In August 2019 Kari Ellis travelled to Krushevo, Macedonia as part of the Australian paragliding team to compete in the 2019 Paragliding World Championships. After each day’s task she gave an update to her followers on Facebook. We have collected these updates here. Read on to get a taste of XC paraglider racing at world class level!

Worlds Task 1

It has begun! Task 1 today with a 81km triangle task around 2 turn-points. The forecast promised stable conditions, with light winds and lift to +2000masl, upwards of 3000masl later in the day. Likely to be a tricky but fast racing day.

Expecting difficult launch conditions the whole field launched early, then reeled around the sky for 90minutes in shitty air with slow broken climbs, waiting for the start. Finally, 10minutes before the start the gaggle sniffed out a big climb lee-side and Pete, Fez and I got boosted with everyone else to ~3000masl. We blasted off down course, waving to Gareth who had been flushed back to hill height…

The first leg of the triangle was a long glide over terrain. Holding full-bar here is proving to be unpleasant at times and halfway to the turn-point I had a pretty good blow-out. For the first time in my flying career, as I looked at riser twists while nose down and winding up, I briefly considered my reserve. I got it sorted… and got back on bar.

My glider at the start 😍 thanks to Guzilla Photography

Along the ridge running down from the first turn-point the gaggle finally connected with lift again, with multiple cores booming up. Even with lift all along the ridge the congestion of 150 pilots all battling to control their gliders while also aggressively jockeying for position in the thermal was crazy. Inevitably there was a mid-air and a Korean pilot went down under reserve.

Pete, Fez and I were more or less together in the thick of it. Things happen at such an incredible pace in the super gaggle at this level of competition that it’s hard for a team to communicate effectively - firstly it’s hard to find a moment to transmit on the radio in the rough air and congestion, but also at this pace information becomes redundant almost the minute it’s out of your mouth. We tagged the turn-point and were high again, pushing out on another longer glide into the flats.

After giving us a 10minute start, Gareth caught us just before the second and final turn-point. We took a couple of turns together with the gaggle. We should have stayed with them. But when they inexplicably turned 90’ off course line for a climb, Fez, Gareth and I thought we “knew better” and pushed on towards the next turn-point, flying cross-downwind into rising ground where we could see a glider going up in a screamer. We came in underneath and found only the dregs of the climb left. This is a lesson I seem to need to re-learn every comp - you must always control your impulse to try to get a jump on the gaggle! Taking a risk so rarely works.

Gareth and Fez did a better job of recovering from this mistake than I did, grovelling back up and eventually coming into goal just a few minutes after the leaders. I was about 12-13 minutes off the pace.

Pete was best Aussie in 66th for the day, Fez 96th, Gareth 98th and I was 113th. Thank god for FTV. Fair to say team AUS has a lot of work to do. Gee whiz it’s going to be fun though!!! I think we are going to see a lot of tasks and some excellent fast racing in the next 2 weeks!!!

Worlds Task 2

Today’s forecast was very similar to yesterday - stable, light winds, strong climbs to 2000masl lifting to 3000masl later in the day. An 89km task was set around 3 turn-points, with a tricky leg over the back into the mountains to start, then finishing with long legs out in the flats.

We launched, survived the lee-side washing machine out front and climbed straight to 3500masl. Where we got to spend the next 90minutes cruising between clouds with 149 of our new best friends in somewhat chilly conditions.

The start finally opened and the gaggle took off from 33-3500masl, hammering over the back through the mountains into what would become known by some as the “vacuum valley of no thermals”. Pete and Fez jagged the turn-point out front with the leaders and immediately turned for a sprint back to the smaller hill we had just flown over. Despite the company of 25 desperate pilots spread out on the hunt for a thermal, they nearly all found themselves sliding off the side of the hill and slaloming their way through the low trees and bushes to land in the valley. As Fez later said - when you are flying with so many strong pilots out front, you just think nothing can go wrong!

