The Panel and how it operates

by Charles Norwood first published in Skywings May 2021

The light was fading, and I had been waiting for hours on a remote Spanish hillside for a retrieve driver, having landed out in a competition task and I was having murderous thoughts about the useless bunch that were running retrieves for the competition. Eventually arriving back at the HQ, tired and grumpy and about to comment on the delays I saw the team of unpaid volunteers behind their desks still working at the many tasks that a PG comp needs to make it run successfully. Arranging for scores to be published, pilots to be retrieved dealing with lost kit, the emergencies that can happen and the annoyances like retrieving the trackers which needed to be charged, A foreign pilot was missing but his still active tracker showed him at a bar in town! The truth is that this was the tip of the iceberg and the many decisions and hours of work needed to get a comp to run smoothly.

So many years later the boot is on the other foot and I am part of the organization that is responsible for most of the British paragliding competitions (apart from accuracy and paramotoring which arrange their own challenges.)

Historically the Comps Panel originates from around 30 years ago when a Meet Director (MD) was appointed for the British Championships on behalf of the BHPA. Over the years its scope has grown and now covers the UK Team to the Clubs Challenge (BCC).  It’s run by a team of volunteers who meet up online and at comps to ensure that we fulfil our remit and discuss any outstanding issues.

How is it funded

The British Championships and other events are self-funding with entry fees e.g the XC League, BCC and BPC to cover their costs. Prizes are sometimes put up by the BHPA or other benefactors like Richard Westgate, to encourage pilots to achieve goals and push records. Other Panel activities such as Team training and the BPRA are funded by any surpluses or sponsorship.

The BHPA also supply a yearly grant to the Panel to fulfil its many obligations but essentially to further the BHPA’s standing internationally to the best of our abilities. So, there is some pressure on the Panel to get pilots on the podiums on the world stage at the highest level. Historically this grant came from Sport UK but that was withdrawn several years ago and the BHPA funding is now directly from their own funds. The panel answers to and is represented by a member of the BHPA Exec which has been very competently overseen by Bill Bell in the last few years.

The Panel has a treasurer, Sue Britnell an all accounts are submitted to the BHPA yearly and available for members.

The Panel Constitution

The panel’s main objectives are to run and operate competitions to determine the British Paragliding male and female Champion, to find a fair method to select the British Team and to guide UK pilots through the different levels of PG competitions. The Panel has a formal written constitution.

Other roles include liaising with the formal bodies of the BHPA, BP Cup, XC League, FAI, PWCA and CIVL.

The dozen or so of volunteers that make up the Panel have responsibilities for the British Team, the UK XC League, the British Paragliding Championship, The British Clubs Challenge as well as the operations of the competitions.

The British Championship

Finding the right location for the champs to take place are hotly debated every year and the flagship event for British paragliding needs plenty of planning and administration. Historically we hosted our own competitions with every element covered by volunteers from the UK. In more recent years we have partnered up with local clubs who have expertise in the region and employed the best possible qualified meet director.

The new 2021 British Sports Championship in Gemona has been pioneered by panel member Stan Radzikowoski has shown how popular competition on more accessible wings has become.  The field includes top level pilots who normally race on 2 line wings and enables the sports class pilot to compete with the best in the world and learn from their skills.

The Cross Country League

Managed by its own team, lead by John Stevenson the XCL is one of the most popular UK competitions and is hard fought every year with many hundreds of pilots submitting their best flights. Loved and loathed by many it has obsessed pilots over the years. Richard Westgate was a strong supporter and inspiration behind the challenges and roles of honour in the league. Currently a new series of Richard Westgate challenges are being formulated by the XCL team to encourage and reward pilots to make longer and more challenging cross country flights.

The British Team

Selection process for the team is one of the key Panel areas and is currently based on a combination of performance at Paragliding World Cup events and WPRS points. The Team is managed by Jockey Sanderson who with his years of experience works on training programmes and tactics that have helped improve our position. This key role supports and manages our top pilots at a world championship level. Our star pilots currently include Russel Ogden, the number one pilot in the world by WPRS points and the current European Champion Theo Warden.

Jockey notes that “We should be very proud of our British Team pilots who without the financial support that other European countries get, dedicate their own personal funding to train and represent their country”. The team are looking at ways for all pilots to follow and support them with live reports, blogs and live tracking during the competitions.

