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Eagle Paragliding in the New York Times
Article written by pilot who trained with Eagle Paragliding Follow along as Award Winning Instructor Rob Sporrer, takes New York Times writer & paragliding newbie Bill Becher to school. >>> Read More

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Eagle Paragliding's chief Instructor Rob Sporrer received USHPA's Instructor of the Year Award in 2002. Every year USHPA issues the award to the person making the biggest contributions to our sport in the United States.

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2003 Pre-Worlds - Brazil

By Rob Sporrer for Paragliding Magazine

The group of American and foreign pilots making the pilgrimage to Govenador Valadares, Brazil gets bigger every year. Pilots escape winter in the northern hemisphere and head down in February or March. All the rumors are true. The flying is great, the food and lodging are very reasonable, and the people are wonderful. The girls aren’t bad looking either.

Brazilians Chico and Monica Santos host paragliding and hang gliding competitions in Brazil every year. They do a great job, and enjoy their flying lifestyle as they travel across Brazil organizing competitions and tours for pilots from all over the world to enjoy.

Valadares will be holding the 2005 worlds, and twelve American pilots headed south to form two American teams at the 2004 pre-worlds event. The “A team” pilots ended up finishing second which was the best finish for an American team ever at a world event. The “B team” pilots ended up nineteenth. Doing well at this event would help our countries ranking. A strong showing could increase our pilot count and the possibility of a wildcard spot at the worlds in 2005.

The “A team” didn’t have Mr. T. and his intimidating Mohawk, but they did have BZ. Bret Zanglen took no mercy and flew like a champ leading the US team to its second place team finish by individually finishing in fifth place overall.

Most paragliding events are not team events. Pilots compete individually hoping to be consistent and end up on the podium or in the top ten. The team element at the Pre-Worlds put a new twist on each pilot’s strategy and thinking. Len Szafaryn led the pre-launch meetings where we went over our team strategies for each task. The strategy changed if the task was a race to goal, or involved many turn points. We took the days development into consideration, and pondered whether we thought it would be good early or get better later. It was less risk for our teams to have pilots spread out over the course line. Some of the team would push out and take the lead, and others stay back and spread out. We communicated in the air about condition changes and where it was working. I really liked this team aspect of helping each other out. Kevin Biernacki was our team leader, and did a great job selecting the teams and keeping us informed.

Valadares saw more rain this year than it had in the past ten years according to Brazilian team pilot Moka. The wet weather and lack of sun had plagued pilots the entire month of February. Everyone was hoping things would dry out in March for the Pre-World event. The rain never really let up as much as we had hoped. We scored three tasks in the end with only one pilot making goal the entire competition. Brazilian Frank Brown ended up winning the event.

Competitors made the trek up to launch on a daily basis hoping for the skies to clear and the sun to shine. Cloud base was low and the climbs were weak when we did fly. It was very patient flying. You had to keep an eye out for other pilots climbing in a better thermal while watching for the local Irabu’s to show you where it was working. It seemed like you were in need of lift again after making a relatively short glide because we weren’t getting the altitudes we were accustomed to in Valadares. I got away early on the last task of the competition and ended up taking third for the day. The day had low validity with the winner getting 195 points. But I had fun landing in a small town and being swarmed by a group of kids who fought over who was going to carry my bag down the road for me.

We had our best day of flying after the competition of course. Our last day in Brazil, Chip Hildebrand, Brad Gunnuscio, Mike Forbes, and I flew out of Valadares early in the morning to Belo Horizonte. Brazilian Pilot and friend Michel Nazar picked us up at the Belo Horizonte airport and took us flying at Serra Moeda. This place was an old counterfeit coin factory. It was a 4,200 ft. launch and the climbs were 1,100 a minute up. We flew for a couple hours and got to 8,200 before top landing and grabbing some lunch before heading to the airport for our evening flight back to the United States.

Immediately after the pre-worlds comp, Chico and Monica Santos put on another competition in Pantanal which is in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. American Bret Zanglein won the open class, and Americans Matt Gerdes and Matt Beechem finished first and second in the serial class.

I heard from friends that Valadares began to dry out and get better after we left. It seems like flying conditions are on down there every other year. The flying was amazing in 2003. So if the prophecy holds true 2005 should be epic.

What I learned and continue to learn, and may be good to know

  • Its usually always better to get off first in competitions.
  • It’s nice to have a condom catheter.
  • Airlines have started flying directly into Valadares from Rio, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte.
  • Get medical travel insurance when traveling to a foreign country for paragliding.

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