Meanwhile, Gareth and I pulled on the hand-brake at the turn-point. Pushing in deep we connected with a booming climb that took us back to 3500masl. Hammer back down for another 20km glide (the forearm pump is real), we flew back through the terrain and came in low lee-side on the last mountain at the edge of the flats. Gareth pushed in and connected with a screamer, calling 4m/s on the radio, improving to 7-m/s. I didn’t much care, as I was ripping up in my own 7m/s climb… until I glanced his way again a few minutes later to find him 500masl above me - his 7 had improved to an 11.

This gave Gareth and a gaggle who joined him a jump into flats. I set off to chase on another 20km glide, feeling like I was in orbit at +3500masl over the flats. The next turn-point went quickly and I turned back into wind to pick up the final turn-point, before skanking into goal fairly low after getting a little stuck (my new party trick - I’m not proud of it).

Gareth was top Aussie for the day in 23rd and I came in 77th, with Pete and Fez bringing up the rear (but in excellent company!).

📷 Dave Gibbs #ronburgundy

The best news of the day is that Team AUS has jumped up 9 places in the rankings today from 30th to 21st. Yes - we still have a LOT of work to do, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Our best is yet to come. 🇦🇺

Worlds Task 3

The forecast today was calling steadily increasing NNE wind up to 10-15km/h, strong climbs with potential OD over the mountains and cloud base at ~2500masl. An 83km task set was around 2 turn-points - up the valley over terrain, then two long legs in the flats. Off we go again!

The optimal start position was about 10km up the ridge from launch and conditions were inconveniently tricky early on. We struggled for the full 60minutes cycling between 1800-2200masl, just above ridge height. Things were still looking grim with 5minutes to go when at last Gareth, Pete and I popped through and managed to position ourselves at the bottom of the stack to go on first glide. Minus Fez who was still kicking trees…

The full gaggle of 150 pilots at the start of each task is amazing to be part of - everyone flying fully accelerated and weaving here and there as one to optimise the liftiest lines. It’s almost peaceful. Until someone flies into a climb, at which point full scale war breaks out as we all pile in, trying to find room to turn in the chaos. Today was no different - the first turn-point found us going around in a broken 3m/s rodeo-ride, with gliders above, below, in front, behind and either side, all praying that no one would fall out of the sky as our gliders pitched and shimmied their way up the climb. I was not sad to top out and go.

The course line was then straight down the guts into the flats, with disappointingly limited options for different lines and decision making for pilots (unlike yesterday’s task). The flats were working well and we moved quickly through the next 45km to the southern turn-point. As promised, the mountains on either side of the valley were over-developing and as we approached the turn-point, an enormous thunderhead anvil-ing out over the valley started throwing bolts of lightening right out into the valley about 10km in front of us. I felt significantly better about this once we tagged the turn-point and turned to fly back up the valley to the goal - out of sight out of mind…

Fez caught us at this point for the 20km final glide into goal. This leg was into wind and we were expecting a bit of a slog, but with the whole valley lifting off (probably due to the surrounding thunderstorms and OD), it turned out to be one long final.

Gareth was top Aussie for the day again in 70th, I was 76th, Fez 77th and Pete 100th. It’s going to be a long comp with a LOT of tasks and the goal is to continue the steady march up the leaderboard, with consistent, improved performances each day. Team AUS is right on track. 🇦🇺 Plus Louise and Alba arrived today - happy days!!!!!

Worlds Task 4

Today we had a forecast for 10-15km/h NNE winds, strong climbs and +3000masl cloud base. Basically another perfect racing day. This place may very well be a paragliding heaven on earth.

As those who have been following the Flymaster live tracking will probably have noticed, the level here is so high that for the last 3 days upwards of 100 pilots have flown the entire task as one “super-gaggle” and made goal within minutes of each other. So this morning the national team leaders called for the task committee to set more technical/difficult tasks, in order to spread the field and point distribution. No doubt the task committee has a tough job making things “hard/er” when racing conditions are so superb, but it would be good to see tasks offering more options for different lines and decision making for pilots. Anyway, in response today, the committee set a 112km task around 3 turn-points. I would say they had modest success in making things trickier, but hopefully we will continue to see further attempts along these lines for the remainder of the competition.

