This post gives some basic, hopefully helpful information for pilots who are just starting to, or interested in, flying competitions. I'll cover the different levels of competition (local, USHPA, FAI, and PWC), USA national team selection, PWC letters, FAI sporting licenses, and more.
Before diving in, I want to encourage any pilot who has started to fly cross country to give competitions a try. Many pilots have said they are intimidated by the idea, but don't be! Competition in the USA are very friendly, and there will be lots of people willing to help you get started. If you want, think of it as a week of flying cross country with a bunch of friends and with retrieve all taken care of. Fly to have fun, improve your skills, see new sites, and make new friends. The "racing" part is optional.
The most basic kind of competition is a local league or other "for fun" competition. The Norther California XC league is an example of this. These aren't USHPA or FAI sanctioned, and anyone can put one of these on. If there is one in your area, respond to this post with a comment and I'll assemble a list and put it here.
Next is the USHPA sanctioned competition. These have been reviewed and approved by the USHPA competition committee and Board of Directors to make sure we feel that the organizer's team is experienced and able to put on a high quality, fair competition. These competitions are governed by the USHPA Race to Goal rulebook, and generate NTSS (National Team Selection System) points. Think of NTSS points as the USA's pilot ranking system. It is also used to select pilots for Category 1 FAI events (more on this later). This page on the USHPA website has links to the calendar of comps, the rulebooks, and the NTSS results. USHPA sanctioned competitions are also FAI Category 2 sanctioned (more on this later).
There are 2 levels of USHPA competition: Regionals and Nationals. The only difference is that competitions labeled as "Nationals" go towards determining the National Champion for the year. Both generate NTSS and CIVL WPRS points. The USA National Champions are determined by a pilots two best results among the "Nationals" level competitions they flew that year.
Next are FAI competitions. As mentioned above, USHPA sanctioned competitions are also FAI Cat 2 competitions, but there are FAI Cat 2 competitions around the world as well. A FAI sanctioned competition generates WPRS (World Pilot Ranking System) points. In order to fly in FAI Cat 2 competitions and collect WPRS points, you need to have an FAI Sporting License. USA pilots can get one of those here. Any pilot flying competitions in the USA should have one. Not only does it allow you to collect WPRS points, but it supports the entire competition scene here and in the rest of the world. Just like your USHPA license, your FAI Sporting license needs to be renewed annually.
The vast majority of FAI competitions are Category 2. Anyone can enter a Cat 2 competition, subject to whatever the organizer/country's selection rules are. There are also Category 1 competitions, which include the FAI World Championship, the European Championship, the Pan-American Championship, and the Asian Championship. These are held every two years, and pilots are selected by their national organization, which in our case is USHPA. USHPA bases selection on the NTSS ranking.
Finally, but only for paragliding, there are PWC events. These are organized and run by the Paragliding World Cup Association. While some FAI Cat 2 competitions can have a very high level of quality pilots, the structure of the PWC system pretty much guarantees that each PWC event has many of the world's top pilots, and these events extremely well run. You have to qualify to be able to participate in a PWC event by earning PWC letters. Each country's National Championship (which for the USA and many other countries is a series) generate letters, as does their national league (which for the USA is the NTSS ranking). There are also pre-PWC events that anyone can enter. These also generate PWC letters based on your result, and are generally the way that pilots first qualify for the PWC events. For example, if you were to place 5th in a pre-PWC event you might get a "B" letter as a result. You can then sign-up for selection in a PWC competition with that letter. Pilots with an "A" are selected first, then "B", and so on. For more information on the Paragliding World Cup, go here, or you can comment below or contact me directly.
I'm on the Board of Directors, as well as the Treasurer and the Competition Chair for USHPA. This blog is to provide updates and solicit feedback from members, particularly related to competitions and finances, but feel free to ping me about any topic.