After what seemed like an 'endless summer' in the United Kingdom, the paragliding cross country flying season appears to have finally come to a somewhat unwelcome end for 2014 - and what a hugely eventful year it proved to be! However, just because it's warmer than usual doesn't necessarily mean it's better for XC flying. So what kind of year was it for flying XC on paragliders in the UK - not just the few 'Sky Gods' but the many 'mere mortals' too? One way to gauge this is by looking that the UK National Paragliding XC League, and hearing from the pilots, of all levels, who took part.

Emile Van Wyk weaves his way from Westbury in Wiltshire down to Dorchester in Dorset.

I was about to write a summary of the UK Paragliding XC League season but Wayne Seeley, well known for his demon speed in the XC community, beat me to it: "Well it looks like the season is over for 2014, and what an EPIC year it's been.

Congratulations go to Mike Cavanagh for winning the UK XC League (again) with a record 1291.7 points. In 2nd place for the 2nd season in row was Hugh Miller having scored 1250.0 points with Mark 'Wagga' Watts hot on his heels in 3rd place scoring 1231.8 points. 1st woman was Kirsty Cameron scoring 920.7 points with Helen Gant in 2nd place [and Flybubble's Nancy Elliott, pictured below, finished 3rd on an EN B wing].

Nancy Elliott on her way from Leckhampton in Gloucestershire to Bath in Somerset.

2014 saw ten 200km+ open distance flights flown, the biggest being Mark Watts' new UK open distance record flight of 275.5km. The UK declared triangle record was also broken this season when Mike Cavanagh flew the first declared 100km flight.

The declared goal record was broken multiple times, firstly by Guy Anderson and Kirsty with a 214km flight from Leckhampton early in the season then that was beaten by Wagga on 'big Sunday' when he hit goal at 223km only for that to be surpassed a couple of hours later buy Al Wilson with a 225km goal.

Congratulations to everyone who flew new PBs etc and there are bound to be a few records I've left out. Well done all and let's hope 2015 is as good as this year has been. :)"

Al Wilson on his way from Sharpenhoe Clappers in Bedfordshire.

Speaking for the common pilot, Bruce Clarke added to Wayne's summary: "Brilliant though these achievements are, let's not forget they are partly enabled by the more extreme weather. This has meant more days with potential record-breaking weather, but many of these days are also unsuitable for ordinary mortals. The latter part of the summer was frustrating for me, as I judged the conditions often too hairy for my abilities. Others were tempted out and sometimes regretted it, so let's also hear it for the duffers who chose to leave the marginal days to the heroes. :)"

Guy Anderson on his way from Uffington in Berkshire to near Axminster in Devon.

Wayne's seasonal summary also got others to thinking. Tim Pentreath, ever the analytical one, compared UKPGXCL statistics for the last few years and noted: "Interesting how this year and last year have been 50% "better" than the previous three years..."

Greg Hamerton steps off Rybury in Wiltshire, and on to a new XC adventure.

UKPGXCL - All flights - Standard scoring:

2014 – 2109 flights - 105,486.9 points - 278 pilots
2013 – 1989 flights - 102,567.9 points - 279 pilots
2012 – 1666 flights - 70,426.0 points - 224 pilots
2011 – 1626 flights - 68,967.4 points - 232 pilots
2010 – 1584 flights - 66,265.4 points - 231 pilots

UKPGXCL - All flights - Distance only:

2014 – 2109 flights - 93,290.7 points - 278 pilots
2013 – 1989 flights - 93,114.6 points - 279 pilots
2012 – 1666 flights - 63,630.9 points - 224 pilots
2011 – 1626 flights - 62,089.9 points - 232 pilots
2010 – 1584 flights - 62,602.5 points - 231 pilots

Of course each pilot's individual experience is different and not everyone had their best year ever, for example Grant Oseland most probably had a similar experience to many pilots: "Great to see that people have had a good year. This will be an individual thing though, as for me it's been the year where I have travelled the most to try to fly and get some good flights in but weather and work forgot to liaise with each other. Making it one of the most frustrating years I remember, with the weather just not playing ball on my days off! Still I'd rather be sat out on a hill than sat at work." So it seems that not everyone was able to be in the right place at the right time, whether by luck or judgement.

Carl Foster wondered who fared better with availability at different times of the week: "I would be interested to see the comparison between the weekend and weekday flights and scores compared to other years. I have had my best year in terms of flying hours in 2014, and the no. of flights and different sites, but have made a considerable amount of more effort on weekends."

Thermaling with Mark Watts near Canterbury in Kent.

UKPGXCL - Weekend flights - Standard scoring:

2014 – 706 flights - 29,808.90 points - 225 pilots
2013 – 998 flights - 49,024.20 points - 254 pilots
2012 – 838 flights - 34,590.60 points - 198 pilots
2011 – 553 flights - 20,094.00 points - 169 pilots
2010 – 702 flights - 27,906.00 points - 198 pilots

Checking the weekend flight stats over the past few years, Carl surmised: "I guess this shows that 2013, 2012 and arguably 2010 were all better years for the weekend pilots than 2014."

But these 'weekday versus weekend' stats don't necessarily tell the whole story, as Mark Smith points out: "Please understand that many week day pilots can't go out every day! I usually can't fly weekends because of work but have my days off midweek (average only one per week)! So really I get the same or less opportunities as weekend pilots!"