Launch 📷 by the lovely Dave Gibbs 🙏

The most notable feature of today’s task and conditions was the stop-start tempo. We launched and established easily in relatively gentle 1-2m/s climbs in the start gate for a 1pm start. Once on course, the first glide was through the mountains almost to the first turn-point, where in contrast to the slower climbs in the start, Gareth and I hit a big 5m/s climb. This put us in a great position to tag the turn-point and then push on for the next leg into the flats. Our advantage didn’t last long - the next ridge offered nothing and the whole gaggle pulled on the hand-brake as we pushed out low over the tobacco fields.

The stop start tempo continued. Slow into the flats… then fast when we hit a booming climb at the next turn-point over the smoke-stacks across the valley… slowing down again as climbs failed to consolidate going into the last turn-point. And then for most of the gaggle (including me), finally slowing to a crawl and limping low and slow at half-bar into goal for the day.

In the end we finished the 112km task in just over 3 hours - a great indicator of the pace and level of racing, even on a day with “slower” stretches.

Fez had a shot at winning the day but pulled up a little short. Gareth had a good finish making up a lot of time by taking a straight line into goal when the gaggle wandered off on final glide to inspect a cloud, coming in 19th for the day. Pete was 70th and I was 76th.

Gaggle 📷 by the amazing Xevi Bonet 🙌

As a side note, this week has got me reflecting once again on the significantly different styles of racing in a Cat 1 or PWC versus a Cat 2 event. There is much to like about each - the big event atmosphere, longer format and uber-competitive, super-gaggling, team-driven tactics of a Cat 1/PWC, alongside the smaller gaggle tactics and smaller stakes of a Cat 2 that allow for more individual expression and opportunity in a pilot’s approach to racing. Both making us better pilots in different ways. But the skills are not necessarily transferable - the Cat 1/PWC learning curve feels almost comparable to what you experience when you first start Cat 2s.. 🤷‍♀️😊

Worlds Task 5

The forecast today was for more wind - 15km/h NNE in the morning, increasing to 25km/h in the afternoon. With the standard strong climbs. And no clouds. A 103km task was set - zigging and zagging from north to south down the valley around 6 turn-points.

One of the things I enjoy most about racing paragliders is the way it focuses my mind in the moment - constantly reading conditions, anticipating and positioning yourself for gaggle moves, striving to optimise every climb and line and decision making. When you are in the groove the feeling is amazing. But a slip in focus can contribute to mistakes and at this level these are swiftly punished by the gaggle. 👀

Today I slipped up VERY early in the race. I was well positioned for the start, but as I passed through the gate on the edge of the gaggle I felt a strong climb just to my right and without really needing to, I took 2 turns in it… This put me higher, but BEHIND the gaggle. Behind is rarely good. And with the pace of racing today, this was all it took - 1 thermal later I fell off the back and found myself low at the next turn-point.

Gareth always says - if I can see the gaggle I can catch them. Today it took me 5 thermals, but I got there. And to be honest, I enjoyed every second - after 4 days of disciplined super-gaggling it felt so good to fly fast on my own lines for a little while.

I made contact again at the 4th turn-point, rejoining with Gareth and Fez who had been charging out front along with Pete and the leaders all day. Unfortunately it was short lived. We picked a bad line to the next turn-point and after coming in low on the next thermal, again dropped off the back. #facepalm

The final 2 turn-points saw us fly some amazing lines, with mini-convergences and booming climbs. But it wasn’t enough to vault ourselves back into position.

The lovely little town of Krushevo where we are staying is in the background. 📷 Philippe Broers 👌

The majority of the field was into goal in around 2.5 hours after 103km - pretty incredible stuff. Pete was top Aussie for the day in 49th, Fez was 74th, Gareth 75th and I was 80th.

