Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Have you ever wondered what it is like to take part in a competition? Part 2 continues our journey with more great personal stories and experiences from WBC 2014

Competitions are a quintessential element of any balloon convention, the opportunity to see balloon artistry at it's very best! 
For delegates & Instructors attending, the public visiting and those who see the photographs posted on Facebook and in Balloon Images magazine, we are in awe of what we see! Balloons that come to life and take on the form of an amazing sculpture, beautiful dresses and hats, inspiring centrepieces and deliveries and columns unlike you have ever seen before, there is no end to the creativity and exciting techniques demonstrated.

For those who enter the competitions, they have had months of planning and preparation and in many cases they have also worked hard to secure a team of willing balloon artists who's help is invaluable to assist the designer/s to build their vision!

Mike & Sara Harris have very kindly shared their WBC 2014 competition journey...

Sara & Mike Harris
At WBC 2014 we entered the Large Sculpture Competition and the Balloon Column Competition.

We were persuaded (or rather Mike was!) by Michelle Comerford from Pioneer Europe during an alcohol infused conversation at BACI 2013!!  I was then informed on his return what ‘we’ had agreed to do!!

As the theme for the large sculpture was open, we wanted to do something typically British.  Mike originally wanted to a rotating carousel but I disagreed with this because horses can look hippos and I didn’t want that!  We were in the shop one day and I had a vision but was scared to tell him incase he laughed at me.  So I waited until the shop was full one day and, knowing that he would not laugh or shout at me in front of customers, I said I wanted to do the Red Arrows!!  It worked!  He didn’t shout and he certainly didn’t laugh - he thought it was ace.  A couple of weeks later the Red Arrows performed at the Rhyl Air Show and there began the planning - August 2013!  From that day forward we have lived and breathed the sculpture design until the day we actually built it.  We obtained the blue prints of the hawk jet and then bought and built a model Red Arrow.  Once that was complete we cut it into sections to get the exact shape of the plane and then drew round the sections and scaled them upwards.  We built a trial plane in the shop and have to say it turned out a lot better than we had anticipated.  The design then just grew naturally.

The competition itself was terrifying for me.  With it being the first time the UK had competed at WBC, I was keen to ensure that we didn’t look out of our depth and this was my main concern.  I had many, many horrible dreams about the sculpture collapsing and other teams laughing at us!!  Once the build had started, every worry I had had over the previous 6 months disappeared completely and, as a team, we just got on with the job.  Our team were fabulous! Most of them worked solidly for the 27 hours.  I had to take a break cause the balloons broke me and I finished up in the ER with a ‘popped tendon’ and a 600 dollar bill!!  Dangerous little blighters are balloons you know!  We had some issues through the build - the main one being the aluminium rod.  It was so much harder than ours over here and bending the frames for the planes took way longer than expected.  It was right at the start that we made a call to reduce the planes from the planned 5 to just 3.  In hindsight, 5 planes would have been too many anyway.  

Red Arrows by Mike & Sara Harris & Team GB
26 hours and 40 minutes after starting, we finished.  The emotion we all felt was incredible - nothing can compare to it!  We all just literally burst into tears and hugged one another.  An experience that I will NEVER forget - ever!  

Immediately on finishing, Mike asked whether I would do it again and, perhaps against my better judgment, I said yes!!  Its very stressful, very hard work but more than anything the most rewarding experience.  The confidence we have gained from being able to do something like the large sculpture on a world stage and hold our own against the bigger, more experienced teams, is invaluable.  We have become, what someone described us as ‘media whores’ but you don’t get an opportunity to sell yourself like this every day so we have taken full advantage of it promoting both the WBC and our own company.  On returning, we have done a live radio interview with BBC Radio Wales and at the time of writing this are waiting for Daybreak and The One Show to come back to us having both expressed an interest.  We even did press coverage whilst we were in Dallas and our local press ran the story immediately after we finished the sculpture.

The award scheme offered is the best idea ever.  We went with the aim of trying to achieve a bronze award.  We had absolutely no intention of going to win - we just couldn’t - we were too inexperienced.  Needless to say when we got the silver award, we were absolutely over the moon as were the entire team.  We had done the job we went to do and through brilliant team work, exceeded our expectations.  I think the awards offer encouragement to competitors and give them the push they need to compete again.  If was just a case of 1st, 2nd and 3rd then I think people would be so downhearted, they may not wish to compete again.  

