It starts with the sound of the winch reeling you in. Then, like you are being fired from a gun, you jolt forward and hurtle down the grassy runway before soaring into the air at a crazy angle. With a dull thud the metal cord pulling you into the sky detaches and, as though you are going over an impossibly angled hump back bridge, the feather light craft levels out and, slowly, the adrenaline subsides. This is the crazy, mystifying and exhilarating experience of gliding.
It’s an experience provided to a sports writer more comfortable with notepad in hand and solidly on terra firma by the University of York gliding club and one that is pleasingly surprising in so many ways.
Firstly the alienating exclusivity that hampers so many minority sports is totally absent from the student society, and its public parent organisation The Wolds Gliding Club, located a short hop away from campus in the leafy suburb of Pocklington.
Having increased their membership from 21 members at the beginning of last year to 91 this year the club, headed by President Mike D’Cruze, is clearly intent on maximising their inclusivity.
“When you get to know the people here they are so friendly” says D’Cruze of the numerous students and non-students who use the club “You have to experience it to understand it. You become friends by all chipping in. People group together to make things work”.
“When you get to know people here they are so friendly. You have to experience it to understand it. You become friends by all chipping in. People group together to make things work”
The sense of community runs through the very core of the sport. On a basic level it is impossible to go gliding on your own – at least four people are required to launch one of the sleek gliders used by the club.
More than that though, the gliding club are a compelling example of a profoundly welcoming, self-sustaining club.
Things for the club are improving rapidly. Having moved from their base at Rufforth Airfield to the more well provisioned Pocklington two years ago, which is now complete with a clubhouse that had a £300,000 refurbishment in 2006, the University club have secured increased subsidies and cheaper prices to entice new members. Membership is now down to ten pounds and this includes two free flights, the first and the tenth, as well as a flat rate of five pounds for winch hire per flight and a low price of 31 pence per minute after the process of
D’Cruze is the progressive force behind these changes that are making his club financially more accessible. The change in regime at York Sport has also helped widen the club’s horizons, and D’Cruze is bullish about the support they were given: “Sam Asfahani has been considerably more helpful than Emily Scott. He helped out so much with props for fresher’s week. We were able to get our simulator into the event which was instrumental in getting new members in.”
The exposure of the sport has been half the battle. The allure of gliding is distinct and nowhere near as prohibitively expensive as one would anticipate. Coupled with the fact that this exhilarating and easy to get involved with form of aviation provides speeds of up to 60 knots and, if the thermals are kind, pilots can reach heights of 3,000 feet at least.
The Difficulty of Minority Sport:
“The growing success of the club is heartening, especially when clubs from bigger universities such as Leeds are plagued by the threat of extinction”
Safety too is paramount. D’Cruze says that the airfield utilised by his society has “an impeccable safety record and they are keen to keep it that way”. There is a strict curriculum for instructors and learners go through a rigorous process on their way to achieving solo pilot status.
D’Cruze had 84 flights under his belt before going solo and even now the safeguards in place at the airfield are stringent. Due to high winds on the day we we are at the airfield, Chief Flying instructor John Norman makes the judgement call that less experienced solo pilots should have a more senior instructor with them. Luckily for me there was never any question that someone way more qualified would be sitting with their hands on the controls.
Dave Holborn accompanies me on the set of three flights that I undertake and is a cajoling, encouraging presence. On our first flight I barely want to open my eyes let alone take the controls but Holborn’s sheer affability and enthusiasm make it possible. He’s a natural teacher; highly competent, patient and funny: qualities that are all essential with me at the controls of an aircraft in the windy skies above North Yorkshire.
The growing success of the club is heartening, especially when clubs from bigger Universities such as Leeds are plagued by the threat of extinction. They too use the Pocklington airfield and are lucky enough to own their glider but simply don’t have enough members to sustain their running costs.
York are combating the issues that dog Leeds and could so easily trouble them with fierce commitment and acumen.
Rather than being content with a relative security that can easily lead to stagnation if left unchecked the club and its members are always progressing. The gliding club is a forward thinking organisation that typifies the best in attitudes towards the way sports clubs are run.
The Nouse Sport gliding pass notes
Germany, the sport’s birthplace, is still a centre of the gliding world: around 30% of the world’s 116,000 active glider pilots reside there
Hans-Werner Grosse has held 46 approved gliding world records. His free distance journey of 1,460.80 km from of Lübeck to Biarritz was set in 1972 and remained unbroken for 30 years, until his compatriot Klaus Ohlman’s flight of 2,247.6 km in Argentina in 2003
By the same token it undermines perceptions that sports clubs are self-contained fiefdoms that perpetuate a comfortable system of unchangeable cliques.
The manner in which they are trying to spread the word about the sport they love is heartening Thanks to the facilities and dedication of gliders in the area it is in rude health
“There is still a good amount of feeding through of members and instructors from promotional activities such as the voucher flights” says Mike D’Cruze “Wolds Gliding club and gliding in general isn’t completely dependent on the younger generations for future survival – although it is certainly encouraged.”
Minority sports clubs can often fall on difficult times but with custodians as conscientious as Mike D’Cruze and his team The University of York Gliding club are unlikely to be one of them.