Nicola Scaife has become the first ever Women’s World Hot Air Ballooning Champion after a week of competition flying in Leszno, Poland. The event took place from the 9th-14th September and attracted 38 Pilots from 16 countries worldwide.
Nicola, 29, lives in the Hunter Valley, NSW with her husband Matthew and their 14-month-old son Hugo. As well as competing, she fulfils her love of flying in her job as a pilot for the balloon flight company Balloon Aloft Australia, Matthew’s family business.
A hot air balloon competition requires competitors to score points by undertaking a number of set tasks, which are predetermined by an Event Director before a flight. This generally involves the pilot throwing a ‘marker’, a weighted streamer, at a target, usually a cross or road intersection with set coordinates. To get there the pilot needs to manoeuvre the balloon by using wind currents at various altitudes. Flying takes place in the morning and evening and the eventual winner is the pilot who has accumulated the most number of points over the week of flying.
Scaife started the competition by winning the first flight and maintained her lead for the duration of the event. She was declared the winner on Saturday morning after thick fog meant the final flight was cancelled after a prolonged weather hold.
“It is an amazing feeling to be named the best female balloon pilot in the world! I believed that I had the ability to win the championships but I didn't expect to be leading from the first flight. It is a difficult position to maintain as there is a lot of pressure with the other pilots all wanting to take that top spot”
While the first ballooning world championships took place 41 years ago, this was the first women’s world championship. While men were able to be part of a team on the ground, only females were allowed in the balloon basket.
“Ballooning is a male dominated sport. At competitions it is usually the women who are looking after children or supporting their husbands and last week it was brilliant to see the roles reversed and some amazing female talent in the skies. To have a world championship for women is a fantastic thing for us and the international ballooning community”.
Matthew, Hugo and another balloonist friend supported Nicola at the event “It is not just about the pilot, it really is a whole team sport. The people on the ground who are helping with wind information and the logistics of each flight are so important. My team was focused and absolutely amazing”.
As winner of the women’s event, Scaife earned an automatic entry to the next open world championships that will take place in Saga, Japan 2016. Scaife’s husband Matthew won the Australian hot air balloon championships earlier this year and has already secured his place for Saga, 2016. “2016 is going to be a busy year for our family. I will of course be wanting to defend my title at the 2nd Women’s World Championships in Lithuania and then I will be working towards a great result at the Saga World Championships where I will be competing against over 100 of the best male pilots from around the globe, Matthew included!” It is expected that the Saga event will draw hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The future is looking bright for Scaife who has only recently begun her competition ballooning career.
“The most exciting thing is that the world championship was only my 4th ever ballooning competition. I spoke to one pilot who told me that it was her 9th competition for the season! I still have so much to learn and a lot of improving to do and I think that can only be a good thing for my future in competition ballooning”