Note from Sue Bowler:
I, like you, love the award scheme, everyone who enters a competition has the opportunity to succeed and take home their own personal award! Setting yourself a target of a Bronze and achieving a Silver is truly fantastic! Congratulations Team GB, you made us all very proud!

To anyone who is thinking of competing at the next WBC my advice would be simple……….. just do it! Hopefully the conditions in New Orleans will be a lot easier than they were in Denver as its back at sea level.  
Team GB!

Team GB - The  British Invasion were: Mike & Sara Harris, Matt Lewis, Lucy Hennessy, Joanne Dunne, Janine Chrispin, Jeanette Carden, Aileen Murray, Mari Forrett, Caroline Jones & Marcia Tull.  We also had help throughout the build from Beth Barlow and Matt Russell from Australia and Ziv Raviv from Israel who took his CBA in Denver and passed it!!  We most certainly could not have done it without them and, may I add, we all became great friends in the process.  

Mike & Sara's Column Entry.
The highlight of WBC 2014 was ALL of it really.  The education, the partying, the competitions, the Festival of Balloons (to see the look on peoples faces and hear the comments was just amazing), the friendships - just everything was spot on.  I can’t wait for the next one!!!

Mari Forret - It's Balloonacy of Team GB also contributed to this blog with her experience being part of the team!

Which competitions did you enter? I entered the Large Sculpture competition captained by Mike and Sara Harris. I was also Sara’s stand in for the Column competition when she was injured and couldn’t use her hand. I helped Mike assemble Sara’s design as this was a pair’s competition.

What inspired you to compete? Mike and Sara Harris. Their enthusiasm and powers of persuasion were a huge factor. Also the very positive experience I had at the convention held in England in 2011.  
How did you plan for your competition/s? Once Mike and Sara released their plan for the sculpture we could then determine what techniques were going to be used. It was then just a matter of practising. 
How was the competing experience for you? The competing experience was just plain AWESOME! The team gelled well. In fact very well considering some of us had actually never met, others I had met only once. We laughed and giggled through it. We just pulled together. It shouldn’t be underestimated how tiring it can be, but you don’t actually feel that until the competition is over.
What do you think you gained from competing? I thought my own skills were sort of okay before the competition. The experience taught me that some of my skills are actually very good, others are really a bit ‘meh!’. I now know I need to work on those. Some techniques were completely new to me, I had never used framing before or SDS panels. I can use them confidently now having worked with them. Both are techniques I probably wouldn’t have had occasion to use if it wasn’t for the competition. 
Would you compete again? Absolutely YES! In fact I’m planning to and may even enter some of the smaller ones now I know the standard expected. 
What do you think about the award scheme (Bronze. Silver, Gold & Platinum)? There were obviously teams competing that take regular commissions for work on this scale. And there were teams that only come together for this convention. While those people that get the chance to demonstrate their very evident mastery of their craft fully deserve their win and accolade, I believe that some artists with perhaps less skill and polish might be put off by the daunting task of competing at that level. Perhaps an additional category that takes into consideration the number of wins the competitor has would be encouraging to potential entrants. 
Note from Sue Bowler: That is why the award scheme is so great, someone who has less experience can take that first step knowing that they are not necessarily competing to win, but rather to attain an award, then the challenge is grow each time afterwards, and who knows, a first time competitor can do extremely well in competition... so never say never!

What award did you gain? We were awarded Silver for the Large Sculpture and Bronze for the Column piece. Well done the Harris’ and Team GB. 
What advice would you offer someone who is considering competing in the future? Don’t hesitate, do it.
Finally, what was your WBC 2014 highlight…! Definitely the competition and working on the QBN Meeting decor with Matt JB Lewis. And the classes, meeting new people, the jam room, the Rock Party, the Gala Awards. Learning we were awarded Silver. At risk of overuse of a word, AWESOME!
I think from the words of Mike, Sara and Mari we can conclude that taking part in competitions is a hugely rewarding experience, one that they would all happily do again! I know from my own experience that once you start competing it becomes a bit of a 'bug' - so be warned!

If you don't feel confident enough to enter a competition yourself, remember that being part of a team can be equally rewarding. Working together, making new friends and learning so many new techniques, filling you with many wonderful memories plus it will help you to build your confidence that will enable you to tackle some of those 'bigger' jobs when you return to your own business.

A huge thank you to Mike, Sara and Mari for sharing their own personal WBC 2014 stories! I have one more blog to conclude this series, this one is a little different, but you'll have to wait a few more days to find out why!

Happy Ballooning


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