Sadly today’s result will likely prove hard to come back from for our team score. This is disappointing for us. However, all is not lost and there is still everything to fight for in the individual scores. I think we can expect the hand-brake to come off for some Aussie team members in the next couple of tasks, so stay tuned - shit’s about to get exciting! 😉🇦🇺

Worlds Task 6

Today was a wonderful, memorable day at the Worlds - Czech pilot Petra Slívová won today’s task (just short of goal) in a 5 hour odyssey to the Greek border and back, beating the whole field. Petra is an absolute legend in our sport. This is her 10th Worlds competition and she has been Women’s World Champion several times. Worth noting that this year she also won a task at the PWC Superfinal in Brazil. So clearly on fire. Bravo Petra, it makes me really happy to see you kicking ass out there!!! 🙌

📷 Xevi Bonet 🙌

Unfortunately the majority of the rest of the field, including Team AUS, had a much more forgettable day. We finally got some more “technical”, tricky conditions for tasking - a SSE wind off the Mediterranean, blue day with a slightly lower cloudbase at 2500masl and a mixed bag of mostly rubbish thermals. The task set was 130km with a nice long head-windy leg to the Greek border first, then back by launch and finally out to goal in the middle of the valley.

For the first time today the task setting divided the super-gaggle into 2 groups, with one following the terrain on the western side of the valley and the other flying a line on the eastern side of the valley out in the flats. The run down terrain was increasingly wind affected into the first turn-point, making the run to the east in the flats the better, faster choice.

Team AUS can really only comment on the first half of the race, as we all took the western terrain line and decked it just before the turn-point along with about 90 other pilots. By this time the wind had kicked in strongly (30-35km/h), as well as more southerly than expected, making the leg hard work in the absence of regular strong climbs. Towards the end Fez and I skulked our way low into the flats for a last ditch effort to stay in the game. We picked up a bubble and drifted 6km backwards on course line before finally landing. It was a busy day for our legend team assistant Phil today, picking the team up from all over the valley in the 42’C heat.

So at the halfway mark in the comp, thanks to FTV today Gareth jumped up to 43rd overall, I’m in 68th (and 3rd in the Women’s), Pete is in 90th and Fez is in 116th.

Despite 6 straight days of full on racing this week the team are all feeling incredibly fresh. Tomorrow’s forecast looks promising and we are expecting another day of full throttle racing. The mandatory rest day is scheduled on Wednesday, to coincide with bad weather. And then we should finish with another 3 tasks over Thursday-Saturday. A huge schedule to go - but we are 100% ready for it.

Thank you everyone for all of your messages so far, it really helps the team knowing we have so much support back home. ♥️🇦🇺

Worlds Task 7

You know it’s going to be a good day when you’ve already had 6 good days in a row and the Meet Director opens the briefing on launch with - “today is going to be the best day of the week”…

Full throttle racing followed around a 98km task, in pretty much stellar conditions - a blue day, with cloud base over 3500masl over the mountains, stonking climbs and light winds. The task was around 3 turn-points, touring the mountains and then the flats.

📷 Guzilla Photography — with Gareth Carter.

Conditions were fully on by the start and we blasted off with speed-bars pulley-to-pulley. For pilots on lower-end gliders, the glide between thermals is time to relax a little - eat, drink, take photos, post them on social media etc. 😉 For competition pilots on high-end comp gliders the glide requires our full attention as we hammer along fully accelerated through weaker thermals that aren’t worth stopping for and turbulence. And at this level it is not uncommon to see pilots on glide in what is called “the coffin position” - all tucked in with no hands on the controls in an effort to reduce their drag profile as they maintain full-bar through the roughest of conditions. It’s a testament to pilot skills (and no doubt the collapse resistance of our gliders) that we don’t see more gliders blowing up in this scenario.

📷 Xevi Bonet

Today’s task saw us hammer a LOT of bar for the first 80km of the race and we blew through turn-points 1 and 2 at an absolute cracking pace. The classic conditions meant we often didn’t even bother to stop and turn in climbs, we simply slowed down a little to surf the lift and then kept right on going.

The most interesting part of today’s race was the last 20km before goal. After a 25km glide from 3500masl across the valley from turn-point 2 to turn-point 3, where we didn’t hear a single beep on the vario, we came in slightly lower. For the first time in the race the field separated into multiple gaggles. Gareth, Felipe, Pete and I had been together up the front all day. I came in slightly lower and had to pull on the hand-brake with quite a few other pilots to top up, but the other guys were all in relatively good position and charged on with the gaggle.

