NOVA X-Alps Athlete Portrait
Richard Binstead (AUS)
What does paragliding mean to you?
Paragliding is so cool. I can’t think of anything else that matches it. Walking up to a launch with an aircraft in a backpack, laying it out, then going flying for hours… this still blows my mind. Every flight is different and I am learning constantly. As we know, it is a lifetime sport which takes many years to master. Flying well is a game of halves. It is half technical and half mental. If you are deficient in either of these areas you are not going to fly to your potential. To me, this is what is so intriguing about the sport. One day you can rock and the next day you can be a rock.
Please tell us how you developed as a paraglider pilot – from the beginning until today?
I was licensed in Nepal in 2012. Since then, adventure flying has been my main focus. As a junior pilot, I spent every weekend driving around Central Australia looking for new launches and throwing myself off a few mountains (hills). I was the only paragliding pilot in town and it was my dream to be the first to fly over the ranges there. I made it my mission to fly as much as I could and learn as quickly as possible so I could do this safely. I, therefore, travelled back to Nepal and spent a few months in the house thermal there learning how to turn circles.
After an SIV, when I had around 100 hours, I went to Bir (Indian Himalayas) with my vol biv gear. I was lucky enough to bump into a very experienced vol biv pilot, NOVA team pilot, mountaineer and multi-adventurer, Bryan Moore (from NZ). He trusted my abilities and took me on my first vol biv adventure. Looking back on this, it was a pivotal moment in my flying progression. After my return, I was lucky to have furthered my skills to the point where I could safely fly solo missions in remote Central Australia. Since then I have continued to progress. I consider myself a well-rounded, safe pilot with experience in the flats and smaller mountains of Australia and the bigger, more technical mountains of New Zealand, the European Alps, the Himalayas, and the Pyrenees. I have been competing for the last six years in XC paragliding competition and have been a member of the Australian paragliding squad for the last five years. I was the second Australian to compete in the X-Pyr.
When did you first think: I want to take part in the X-Alps?
A week after competing in the X-Pyr 2022. Throughout the X-Pyr, I was suffering from Covid. Luckily, the organisers said I could keep going if I wanted to. A week later I thought “if I can do this with Covid, imagine what I could achieve without it”. Then I applied and to my surprise, I got in!
Why do you think you were selected as a participant?
I like to think it is because of my amazing flying skills, everlasting endurance feats, incredibly good looks, and social media pull. But I think I would be kidding myself. I must have written a convincing application ;) Seriously, I am not quite sure why I was chosen as I am nearly an old man. Maybe it is because I am an Aussie and they wanted and needed an Aussie.
What is your goal at the X-Alps?
My main goal is to have fun and make good memories for Team AUS. I would like to promote paragliding in general as well as hike & fly comps in Australia and New Zealand and inspire others to take on the challenge.
Please tell us about your preparations. What exactly do you do?
The preparation has been really full-on. I had expected it to be busy because it is similar to the X-Pyr prep, but on steroids. It would be too easy if it was just exercising and flying right? After the initial announcement, I let myself be excited for a few days, but then the work started. Finding a team was the first task. This wasn’t a quick task. Then… finding a training plan, thinking about nutrition, working, finding a wing and harness (thanks NOVA), exercising, route planning, more exercising, breaking a body part, looking for sponsors, route planning, working, seeing a physio about the broken body part, flying training, fixing the body part, exercising, planning, then more planning… rinse and repeat. The list seems endless – but somehow, I am enjoying every minute.
How many hours a week do you put into the different tasks?
I haven’t logged my hours, it is a good idea though. Usually, there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything!!! Per week I would say it is
- 5 hours general organization
- 5 hours route planning at home
- 15-20 hours physical training
- 5 hours flying preparations
- Now I am in Austria and I will spend most of my time for the route scouting.
How do you rate yourself as a pilot, athlete, tactician and concerning your mental strength?
This is tricky. I have spent most of my time flying and training in Australia, India, and New Zealand. It will be super interesting to see how I compare on an international level.
- As a pilot? I am not really sure about this. If anything, I find that previously I have struggled picking lifty lines. I have been actively training this for the last two years and I feel I am improving every time I fly.
- As an endurance athlete and alpinist maybe 7/10. I have been fit all my life and previously strength has been a strong point. I have been actively training endurance for the last few years and I feel I am improving. I don’t have heaps of experience as an Alpinist but I am a very keen traditional rock climber, putting up new ascents in the Indian Himalayas, Australia, and New Zealand.
