The Cloudbase Mayhem podcast is where you will find fascinating and educational interviews with the best free-flight pilots in the world. If you fly a hanglider or paraglider, if you fly acro or cross country, the Cloudbase Mayhem podcast is where we glean how the great pilots of the world get there. Hosted by Red Bull X-Alps pilot, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and current holder of the North American foot launch record, Gavin McClurg. Follow me on Instagram @gavinmcclurg or on Facebook @ facebook.com/gavinnmcclurg or Twitter on @cloudbasemayhem.
Episode 154- Going Big against the Odds with Thad Spencer
This spring when Bill Belcourt and I were recording the show with Mitch McAleer out in California I got a chance to fly (or more accurately- be OUTflown) in the desert with my X-Alps supporter Reavis Sutphin-Gray and Thad Spencer, who I’d met originally in Colombia and have come across in various parts of the world chasing the sky crack. Every time we’ve gotten together I quickly devolve into a puddle of tears from laughing. Thad hails from Minnesota, just sold a successful musical production company and is addicted to flying. The holy grail in the US has been the 200 mile mark, and Thad has chased it hard for years. His chase has taken him through the full arc of what you have to learn to send, an arc that of course never ends. This spring he pulled it off in the flats of the MidWest with a 228 mile (very cold) beauty. A little while after he pulled it off he sent me an email that I’ve posted here nearly in full because…well because we all need a good laugh now and then and it’s what lead to this show. Thad tells the “and there I was…” story better than most. Grab a whiskey and tuck in, you’re in for a treat.
From Thad Spencer:
How an Addle Brained Idiot from Minnesota Flew 228 Miles
Learning to fly a paraglider in Minnesota is certainly not ideal. It’s really flat here. I mean glacially scraped within an inch of its life flat. Years back, when I had decided to take up the sport, there was a complete lack of paragliding culture in the state, a profound absence of hills or mountains, and no available training. All of my early years of training and flying required traveling on a jet to somewhere more suitable for paragliding. This made my learning progression kind of stunted and staggered. I would get these concentrated bursts of flying experience followed by months of inactivity. If I was going to progress more quickly I decided that I needed to figure out how I could fly where I lived.
Around this time, while on a flying trip with friends in Washington and Oregon, I had the opportunity to tow behind a truck using a payout winch. Up to this point I had only launched my paraglider from hills and mountains. The idea of launching via tow was revelatory! So I got busy trying to put together some method of towing back in Minnesota.
My first attempt was to make a homemade scooter tow. I found a vintage Honda Elite 150CC scooter. I removed the front wheel and took the tire off the back wheel and welded two plates on the hub to turn it into a receptacle for tow line. I then mounted the entire rig onto an old boat trailer so I could move it around. I found a small grass strip ultralight field outside the city. The guy who ran it, Dan Mattson, said he would be willing to help tow me up on the thing. I knew absolutely f**k-all about pay-in towing. So Dan and I just kind of figured it out through trail and error. Pay-in towing on a 1700 foot grass runway is no easy task. Given the length of the field and the physical limitations of pay-in towing, I was unable to get more than 300 to 400 feet per tow. This made every flight a full on seat of your pants low-ass save. It did climb out to base a few times, but more often than not each tow was a sledder.
The next evolution towards my goal of towing in Minnesota happened while I was looking to purchase a pay-out winch. During my search I found someone on the internet who was making a winch that used an electric particle brake to apply precise tension on the line drum. His name was Steve Serine and he lived in Minnesota. I couldn’t believe it!
Meeting Steve changed everything for me. He had this amazing tow winch, he was retired and therefore available to go out flying any time, and he was a proficient paragliding pilot. We became fast friends and began towing and flying all over the state.
Episode 153- Burkhard Martens and Thermal Flying
Burkhard Martens is one of the most-recognized names in the sport. His seminal work, “Thermal Flying”, first published in 2005 is the world’s best-selling guide to the art of thermalling and XC flying. Cross Country’s team has been hard at work thoroughly revising and updating the text, line by line, and the design and photography has been refreshed to bring it bang up to date. I sat down with Burki a few weeks ago to talk about his new edition, what’s changed since 2005, and the meat of the book- how to climb!
Learning to climb well is probably the most valuable skill of all in free flying, but it can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Burki Martens’ Thermal Flying has been written as a guidebook, and whether you have one hour or a thousand hours’ airtime, you’ll find it incredibly useful.
Hundreds of photos and illustrations make technical concepts come alive and easy to understand. Technical theory is kept to a minimum while real-world experience and practical advice help you grasp tricky concepts easily.
Get your new edition here. And enjoy the show!
* We get into Burki’s history and how he came to write the first edition of Thermal Flying.