This week, almost daily, the gaggle have been playing the high risk game of “dive at the line incredibly low” - nearly flying themselves into the deck to hit end of speed (where the clock stops on their race), then relying on finding a climb to dig themselves out to make goal. Today for a lot of pilots the luck finally ran out and the 2km stretch between ESS and goal was a graveyard that claimed a lot people, including Pete from our team.

All in all a fantastic day out racing with 94 in goal, most in around 2.5 hours. Fez was top Aussie in 25th, Gareth was 36th, I was 40th and Pete 117th.

Aunty Jillian and Uncle Kel have arrived here and it was great to have them on launch and in goal today to cheer Team AUS on, along with Mum and Dad. I’m really grateful to have such an incredible support team. 🙌🇦🇺♥️

Rest day tomorrow!!! Phew!

Worlds Task 8

We arrived on launch to low cloudbase and some wind this morning. The forecast was for the sky to break up to give us sun on the ground from early afternoon, with NE wind to 2000masl (likely to be top of lift) and W winds aloft. The task committee set us a 65km task around 4 turn-points in the valley flats, with great route options for pilots.

My special Worlds jumper - made by my Aunty Jillian to match my glider colours! 🙌♥️🙏 #ronburgundy

The start was at 2pm and right on cue the clouds cleared up - the race was on! The crux from a decision making perspective was a set of concentric cylinders around 1 turn-point in the middle of the valley, requiring pilots to enter (400m radius), then exit (10km radius) and then re-enter (400m radius). The 10km exit leg could be in any direction you liked, with 80% of the field opting to go west and the remaining 20% opting to go east. Gareth and I went west, while Fez and Pete went east.

The edge of the 10km cylinder to the west was on top of a mountain, which we arrived halfway up (🤦‍♀️) and then had to soar our way up to tag. This cost us a little time, but we still arrived back at the middle turn-point at more or less the same time as the pilots who took the eastern route option.

By now the day was really working and we were on the hunt for a last climb to put us on final glide, with what promised to be a glorious tailwind. Gareth took a line slightly to the east and got a jump with a better climb and a good glide into goal.

My trip into end of speed section (ESS) and goal on the other hand had our team on the ground gripped with nervous anxiety. I went on final from 8km out with 10:1 glide and about halfway there realised I would make ESS, but would then need to climb again to make goal. I tucked in and committed to ESS, crossing it ~100m above ground level. Then the desperate race was on to find a bubble to get the last 2km into goal and I found it - a scrap of lift which bumped me up less than 100m before it petered out.

Goal was still touch and go. With my instrument still telling me I was going to land short, I tucked in again and committed to the glide, very relieved to finally make it with just enough height to turn into wind and touch down. The attached vid from Phil on the ground in goal shows my arrival.

Final glide!

Posted by Kari Ellis on Thursday, August 15, 2019

108 pilots in goal for the day. A further 13 landed in between ESS and goal, including Fez unfortunately. Gareth was top Aussie in 32nd, I was 51st, Pete was 101st and Fez was 119th.

Just 2 days to go - and forecast is promising great racing conditions for both. Time to finish strong!!!! Let’s go Team AUS!!!!!! 🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺

My track to the west and Pete’s track to the east.

Worlds Task 9

After another cloudy start this morning in Krushevo, we were treated to another near perfect racing day today - 2-4m/s climbs, cloud base +2500masl and a northerly wind swinging west aloft up to 15km/h. The task committee set a 101km cross-downwind zig-zag task going north to south down the valley and we made very fast work of it, with the top pilot finishing in an incredible 2:19:37.

We are very much at the business end of the competition now and you can feel the passion and intensity in pilots on launch and out on course. It makes for an interesting push-pull dynamic when you have a percentage of the field out of the running in the overalls with nothing to lose, flying “balls to the wall” in pursuit of day wins, while the rest are flying a more circumspect race trying to balance offence and defence, in order to either maintain or improve their position in the overalls.

📷 Xevi Bonet 🙌

Today “balls to the wall” won and won in style. Italian pilot, Marco Busetta, had a dream run linking up with a long line of convergence, which put him into end of speed and goal an unbelievable 13 minutes before the next pilot. It was a high risk, high reward strategy and it paid off big time, most significantly vaulting Italy above France into the coveted gold medal position in the team championship. If Italy win the team championship tomorrow a national holiday will probably be declared in Busetta’s honour. Busetta’s 1000-point day win also absolutely stuffed the rest of the field’s score for the day - the next best pilot scored 880, making the day an instant discard for virtually everyone.