- As tactician … hmmm, I’ll will leave that up to the team.
- Mentally I am pretty strong, maybe 8/10.
What are your weak points?
Apart from my age, which I can’t do anything about, I would say my biggest weak point is probably my need for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I say sleep deprivation will be the most difficult thing for me. My other weak point is having grown up on the flattest continents on earth.
Please tell us about your support team? Who belongs to it? Who does what?
Team AUS is comprised of three supporters.
Nicola – Logistical support. Responsible for logistics and communication, providing up-to-date information on race strategy, potential flight paths, weather, nearby launches, hiking trails, etc. She is also the team's medical support/Osteopath.
Shane & David – Ground & air support. They will assist me at any stage of the race; be my personal sherpa carrying any non-mandatory gear, driving the campervan, cooking meals, flight strategy – whatever is needed to keep the team moving.
NOVA – I mustn’t forget NOVA. The NOVA staff as well as the NOVA Pilots Team has been and is a massive support. We plan to have experienced keen team pilots available during the race for route advice.
How well do you know each other?
I have known Shane for around six years. We have paraglided together quite a lot and have gone on a few adventures together. I met Nikki for the first time 6 years ago but I only really got to know her last year. Nikki helped us in the X-Pyr last year. I met David last year in France. Shane has just met David and Nikki and I am sure we will all get along.
How important do you think experience is?
Athletes who have extensive experience flying and hiking the Alps will probably have quite a sizeable advantage. I say probably because sometimes you find local pilots will take the same lines because that’s how it is always done and they don’t open their eyes to alternatives. This is where non-locals like myself can have an advantage. In saying this, we will be as prepared as we can.
How important do you think equipment is?
Being comfortable with your equipment is paramount in this game. It is one of the main reasons I love NOVA. They sent me a wing, harness, and pack (across the other side of the world) well in advance so I could be current on the gear. Thanks guys!
What are you most looking forward to? What are you afraid of?
I am most looking forward to seeing a very good flying forecast the day before the start. I am afraid of seeing a very unfavourable flying forecast a day before the start. Seriously, I am looking forward to flying and walking through the European Alps. What a privilege it is to have the skills and experience to have an adventure like this. We are very lucky people.
I am most afraid of being eliminated. It is a cruel rule, like in a video game.
On the subject of risk management, how do you deal with wanting to do as well as possible at the X-Alps and yet not putting yourself in excessive danger?
There is a mantra I use: ‘Life is short but it ain’t that short.’ I know a few past X-Alps athletes and most of them said they wished they hadn’t taken it so seriously. It is easy to get sucked into the X-Alps cyclone and think you have to take unnecessary risk because of ego or sponsorship or paragliding fame. It is important that Team AUS evaluate the risk versus reward with any situation deemed sketchy.
Red Bull puts a lot of emphasis on the athletes' social media activities. Isn't that pretty stressful?
I try not to make it stressful. I have been pretty slack with providing them content so I can’t complain too much about it.
Let's talk about money: How much do you think it will cost you to participate in the X-Alps? How do you get the money together?
The X-Alps is very costly. I am guessing, all up (including lost earnings), it will cost between 30,000 to 40,000 Euro. This has been one of the most challenging aspects of the planning. Here in Australia, we don’t get any Government support and very little support from our paragliding association. Working and seeking out sponsorship takes time away from training. I have been working multiple jobs to help fund the event but I will have to redraw funds from my home mortgage, and telling myself this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
We also have also set up a gofundme. I am very grateful for any support. NOVA have been fantastic in providing me with the paragliding gear for the event. Thanks so much!
About sponsors: Is it difficult for you to find sponsors?
Yes, it has been very difficult. Finding sponsors for the wing has been near on impossible. It is such a niche sport here in Australia and most people don’t understand it. Till (NOVA public relations, Facebook and pilots team captain) said that in his 30 years in the industry he has never found it so difficult to source sponsors. I guess it is the global financial climate we are experiencing at the moment. It is a real shame as I feel it is a great opportunity for some businesses. At least we now have Montane as a clothing sponsor - thank you also to England.
Are you in contact with other participants?
I have been in regular contact with James Elliott from Canada. We met before last year’s X-Pyr 2022. I am looking forward to catching up with him and his team. I was recently flying with Max Loidl at turnpoint Achental. At NOVA headquarters I met Junming Song from China, who is also flying with NOVA equipment.
Anything else you want to tell us?
I would like to thank the NOVA team for their support. You are all the best.