The British Paragliding Racing Academy

Inspired and operated by Malin Lobb and Barney Woodhead with practical help from Russel Ogden and Guy Anderson, the BPRA is probably responsible for the largest improvement in competition pilot performance in recent years. “Information sharing in a constructive learning environment provides the best working formular to gains” says Barney.

Who donates the prizes?

New panel member Phil Clark, a paramedic who also assists on comp safety, is running the events sponsorship. Our competition sponsors have very generously supported prizes and trophies over the years and our thanks go to: Ozone, Cross Country magazine, Flyeo, Aerofix, XCTracer, Green Dragons, flybubble, Niviuk, XTC and Airtribune.

The BP Cup and Hike and Fly developments

Gareth Aston’s role on the competition panel is to organise and run the British Paragliding Cup. This includes choosing locations, frequency of events, liaising with local clubs, organising scoring systems and the events.

Gareth reports, “I am lucky enough to have a very able assistant in Viv Fouracre who lightens the load significantly. I am also heading up a committee that is looking into supporting Hike and Fly pilots. The aim is to have a H & F academy that nurtures and trains promising pilots to enable them to enter and hopefully be well placed in H & F Races internationally”

He is also trying to get a more structured competition scene, as well as trying to organise some kind of British H & F league. “There is a lot to do and many obstacles to overcome but I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be able to help promote such an amazing sector of our sport.”

With X-alps competitor Steve Bramfitt in this years high profile race we have a UK pilot to support and cheer on. Pilots who wish to support Steve who is self-funding his challenge can do so through his online funding page

Advance British Clubs Challenge (BCC)

Matt Tandy coordinates the  BCC which is the entry level UK competition and thus an important stepping-stone to national and international comps.

 Matt says “So, although it may be a slower start to the season that we would like, we are very much looking forward to another rewarding BCC season where we fly safely, have fun and develop our XC skills. For those pilots who have yet to take part in the BCC and are interested in doing so, please contact your club’s competition member to find out how to get involved and ensure that they are linked into the club’s BCC chat and coord groups on Telegram.”

Competition Safety

The Panel safety representative is Mike Coupe, a doctor who is just emerging from the pressures of three waves of covid emergency work. He has a small group of medics pilots that are proactively examining competition safety and look at how our comps can be operated in safety.

Mike stresses “Competition safety is taken extremely seriously by the Comps panel. Although our last national competition in Colombia was incident free, we are determined to avoid complacency. We have certainly had our share of serious injuries and, sadly, fatalities over the years.”

He continues “The competitions panel has recently set up a safety subgroup (currently made up of a paramedic a GP, and a hospital doctor!). It’s remit is to examine issues of safety and make recommendations to the wider comps panel. In the in-tray at the moment is an assessment of the benefits of incorporating mandatory search and rescue cover for pilots to the competition fee, and a rewriting of our major incident plan. Although achieving a zero accident and incident rate in our competitions is a difficult ask, we are committed to getting as near to that as possible.”

CIVL Representative

Brett Janaway is the CIVL representative, which is the HG/PG arm of the FAI. He provides technical expertise to the panel and the BHPA and represents our interests. Brett is tireless in his support for British competitions and his online competition management programme Airtribune is used for our pilots bookings and information management.

The panel are always looking for ways to develop and encourage competition by UK pilots and to improve standards. The quickest way to accelerate learning in our sport is by join a group of like-minded pilots in a competition. The good news is that wherever you are in you paragliding career now there is a competition that is available to you that offers an easy way to access the collective skills of pilots all eager to fly and learn new skills with the guidance competition organisers to enable you to fly tasks and get the best possible flights out of the day.

As much can be learned from the informal debrief in the bar or landing field as during the flying itself. The key to it all is enjoying the process and not getting too wrapped up in results especially in the early days.

If you are keen to be involved in the panel activities a good starting point is to talk to any comp organiser and offer to volunteer.

We hope you will all get involved in a competition soon but do remember that the whole experience was organised by unpaid volunteers who have planned the event for months beforehand for your enjoyment. So please be patient with the retrieve bus drivers, when they get to you!

Charles Norwood