* The book takes shape- what gave Burki the knowledge to write the book
* What’s the most important thing new pilots should learn?
* Weather is stronger than you are!
* The art of the climb, the art of the glide and how competitions help
* The definition of a good pilot
* How much risk is acceptable?
Thermal Flying Includes comprehensive instructions on:
* How to predict and find thermals
* How and where thermals form – sources and triggers
* Different types of thermal models
* Windward and lee-side thermals
* The theory of temperature gradients
* Vortex ring structure and lift distribution in thermals
* How to read clouds and weather
Plus hundreds of helpful tips on:
* Soaring, staying up and top-landing
* Coastal flying and sea breezes
* How to core thermals and get to cloudbase
* Valley winds, mountain flying and magic air
* Flying the flatlands
* XC tactics from first flights to 100km
Thermal Flying has been published in 15 languages and has sold over 50,000 copies worldwide. This third edition brings the art of thermal flying to a whole new generation of pilots. Burki Martens is a multiple XC League champion and an excellent coach and communicator.
Mentioned in this show:
Til Gottbrath, XCMag, Mads Syndergaard, Chrigel Maurer, Skywalk
Episode 152- Torsten Siegel and Playing the Ultimate Game
Veteran Gin test pilot, designer, European champion, and multiple-time German team member Torsten Siegel has been racing paragliders for nearly 30 years. He designed for UP Paragliders and then Swing before moving to Gin over a decade ago and has left an indelible mark on the sport since the early 90’s. I spoke with Torsten immediately after this years Superfinal in Disentis, Switzerland to get his thoughts on the first superfinal that’s been held in the mountains and to get his thoughts on all things racing- the risk, the tactics, the equipment and how to be consistent in the ultimate game- racing fabric and string in the sky. We cover a lot of ground- what kind of pilot makes a good test pilot; how have the CCC regulations worked out from the design standpoint; how paragliding can improve our habits and attitudes; why pilots almost always move up to a hotter wing too soon; having doubts and making sure you maintain awareness in a game that sometimes bites hard, and a lot more. Enjoy!
* Working at UP and SWING and then over a decade at Gin
* The Superfinal- it was beautiful, it was amazing, and it was scary!
* What does a test pilot do? And how are wings designed?
* Performance vs control for high end paragliders, and matching wings with the ability of the pilot
* Torsten’s favorite wing
* The outcome of the CCC class and where we’re headed
* Making a living in this sport
* Having doubts and maintaining awareness
* How paragliding (can) improve your life
* How to toss the mistakes and move on
* Don’t get grumpy- laugh!
* Pimping vs leading and consistency
* How even the best often screw it up
* What kind of head space to find for comp flying?
* Be mentally prepared for the task before you fly- find the balance of relaxed vs serious
* Weather during a comp- how important is it?
* Identify certain people in comps?
* What advice to new world cup pilots? #1- Don’t jump to a hot glider too early! #2- have fun!
* FTV and strategy for a good result
* Don’t move up on a wing until you’re pushing your wing to 110% with full confidence and without hesitation
* Flying an entire task backwards!
Mentioned in this show:
Tim Bollinger, Michael Sigel, Superfinal, World Cup, Gin Paragliders, Charles Cazaux, Aaron Durogati, Stephen Morganthaler, Chrigel Maurer, Pierre Remy, Luc Armont, Martin Scheel, Yassen Savov, Josh Cohn, Manuel Quintanilla, Colin Rathbun, Play Gravity
Episode 151- Comps, instructing, learning, and sending with Wally Arcidiacono
I met Wally Arcidiacono on the comp circuit quite a few years back and have been trying to connect with him for awhile now for a show. Wally is a keen comp pilot, started a paragliding school in Bright, Australia back in 2010 and has turned a passion for flying into a way of life. What kind of headspace should we bring to competitions? How can we play this beautiful game with more aplomb? How should we approach the long game? What can we learn from the masters? Why does the local hero never take the trophy? We get into the beginners mind, why so many pilots are flung into the wild too early, what makes a great instructor, best (and worst!) gear, eliminating distractions, flying psychology and tactics and a lot more. Enjoy!
* All things comps- how to have more fun and get results
* The mental game
* Getting left behind can be a good thing
* Stay positive!
* Mantras and headspace
* Play the game, don’t have original ideas
* Upping the consistency
* Come second!
* When do we have this figured out? Try never.