And there are other factors to consider, as Carl goes on to explain: "I don't necessarily think it's about the amount of time you can get off from work or commitments although it helps obviously, it is more about the flexibility of when you can take those days off in particularly at short notice. Living far from any hills it is hard for me to be spontaneous and travel that far as I have to make the decision the night before or in my case at least a couple of days before. For example I will watch the weather thinking: "Right, the coming Wednesday is looking good", make my appointments around that, then come Tuesday night it's changed and looking marginal or 50/50. So you go in to work as not to waste a day. But I guess that's what makes the sport incredibly addictive and frustrating at the same time, and the Good days make all the waiting worthwhile."

Richard Carter flying over the Cairngorms during the North South Cup in Scotland.

Something which is apparent, both from looking at the stats and the many big flights which a number of pilots have been doing of recent, is that the level seems to have taken a big leap in the last couple of years, as Bryan Hindle highlights: "[This year] Was a PB for me in terms of points but my place was the same as I got a few years ago with about half the points." Simply put, it's a heck of a lot harder to do well in the UKPGXCL now than it was in 2012!

It's interesting to note that the total 'points progression' (All flights, Standard scoring) was more than ten times bigger from 2012 to 2013 (+31.3%) compared to what it was from 2013 to 2014 (+2.9%)!

Hugh Miller after an impressive low climb out from Uffington White Horse.

Remembering the good old days when pilots won the league by flying the furthest distance, not earning the most 'Tesco Points' (as they're commonly referred to by distance purists), Simon Steel chipped in: "Fantastic scores, but not km. It would be nice to know who flew furthest without the multipliers." Simon is referring to the fact that in the Standard league 'multipliers' are awarded for 'Circuit' and 'Declared' flights, on the basis that these are generally more difficult to achieve.

Simon Steel coring it up to 'base near Whitchurch in Hampshire.

This means that the points shown in the Standard league are greatly affected by these multipliers. For example, a declared "Flight to Goal" of over 25km gets multiplied by 1.35 e.g. 100km x 1.35 = 135 points. An "Out and Return" or "Flat Triangle" of over 35km scores double e.g. 50km x 2.0 = 100 points. The highest multiplier of 3.3 is awarded to a "Declared FAI Triangle" of over 25km, which is most probably why you'll notice a high concentration of these in the top 10 of the Standard scoring league! 45 of the 60 highest scoring flights in the Standard league used multipliers i.e. 75%.

Graham Steel glides towards to his declared goal at Pevensey, East Sussex from Selsley Common, Gloucestershire.

To see who flew the furthest distance on the UKPGXCL website, filter the league by Scoring: "Distance Only". This reveals that Hugh Miller finished a clear 1st in the Distance Only league (as he also did in 2013) with an impressive 1177.7km. Guy Anderson was 2nd with 1053.0km and Mark Watts a close 3rd with 1038.4km. I was lucky enough to finish 4th in the Distance Only league with 872km flying an EN B rated wing (and 9th in the Standard league with 946.0 points); not bad when you consider that all the higher ranked pilots were flying EN D wings!

Carlo Borsattino on his way to Okehampton in Devon from from Leckhampton in Gloucestershire.

So, which was the 'best day' of 2014 for UK PG XC flying i.e. on which day did UK PG pilots fly the most distance? On 11 April, where 96 pilots flew a total of 6257.3km, with an average distance of 63.9km. But this wasn't the same day as when the best flights were flown. Looking at the Standard league, the highest scoring flight was done on the 30th May by Mike Cavanagh; a 100.73km Declared FAI Triangle, scoring an unprecedented 332.4 points! The best Open Distance flight was done (in rather windy conditions) on the 3rd of August by Mark Watts, 275.5km!

Tim Pentreath starts a Declared Out & Return from The Malverns, which turns into a nice turnpoint flight.

As well as the friendly rivalry between individual pilots, there's also friendly rivalry between the 36 paragliding clubs around the UK. Looking at Club Flights using Standard scoring (i.e. with multipliers) the Southern club finished first with 3908.9 points, followed by Pennine (3646.3), Thames Valley (3451.2), XClent (3193.7), and Cumbria (2754.4). Compare this to Club Flights with Open Distance scoring, where again the Southern club came first with a total of 3415.3km, followed by Thames Valley (2958.9km), XClent (2548.9km), Pennine (2359.1km) and Derbyshire (2016.7km).

Richard Osborne giving it his best shot over the Black Mountains in SE Wales.

To sum up: What a great year, and what a lot of fun, 2014 was! By far the most fun for me is sharing great flights and experiences with flying friends, old and new.

Unfortunately for me two of my regular flying friends this year were Mark Watts and Hugh Miller. Unfortunate in that I find it rather challenging (nigh on impossible) keeping up with them, but it's always fun trying! I'm also getting a bit of a crick in my neck looking up at Nancy so much of the time these days, but then that makes me happy too! 🙂

Here's hoping for lots more nice flights with my flying friends next year... and hopefully for a good many more years to come.

Roll on Spring 2015!

Wondering what happened in the Southern Club? See our SHGC 2014 XC Season Roundup.

Greg Hamerton flies on into Devon from Leckhampton in Gloucestershire.