The laughter dies down again, Molly has just finished another self-deprecating flying story that had us all in stitches. It’s the kind of story that, when told in the presence of other women, evokes such a reaction because we can all identify with her discomfort, and we can take inspiration from how she handled it. And mostly, it feels so good to know we are not alone in such situations. We are laughing with her, not at her. We are laughing at ourselves where we can identify with the story. It’s in this moment that I realise I have a hundred of these stories myself which, normally, I just file away and then get on with things. I haven’t realised till now how helpful sharing these stories with those who could really benefit can be. That getting to this point in my own flying required hundreds of awkward moments, problems to be solved, issues to be navigated that many women don’t get past. From how to go about peeing at a completely flat towing site without so much as a blade of grass, let alone a shrub in sight to crouch behind, to how to deal with being dragged across a launch as the entirely male audience watches and then rushes to help you whilst you try to muster up as much dignity and confidence as you can scrounge to feel like you’ll nail it on the next attempt.
I stop and realise that I haven’t felt this thing for a long time. It’s such a unique feeling. I think the last time I felt this I was with my high school girlfriends for a long-overdue reunion. It’s an energy that emerges with a group of women who feel comfortable enough with each other to let the wall down and have a good giggle at ourselves and the crazy situations life throws at us — a environment that rarely ever emerges in the world of paragliding simply because to have an all female group together is so uncommon. There’s just not enough of us.
Creating this atmosphere is the foundation of these events. Paragliding is such a head-game that if we want to move forward in this sport we first need to work on ourselves. Its about creating an environment where we feel like we can be honest enough to say things like “I just don’t seem to be able to work out how to do that” without fearing the response back will be “Maybe this is just not the sport for you”. It’s an environment where you will hear not only how the PG5-rated pilot learned how to achieve a skill, but also how the PG4 recently perfected that skill and how the PG3 is slowly getting better at it. It’s a mix of knowledge sharing, empathy and encouragement.
On launch, we are inspired to see each other getting our gear ready confidently. We look out for each other, doing radio checks, finding that elusive tone squelch setting, encouraging each other for a solid launch or allowing each other to have a break. It’s a no pressure environment where deciding to fly is a personal decision. My helper and I are there to ensure that if you just need a reminder on how to do something, or a tip on how to get your launches spot-on we are only a question away. To see the sky full of women pilots, flying like they own it, makes you realise gender plays no part in establishing what makes a good pilot.
The actual flying, as most of us have worked out by now, is a very small part of the total time we spend on paragliding. When its either not flyable, or we have had our fill of flying for the day we sit down and talk about the other aspects. We talk about the different instruments used and which are best for which stage of our flying. We talk about how we deal with strong, turbulent air and favourite hitch-hiking tactics. We talk about forecasting and the various tools to use, how to interpret them, which websites to cross-reference. We talk about wings and harnesses - which have worked for us and which haven’t. We talk about how to get conversations started at sites we are unfamiliar with and how to go about obtaining local knowledge. And then we make plans of how we are all going to keep in touch and retain that level of enthusiasm.
The first Altitude with Attitude event for the 2018/19 season kicked off at Rainbow Beach. We had a total of 7 women pilots who turned up to the little beachside town and we got to know each other at the local surf club that first night for dinner, alongside a group of local pilots who had thought the forecast looked pretty good too. They got us excited about the prospect of some good flying coming up and ensured we felt welcomed by the local club. The weather played ball and we had amazing conditions for the 2 full days of the event (Friday & Saturday). Predicted winds threatened to blow out on both days but ended up giving us as much flying as we wanted (6 hours each day!). Storms came through on Sunday but that gave us time to have a talk about instruments before it was time to hit the road and find our way home. Of course that’s a really basic summary of the event. It’s the personal stories that matter.
“Being a novice and with new gear yet to be flown for more than a couple of hours, I was really looking for an opportunity where I could get current, build my confidence with my wing and ground handle in a safe environment. Lacking flyable weather throughout autumn and winter in Victoria, and not really knowing anyone to get some pointers, I felt like I was going to be wasting the season ahead because of lack of confidence. So when I opened an email from the HGFA advising that there was a ladies fly-in at Rainbow beach, which was open to PG2 pilots and above, I immediately signed up.
Over the course of three days, I not only got familiar with my lovely new wing (and a lot of sand) but I was also able to ground-handle confidently in some pretty tough conditions, along with performing my first top-landings. The support and encouragement among the girls was great and the event was organised incredibly well by Kirsten. The amazing site of Rainbow Beach was a massive advantage, literally a playground of sand where you can ground handle as much as you want, and fly along a beautiful coastline with the added highlight of the migrating humpbacks below your feet.
I’ll be signing up for the next one as there is still so much more for me to learn and master, and these events not only provide the opportunity but also provides a great environment to meet other flyers from around the country.”
“I’ve been searching for a long time to find my tribe, a place where I belong, where I can be myself, feel supported and do what I do in the company of other like-minded people who get it, get me…. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find that place, and then along came the women’s fly-ins! OMG, where did all of these amazing women come from?! I have been flying for 2 years and rarely seen any other female pilots, but thanks to Kirsten and the NSWPHA, I am starting to find my tribe.
I have always wanted to fly at Rainbow, but due to logistics and not feeling confident enough to just rock up at a site by myself I have never flown there. So with no awesome plans for the long weekend I booked a last minute ticket and headed north. Yippee! I was picked up at the airport by a fellow pilot, Cath, a remote area locum GP (who was a total flying froth-monster) having accumulated more hours in the air in her first 5 months than I had in 2 years — this was going to be a great trip! Needless to say the car ride went fast with endless chatter of flying sites, goals, ambitions, wings and playing in the dirt. I then got to meet the other pilots who were totally gorgeous, varied and inspiring in so many different ways. We all fell into the groove together with weather checks, flying, eating, laughing, sleep, repeat.
For me Rainbow ticked a lot of goals. Not only did I establish a great network of new flying buddies across Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, I also got to work on and build my confidence and skills in 2 areas I wanted to improve, but often don’t feel confident enough to practice at my local site — top landings and high wind kiting and launches. Rainbow is a paraglider’s playground for improving these skills, and the weather sure turned it on for my endless circuits with encouragement and guidance from our group and the awesome supportive Sunshine Coast Sports Aviators — thanks guys! I was totally stoked.”
Four more Altitude with Attitude events are being run this season — details can be found at www.altitudewithattitude.info.