It was about 7:45am on Thursday, August 5, 1999 when I arrived at the Strawberry Reservoir in Utah. As I got out of my car, I walked toward Chris Santacroce, the clinic instructor, to introduce myself. I was extremely surprise that Chris knew who I was. I was pretty nervous and really did not know what to expect, however, I knew it was going to be fun since I knew most of the pilots attending the clinic. I was here and ready to learn the different maneuvers. I didn’t think that I’d learn anything else.
After everyone had arrived, Chris handed out documentation about maneuvers, towing instructions and a checklist. He explained how the day was going to be set up. First, he asked us to team up with another pilot. The purpose for choosing a buddy was to go over the checklist and make sure that the pilot was safe before each tow. I teamed up with Peter DelMissier.
Our first tow exercise consisted of being pulled up by a scooter. The main focus of the first tow was to get a feel for towing and to learn to take off and land while being towed. Before taking off, my buddy went through the checklist and verified that I was safe to take off. Chris Santacroce, Jeff Farrell from Super Fly, Ken Hudonjorgensen from Two-Can Fly Paragliding, and Pat Blackburn were there to guide each one of us through the towing. When all of us were done, Chris and the other instructors debriefed us, reviewing and commenting what we had just done and answering any questions we might have had. The next towing exercise involved learning to release the weak link and land safely. Everyone performed beautifully. Again, we went through debriefing. I thought that it was extremely helpful and I was pleased with the way things were going.
After the scooter tow, Chris went over the different maneuvers using the simulator. He talked about the asymmetric fold, B-line stalls, front stall, “tweaking” the A’s to prevent parachutage, turning, and how to hold the toggles/break lines. Each one of us practiced the different maneuvers using the simulator. The purpose of this exercise was to develop a clear understanding of each maneuver. This exercise was very beneficial and enjoyable.
As the weather started to deteriorate, we all gathered around with the instructors to listen to advice, safety briefing, and some pointers and tips about flying. For instance, they talked a pilot’s posture while sitting, and arms, legs, and head position. The instructors also talked about boat towing. They explained what to expect. For instance, what we needed to do when the boat was turning and to keep looking at the wing to try to correct the direction to try to prevent a lock out. At that point, I really felt like I was in good hands and felt like I could trust them. All topics were covered with professionalism and thoroughness.
My first boat towing was very stressful. After my buddy went through the pre-flight checklist, the anxiety kicked in. The fear of failure was overwhelming. My desire to do well was so intense that I felt like my head was going to pop. To try to calm me down and to reduce the anxiety that I was feeling, Pat Blackburn suggested that I focus on deep breathing and that I was going to be OK. He really helped me. I took off and went through my first flight and performed the maneuvers Chris instructed me to do – asymmetric fold, turns, front stall, and wing overs. Chris’ instructions were very clear and simple to follow. He would describe the maneuver first and then step you through each movement. It really was a thrilling experience. I felt extremely comfortable and confident under Chris’ guidance.
After 2 or 3 pilot’s towing and flight, Chris would gather all of us together to go through debriefing. This was extremely helpful. We had many opportunities to ask questions and comment on our experiences with the maneuvers we performed. Learning from each others experiences and asking and answering questions added to our learning curve.
As each day went on, it became very apparent to me that this clinic was not just about maneuvers. It was about safety, attitude, taking the time to progress in the sport, posture and maneuvers. In my opinion, Chris Santacroce is the best pilot in the world. His positive attitude, composure, safety consciousness, clear explanation and instruction, and his patience is what makes me want to continue in this sport.
As always, the maneuvers clinic slipped away and much too soon it was time to depart. At the end of this clinic and talking with my fellow pilots, I feel we all walked away with much more confidence about our wings and our abilities to respond appropriately to specific situations. I also believe that we have learned to become safer pilots as long as we can remember that we do not practice radical maneuvers over the ground.
I feel that my safety and progression in paragliding has been enhanced at least by several years in this 3-day clinic. I am so grateful to Chris Santacroce, Jeff Farrell from Super Fly, Ken Hudonjorgensen from Two-Can Fly Paragliding, and Pat Blackburn for providing this opportunity in helping us to become safer pilots. Thank you! I am planning on taking this maneuvers clinic again next year.
Maneuvers Clinic – 2000
by Daryl Elam