We had all Aussies in goal and a decent day all around, although sadly without the assistance of any convergence. I was top in 50th, Gareth was 66th, Pete was 78th and Fez was 84th.

Tomorrow is the 10th and final task and the forecast looks absolutely stellar for it. The top teams - Italy, France, Japan, Slovenia, Spain etc - have everything to play for and I am intrigued to see how it will play out. France in particular are guaranteed to throw everything at Italy - the race tactics should be really something to watch.

Team AUS has a goal to finish our Worlds campaign strong. Whatever happens, it’s been a tremendous honour for me to race with the team for the last 2 weeks in what has been an absolutely epic World Championships. I have enjoyed every moment and tomorrow will be no different. One last time - let’s GO!!!!

Thanks to everyone for the continued messages of support and love from back home in the last 2 weeks. In a long comp like this one it really does make a huge difference to the team. 🇦🇺♥️

Worlds Task 10

The final task of the 16th Paragliding World Championships! With the scores so compressed thanks to the current super-gaggle racing style, there were many pilots with all to play for on the last day. The French and Italians fighting it out for the Team Championships and the top 10 pilots all with a likely chance of winning the overall, incredibly all from different countries.

Krushevo turned on another day of spectacular racing conditions for us - 15-20km/h of northerly wind swinging northwest in the afternoon, +3000masl cloud base and +4m/s climbs. In light of the wind, the task committee set a fast 96km task - another north to south zig-zag that we finished in just over 2.5hours.

My goal for the Worlds was top 50 and podium in the Women’s Championship. With the quality of the field here, both goals were going to be a huge challenge. By task 7, I had climbed the leaderboard into the mid 60’s overall and 3rd in the Women’s.

At that point we took stock of team and individual results and decided I would focus on the Women’s podium. This saw me change up my race strategy significantly. With the goal of maintaining/improving my podium position, each day we would calculate who I needed to beat into goal each day by how much and which pilots I needed to mark to do so. This strategy requires a high level of discipline in the air to execute - which does not come easily to me. You are no longer racing the field, you are only racing a couple of pilots - and this needs to be your priority above all else for the full tasks. My job was made a easier by the great support from the team in the air, who were relaying information to me throughout these tasks on the positions of each pilot I was monitoring or marking, which helped inform decisions, in particular how much risk I could/needed to take.

📷 Elena Filonova

I launched for the last task knowing exactly what I needed to do - just one pilot left to mark. Despite a few nervous moments with a very low save halfway around and subsequently 30minutes spent catching back up with the gaggle, I executed and got the job done. 🙏🥉

Fez had a fantastic final race and was top Aussie coming in 6th for the day, Gareth was 57th, I was 72nd and Pete was 112th after landing just short.

📷 Xevi Bonet 🙌

The final results are out and incredibly after 10 epic tasks, France and Italy are tied for 1st place in the Team Championship!!! 🥇 Italian pilot Joachim Oberhauser, who led the comp for the last 3 tasks, is the new World Champion. And French pilot Meryl Delferriere is the Women’s World Champion. 🙌

Gareth is our top Aussie in 41st, I came in 65th and 3rd in the Women’s, Fez is 97th and Pete 102nd.

In the Team Championship, Team AUS fought back in the second week and came in 20th. This is well below where we were aiming and I’m anticipating there will be some serious analysis and soul searching in the next few weeks/months in the Aussie squad, to understand this result and work out “where to from here”.

But for now - we will enjoy the moment and the closing ceremony today!!!

Thank you to the organisation for an epic competition. Thank you to Dave and Phil, who did an amazing job supporting our team. Thank you to my Mum and Dad and Aunty Jilly and Uncle Kel - your love and support here have kept me going the whole comp. ♥️ Thank you to everyone back home who cheered us on. And thank you to SAFA for your support.

It’s been an honour and a privilege to represent Australia here. I will be back for the 2021 Worlds in Annecy for sure!!! 🇦🇺