Judgment, Skill, and a Golf Ball.

Someone asked me last night about pilot opinions of flying with a good luck charm and examples of what we kept in our kit.

A golf ball.

The story: last July, late afternoon, a few of us arrived on launch with a cloud layer moving over the back of the ridge from the south. The cycles died off and the typical cross launch wind disappeared, leaving dead calm.

Figuring I had surrendered a twenty for the ride up and expecting nothing more than a 4 minute sled ride down, I kitted up and made ready for the mad horde charge off the ‘cliff’. Launch was as expected for the conditions and a quick turn west to go put a km in before turning east to set to land.

Or so I thought.

I start my short run west and the variometer starts chirping, point two, point five, back and forth. Odd, the sun has been hidden for near half an hour, there is no dynamic lift, and cloud base is nearly 5000 feet above me, clearing the mountain peaks. I wander further west by a few hundred meters to ‘tag’ a ridge, thinking this is great. Then it hits me, a comment from Godfrey during the 2012 Australian XC Open regarding it becoming lifty everywhere for no apparent reason. I beeline for the LZ (landing zone, situated next to a golf course) and snap off a succession of quick 360’s.

One hundred meters off the deck and the lift is gone. I touch down to discover a golf ball sitting in the grass at my feet. Not five minutes after, the sky unleashed its wrath with one of the strongest storms of the season.

Two weeks later.

I am at the Canadian Paragliding Nationals, laid out on launch with the words from the task committee in my head – ‘thunderstorms expected’. I think of the golf ball from that fateful day (that I had since put in my flight deck), decide I’d much rather have a beer than fly, and pack up. Half way down the hill some of nastiest clouds I had ever seen in this region cleared Mt. Currie and began to unload on Pemberton. The fatal result of this storm system made itself known within a few hours, costing one competitor his life as his wing was rotored into a fast moving river.

I like to think of skill being the result of trying something and getting it right, where as judgment is the result of trying something and getting it wrong. The golf ball is my reminder of those two days and the initial gain in judgment and subsequent gain in skill.


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