As it turned out, the 2018 competitions would be even more exciting than expected: a group of young flyers entered, under the team name Wey Aye Quad (Josh Mitcheson, Daniel Hoath, Ben Taylor, Jeremy Wharton), resulting in at least one entry for all six traditional disciplines (plus, as it turned out, for freestyle).
On to multi-line pair, where there was one entry: Wey Aye Quad, consisting of Josh and Ben at Dunstable, and Josh and Dan at Druridge Bay. As the sole entry, of course they took the multi-line pairs title.
Wey Aye Quad was also the only multi-line team entering, so the title was theirs. But they didn't just show up and win. They put down a fantastic performance with a ballet score of 79.8 on Saturday at Dunstable; this team can go really far!
And then the dual-line disciplines, where, as I indicated already, all three titles were up for grabs following Tony Shiggins' retirement from competitive flying which also meant that Phoenix and Flame were not able to defend their titles.
But first, there were two entries into the freestyle competition: Josh and Ian Perks, making his debut at national competition. Ian snatched the title, though it was close.
In the individual dual-line discipline, there were entries from Josh, Keith, Dan, and Fran Burstall. Fran grabbed the title; his first in an individual discipline, following many with Phoenix and Flame.
In dual-line pairs, there were three entries: Flying Fish, Wey Aye (Josh and Ben at Dunstable; Josh and Dan at Druridge Bay) and Pallas Family Flyers (at Druridge Bay only). Technically, there was a fourth entry at Druridge Bay: Keith and Fran, under the name Ex-Phoenix, flew one round of figures, just for fun. And there were actually five dual-line pairs appearing in the arena .... Twisted Bridle had their arena debut at the Dunstable leg, flying their routine as a non-scored demo. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! But they coped well, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if they would enter competition before long ...
As the runners-up of the last four years, Flying Fish were the favourites to win prior to the competition. But that didn't mean we would just get the title handed over to us, far from it ..... Our figures and technical routines were a bit of a mixed bag, at both legs. And when it came to our ballets, we were really on a roller-coaster ....
At the start of our first ballet at Dunstable, Irma caught a tip wrap during an axel, which means her kite came down and had to be rescued by the ground crew ... not the best of starts! Second ballet at Dunstable, we didn't take any risks, just to get a halfway decent score in. But the erratic winds that day meant the score wasn't anywhere near decent .... So all to do still at Druridge Bay .... On Saturday, about two thirds into our ballet, the music 'jumped' several times, and that really threw us out of sync with the music. Fortunately, we were offered a refly, which we accepted, and we nailed it then: best score ever for our ballet, with one judge even scoring us at 70! During the Sunday ballet we had to cope with a rapidly-increasing wind, which forced us to make a snap decision not to take the risk of flying axels in the power zone. Actually, the strong wind may actually have benefited us, as the corners were pretty sharp and snappy due to that.
After a nerve-wrackingly drawn-out announcement of the results on Sunday afternoon (thanks, Barry!), it became clear: WE DID IT!!!! We were the 2018 UK National Champions in dual-line pairs! Four years after entering competition for the first time; a sweet reward for all the hours that went into practice since that debut.
One discipline still to report on: dual-line teams. At Dunstable, there was only one entry: Wey Aye .
And that prompted some discussion about not letting them just walk away with the title and giving them some competition. In other words, making sure that if they won the title, they would have had to work for it. That discussion resulted in a scratch team consisting of Fran and Flying Fish: 'Flame-grilled Fish' entered competition at Druridge Bay. And a proper scratch team it was: we had no opportunity to practice together, and could only discuss common language, figures and possible moves over dinner on Friday, and do a bit of sticking on Saturday (notice the kite sticks?).
Obviously, we made mistakes, never having flown together in a competition arena, but we also pulled off a range of moves, including weave, fountain, and jitterbug with half axels, all of which hadn't been flown before by at least one member of the team. Against that was a fantastic four-kite refuel flown by Wey Aye!
It turns out that, despite that impressive refuel, we did just enough to grab the title! So double gold for Irma and me, double gold for Fran, and between us three, we bagged all three dual-line titles. And in case you're wondering why there is no picture of us with the dual-line team trophy, that's because said trophy was still in possession of Flame, and still needed an update on the engraving front ...
I readily admit that I felt much more pressure this year, being the 'pair to beat', than in previous years. But that also meant that success was that much sweeter in the end. And the dual-line team title provided that extra delicious icing on the cake.
Some more pictures are here (for the Dunstable rounds) and here (for the Druridge Bay rounds). Full results are available on the STACK web-site.
Picture credit of us sticking and flying: Andy Taylor and Peter Heayns