Every two years since 1976, the best of us battle for the title of World Champion of Hang Gliding. Now as we approach the 14th World Championship in Brazil, there has only been one pilot who has competed in each of the previous thirteen competitions. Other hang gliding greats such as Joseph Guggenmos and Gerard Thevenot have competed at many of the championships – but only one person has competed at all thirteen.
At the age of 50, Steve Moyes has once again been selected for the Australian team to attend the 14th World Championship in Brazil. It's not just a matter of attending each of the Championships, you have to first be selected to represent your country, and Steve has always been selected.
Steve started hang gliding at the age of thirteen in 1966 under the instruction of his father - Bill Moyes. That's a total of 37 years of hang gliding. Bill, who is the forefather of Hang Gliding, pioneered the sport by towing "kites" up behind motor boats and dune buggies. If it was good enough for Bill, it was good enough for Steve.
The first flight was at Botany Bay in Sydney where 150 feet of rope was tied to a kite with floats, and the other end was anchored onto the Moyes family ski boat. The only instruction that Bill provided was "hold on..." and "... don't let go of the bar", an instruction technique that Bill still uses!
The boat pulls the kite out the water and into the air until the kite reached as high as it could, Steve then pulls the release and plummets back to earth. Now you'll notice a few key terms here such as "kite" rather than "glider", and "plummets" rather than "glides". At this point in time the kites had a plummet ratio rather than a glide ratio. Steve vividly remembers how quickly you were returned to the earth's surface once the tow line was released.
Now the father of his own three children, the circle has turned. The three kids, one girl and two boys, are aged from sixteen to twelve, and all are keen to follow in Dad's footsteps. The elder two have already had tandems, but Steve is waiting until they are a little older before they are launched into the air on their own.
In 1967, Bill started manufacturing kites as a commercial interest and Moyes Delta Gliders was born.
Steve continued to get towed up behind various boats until the age of eighteen, at which stage he foot launched off Stanwell Park (a 700 foot hill south of Sydney) for the first time. Steve can remember launching off the Apple Pie Shop, an easterly site, in 20mph winds. This was just enough wind to keep the kite airborne.
At this time the pilots were flying in an upright position, seated on a wooden panel suspended from the keel. There was also a safety strap which was positioned under the arms of the pilot in the event they missed the seat. Missing the seat wasn't uncommon as it was difficult to time the transition at launch. Steve talks about missing the seat and controlling the kite whilst suspended from the safety strap. This was difficult and uncomfortable, as the safety strap was lifting his arms during the flight. Steve describes one of his most memorable flying experiences as the flight after Bill had invented the first prone harness – he never thought flying could be so comfortable.
At the age of 23, Steve competed in the first World Championships at Kossen (Austria) in 1976. He flew the Moyes Maxi and placed 3rd overall. The 1976 World Championships was the official championship but the unofficial championship was held in 1975. The organisers decided to hold the championships in 1975 but didn't expect the response they got - about 300 pilots turned up. The following year teams from the various countries entered the championship, following a selection process, and about 150 pilots competed.
In Austria, Hang Gliding was a winter sport and most of the Europeans launched and landed using snow skis. Towards the end of the week long competition, the snow in the landing area turned to mud and many of the "Ski Pilots" came to a dirty end. The Australian pilots, as well as pilots from other countries, foot launched and landed.
There was an Austrian gentleman whom acted as the launch Marshall. He ensured that there was sufficient room between each of the competitors. He was soon called "Start Fry" as his English was minimal, and when it was time for the next pilot to launch, he would point his finger off the hill and say start fry.
The pilots competed for duration and spot landing from the 1800 foot high launch. The pilots had no instruments and thermalling had not been discovered yet. The gliders were descending at about 1000 ft/min, therefore the "tasks" were short.
Steve flew a 16x19 in 1975 for third place overall. Most of the gliders were 18x18, which meant that the keel was eighteen feet long and the leading edge was eighteen feet long. Steve's radical new glider had a sixteen foot keel and an eighteen foot leading edge. The Moyes Maxi that Steve flew in 1976 was significantly different.
Since the first worlds, Steve has competed at all twelve subsequent world championships, winning one and placing in the top ten at six of the events. His favourite World Championships were Kossen (Austria) in 1985 and Mount Buffalo (Australia) in 1987. At both these events, good weather produced some great flying.
In addition to the first prone harness flight from Stanwell Park, Steve considers the trip to Mount Kilimanjaro one of the most memorable flying moments. In 1981, Bill and Steve embarked on a journey to Mount Kilimanjaro in South Africa. After their second successful climb to the summit, they were able to launch from the 19,000 foot high mountain and enjoy the forty minute flight.
One of the most amazing things about Steve is his eagerness to fly. Even after 37 years of Hang Gliding, Steve's passion for flying is only surpassed by his love for his family. As soon as the topic of discussion turns to Hang Gliding, you can see his eyes widen, the eyebrows raise and grin appear.
On the last day of competition at the Canungra Classic 2002, Steve finished second on the day behind Jon Durand Jnr. The task for the day was reasonably difficult due to a strong head wind on the final leg, only a few people made it to goal. After about three hours of flying, Steve came in on a fast final glide, he let the bar out as he flew over the goal line, encountered some lift and started turning. He disappeared downwind as he continued to climb with the thermal.
The remaining pilots came into goal thinking they were one position better than they actually were. When these pilots asked where the missing glider was, we just pointed in the air and said "Up there." Steve flew a little triangle and landed back at the goal paddock fifty minutes later.
|2nd||1979||France||5th||Maxi Mach 3|