there to remind me that I need to be able to provide for myself, be able to work, and to always make it home. He only wants safety and to be secure.

I know a balance must exist between them, though. Both of these voices guide me through life. They agree a lot of times that I need to do such and such, but they disagree on a lot of things. Here is a story of the disagreement, my bad decisions, and how I landed in the water.

Winds were light but had started picking up. My “maniac” was telling me to gear up and be ready for the perfect cycle. Reaper took off first, and started going up at the far side of the bowl past Manic’s launch. I ask myself, should I launch and follow Reaper, or should I pack up and go home? Listening to the maniac, I want to follow Reaper. I bring my wing up and walk all the way up to the wall. . It feels lighter than I’ve ever launched here at that moment… Decision - Should I launch and assume I’ll get up, or walk back down and kill the wing. Bad Decision, I launch. I creep along the wall trying to get in close without scraping my tip. I pull into the bowl next to Manics, and I’m not going up but not going down. Should I turn and go back and find lift at launch and/or land at beach, or should I find that lift that Reaper found. Mistake. I opted to not be in a safe landing zone range in order to find lift. This would be my downfall.

My “maniac” was telling me that there was lift just around the corner. I flew past the bowl “knowing” that lift was just around the corner. Unfortunately, it wasn't there. Now I know I’m screwed. I turn and head back hoping to at least stay level so I can make it to the beach. No such luck. I start getting lower and lower…and lower. Should I try to do a swoop spot landing on the rocks below, or go swimming? I value my unbroken legs, so swimming it is. I turn towards water and make sure that I’m not going to land in surf. As I set up my trajectory, I unclip as fast as I can. Splashdown.

I finish unclipping, treading water so that my harness doesn't push me underwater. Once everything is unclipped, I stop kicking and arm-swim my way out from my harness. I swim away from the wing, knowing full well that if my legs get caught in my lines, life will start to suck a lot more. Once I swim way and I’m clear, I go back to my harness, and try to start swimming in. wing and everything. I give a thumbs up letting anyone watching know I’m ok… for now.

Flystrong at this point has run down from launch faster than a goat. He pulls all his stuff out of his pockets and jumps in the water. I’m thinking what idiot jumps into the water this far from shore, this close to rocks. Seconds later he’s next to me asking if I’m OK. He then starts helping me start pulling my gear towards shore. A few minutes later some bodyboarders show up and help Flystrong pull the wing towards shore. They go faster than I can keep up with. At this point I made another mistake. I was offered help for myself, and I turned it down. A few minutes later, I have no harness as a flotation device, and I'm all alone. I’m tired. Im a good swimmer in the ocean. Swimming is one thing. Swimming with boots, long pants, jacket, radio harness, and helmet is another. Luckily, Mike 5-0 had a life jacket and threw it to me from the rocks. I used that to swim in, and it took a long time. Without the life jacket, I would have had to strip off all my clothes to swim in, or worse…

I finally made it to the beach. Tired and dejected, I look at my phone. I figure it’s the only thing working because it’s the best waterproof case for phones I’ve heard of. I look to see if my phone still works and I see that I have a text message. It says “How is your waterproof case working”. I can only laugh at this point. Thanks Scrappy.

Reality kicks in. Holy S#!*, I could have died. What happened? I ignored my safety voice. Here is the things I rules about flying that I chose to ignore - Just because someone else did it (especially a more experienced pilot, in a better wing), does not mean I can do it. Always have a LZ in flight range. Don’t assume there is lift around the corner.

That flight I completely ignored the voice that keeps me safe, and I paid for it. Why…All just to get a flight. Was it worth it? If I died was it worth it? Worse, what if someone else died trying to save me? Thankfully we can laugh about it now, but what if…

Special thanks to Flystrong. He put himself in danger to help/save me. Thanks to 5-0 for the life jacket, and driving my truck down, trash bags and etc. Thanks to the bodyboarders who helped drag my wing in. And thanks to any others that helped.

Divot Steve


Bill said...

No problem Steve! Some Coasties could go a whole career and not get a rescue as lively as that one. Still have to work on my cliff dive though. My error was not foreseeing you'd need the jacket and swimming it over. If your wing survived intact, that is one tough-ass wing.
Another thing you can do if you get fatigued is slip your pants off, tie the legs together, and slip the knot over your head. When you cup the waist opening underwater and splash air bubbles into the opening, the air fills up the legs giving you an instant homemade lifejacket. Plus you still have your pants when you reach the beach!

your Artik-3 brother,

Waianae Jim said...

Thanks for sharing your lessons with us all Steve. I can relate to the two voices, although at times I myself don't heed my conservative one enough. Hope to see you back in the air soon.

sandy said...

Great writeup Steve, thanks for posting. It's very sobering to follow along and vicariously experience how fast things can change from a-ok (like we all start out with that optimism for a great flight) to mind-blowing-potentially-life-changing-high-pressure-decision-time. Sounds like you kept your head on your shoulders carefully picking the lesser of evils when it got to that point.

My last flight from Manics was also on a very light, but easterly day. I had the benefit of watching Allegra float off of launch, get good lift at the lookout, and continue on to a great flight. Next I watched your bro contend with the light E sinking off launch, immediately heading left with no lift until sometime after he got around the corner where I couldn't see. I thought Allegra's flight plan looked better, so I opted to follow her path. It didn't work out quite as well for me. I think the winds had died for Scrappy and I and that his call was better. I, too, sank off launch, at best found zeros at the lookout, and then did not have the altitude to follow your brother's success around the corner. I wonder if I had been in your shoes and saw Reaper's success if I, too, might have followed. I wonder.

I've always thought Manics deserves a good bit of respect, and if need be, fear. Why? That surf pounding into jagged rock down below, cars whizzing by behind, and a truly narrow window of wind where you're not bringing yourself closer to the terrible risks of either.

Well said:
"Just because someone else did it (especially a more experienced pilot, in a better wing), does not mean I can do it. Always have a LZ in flight range. Don’t assume there is lift around the corner. "

You obviously have some friends up high, too -- so lucky to have Flystrong there and 5-0 with a life jacket -- what luck is that? *And* a new waterproof phone case.

Looking forward to seeing you up in the air again soon, but don't be afraid to give that maniac a little stinkeye when needed ;-)

Geronimo said...

Thank you for taking the time to write-up your flight, water landing and rescue. Your story gives us all an opportunity to gain insight into such an emergency.

By writing it up, we are able to visualize how it came about, and what you and your rescuers did right to survive this dangerous situation. This is especially important for pilots that are relatively new to PG.

A significant take away for me is that in PG water landings, our wing remains an active threat to life; both the pilot and the heroes that come to our aid. I frankly would not have given those lines as much respect as they deserve.

The difficulties of a self rescue PG water landing are substantial. Your actions, the heroic actions of Fly Strong, and 5-O having a life vest were amazing. Being at a location where body boarders could assist was also fortuitous. These combined prevented a possible fatality that day.

Your write-up gives an outstanding summary from the perspective of the pilot and again I thank you for taking the time to give such detail and insight.

I am glad that it all worked out so well.