* Nurturing others
* The instructing method
Mentioned in this show:
Matt Beechinor, Nate Scales, Gareth Carter, Kari Ellis, Guy Anderson, Adel Honti
Episode 150- Critical Care for going Deep with Justin Grisham
Justin Grisham is an emergency medical physician, wilderness medical expert, and search and rescue volunteer who wants to get our flying community better prepared for dealing with emergencies in the field. In this fascinating and note-worthy episode we brush up on some of Justin’s free-flight first aid curriculum: medical decision making, common paragliding injuries (what you can fix, what you can’t), the primary assessment, secondary assessment, heat and cold injuries, the use of narcotics and pain medications for victims, drowning and water risk, wound care, tourniquets and securing a scene. Justin has built awesome youtube courses for each of these subjects and offers courses for our community so we can be better prepared for when things go wrong, as they unfortunately often do. Please listen, share with your flying community and reach out to Justin if you want to have him help you design an incident plan for your club or to help your club members get hands-on wilderness medical practice.
Justin’s website: https://www.paraglidingfirstaid.com/
First Aid Kit list we discuss in the show and what Justin carries:
* CAT Tourniquet (be sure to get from a reputable manufacturer like North American Rescue. There are a lot of counterift ones on the market.
* Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA)
* Chest Seal
* Emergency Blanket
* Pressure Bandage
* 800mg Ibuprofen
* 1000mg Tylenol
* Link: https://www.paraglidingfirstaid.com/first-aid-supplies
Justin’s own: https://www.paraglidingfirstaid.com/s/shop
Remote Medical Training
Wilderness Medicine of Utah
Clubs interested in either a course or help with designing an incident plan can contact Justin through the website. There’s a contact form on the bottom of the homepage.
Stuff we discuss in the show and associated courses Justin has made:
Pre-course Material (6hr)
Medical Decision Making
Common Paragliding Injuries
The Primary Assessment
The Secondary Assessment
Emergency Evacuation Planning
Episode 149- Dilan Benedeti and learning to deal with gravity
I did some acro training back in May this year in the lead-up to the X-Alps with SIV and acro maestro Dilan Benedeti who runs LetFlyParagliding.com. The training probably literally saved my life just two weeks later when things went sideways with less than 100′ of clearance on a solo bivvy mission in Sun Valley (I discuss this incident in the episode with Maxime Pinot). My training took place during one of his SIV clinics with a bunch of very new students so I got to watch his team and his methods in action and came away super, duper impressed. In this episode Dilan shares why we don’t have any kind of standardized training in the US and much of the world and why that needs to change; why so many pilots quit the sport too soon; why so many pilots choose the wrong wing during their progression; the dangers of “risk homeostasis”, especially in free flight; why having a school AND selling gear creates so much conflict of interest (and why this isn’t allowed in many countries); why the US instructor system is so flawed; and why having a basic understanding of psychology is so critical when you leave the ground.
* Dilan talks about why the US and many places don’t have standardized training like APPI and why that often leads to such poor instructors and instruction
* Dilan theorizes why so many pilots leave the sport after a short period
* Glider choice- and why we often get it wrong
* What is “risk homeostasis” and why is it important?
* Why there is so much conflict of interest when schools also sell gear, and why this ultimately hurts our students
* Why having a basic understanding of how our brains work is important for progression and staying safe
The preeminent podcast for paragliding enthusiasts
I became interested in paragliding 4 years ago and naturally sought out as much information as possible to whet my appetite for the sport.
What I found in the Cloudbase Mayhem podcasts has far exceeded my expectations.
Insightful, compelling and fun interview with pilots, trainers, authors and filmmakers from all aspects of the sport. Gavin McClurg's interview style is remarkably easy to listen to and enjoyable and I find myself referring to past episodes as I grow in experience.
Give it a listen, you won't be disappointed!
Kari Castle is Boss
I’m P2 50 hours and this is school keeps me happy between flights! Favorite episode is the one with Kari Castle!
New / Stoked Pilot Says Thanks!
I just finished my P2 in Santa Barbara after soaking up the podcast for the last few months. First mountain flight from Skyport to Parma was mind-blowing! Lucked out on the conditions and bumbled into plenty of lift on the way down. Joined a few hawks thermalling up from the Monastery ridge and had a spiritual moment when I started smelling the cloud vapor up at base with the birds calling back and forth on either side of me. Was totally overwhelmed at the improbability and awesomeness of it all and broke down sobbing for a few minutes up there in the wispies.
Cannot overestimate the value of the show in helping me through the learning process safely- several times I chose not to fly in marginal (for me) conditions and felt great about the decision, learning a ton just standing on the ground watching.
It’s hard to estimate risk without much experience, so for now I’m trying to harness the positive power of negative thinking, and brainstorm all the ways a potential flight could go badly, and then honestly ask myself if I have the skills to handle it. If the answer is only 99% yes, then that’s not nearly good enough and I’ll stay on the ground.
Patrick Switzer, Oahu