17 Jan 2020

19th International Youth Camp for Ballooning: Why walk when we can fly?

By Julia Hamm

Since 2015 I look forward to every summer, as it is not only the time for sunny days, going to the beach and happiness, but something even more special: the International Youth Camp (IYC) for ballooning, where young balloonists from around the world get together. This year it was particularly special for me, as it marked the first time that my best friend Thies and I organised the 19th IYC, in Czechia.

We were very happy to welcome 25 participants from 10 nations (Germany, Czechia, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Romania) at the Ballooning Castle in Radešín. A historical place for ballooning, situated between Prague and Brno, with stunning lakes and even more landing fields, the Ballooning Castle is the home of the  Kubicek family, who run this place with a vision that we came to understand later during the camp.

Camp started and everybody was excited: from advanced pilots with ballooning in their DNA to curious beginners who would be standing in the basket for the first time.  We started with fun introduction games, which helped distract overthinking newbies from thoughts of their first balloon flight the next day. The first day ended with our traditional (and delicious) international dinner, for which  participants prepared their favorite national food. I still remember the freshly baked shortbread from Ben, 16, from the UK. Surprisingly, it was the first time he had made it, despite the fact that he loves to eat it.

On Friday, two highly motivated morning people were able to get everybody up and smiling at 5am in our two big group tents. After a quick coffee, we launched directly from the spot in front of the castle. At 6am all five balloons were ready to launch and it was lovely to see 20 young balloonists with eight first-timers flying towards the sky. It felt that we were not just a crew, but also a family.

In total we had six flights. Our young pilots were able to learn and experience more about gusty winds at the different launch fields. After the pilot briefing, our pilots met once again shortly before the flight to further discuss and decide on the launch field. Twenty-five participants got to experience cancelling a flight on the launch field, what also is a part of ballooning. Most importantly, our pilots explained the situation, and everybody was interested as to why it was not safe to launch.

But what would IYC be without knowing what to do when flights are cancelled? Chilling around campfires and storytelling in the evenings or preparing wood after a delicious breakfast from our Swedish kitchen chefs were just two of the many possibilities.

On Sunday morning Thies and I were happy to surprise the camp: our chief pilot arranged a 16+2 balloon for us, what meant almost the whole camp flew in ONE basket, which has never happened at one of our  camps. We made sure to  capture the launch with a video on Instagram Live. After asking one of our participants what they liked the most about the IYC, they said: “The peaceful silence and the gorgeous panoramas that we could admire during the morning flights.”

Apart from all the flights, we also wanted to give our participants the chance to learn more about ballooning. On our first day Max, one of our German pilots, gave a balloon instruction lesson not only about how to build up a balloon as a crew but also about safety rules and ballooning history. It was a practical lesson and for some it was the first time listening to the sound of a burner. We ended the lesson with a little quiz about safety rules, giving away our camp T-shirts for correct answers.

We were very happy to have a burner maintenance workshop from Kubicek, where we fully disassembled a burner in detail with the first group and then put it back together with the second group. Two days later Kubicek invited us for a factory visit, where they showed us all production processes: how to build a balloon from the basket to the envelope. Many were impressed by the basket for 32 passengers that was being built during our visit, whereas others said they would rather not fly in such a big balloon.

One day we visited a climbing rope park and enjoyed a day in the forest. We also went to a beautiful lake close by, where we could swim, play ball games, slackline, juggle, read or just relax. Another highlight was the workshops at the camp site, where attendees gave classes about the passions and talents they have. Seven of our participants prepared some great classes, including ultimate frisbee, art and design, improv theatre, henna art, juggling, self-defense and traditional Czech and German baking. One person described her experience as follows: “It was interesting to see unexpected skills that people have mastered… I liked all the workshops, because I did something new and fun.”

Our host Petr Kubicek held a highly informative presentation about his father, who fly balloons in the 1970s, despite all political, personal and technical struggles. In 1990, his father fulfilled his vision of creating a meeting point for balloonists from all over the world with the Ballooning Castle. Now in 2019, we are more than happy and honored to be a part of this vision, especially as it correlates with our own vision, which aims to create a camp that introduces ballooning to youth from different countries and make them passionate about it. After this IYC we can happily say that we continue to grow, with more young pilots becoming passionate about the sport of hot-air ballooning!

Estefany, 22, from Spain is even considering moving to Czechia to start her pilot training program at the Ballooning Castle in Radešín. She never had any contact with ballooning until she joined the IYC in 2017.

Adam, 16, from Czechia finished his theory exam for his hot-air balloon licence during the camp and in September he passed his practical exam. He has been part of the IYC since 2018, which motivated him to start the pilot training.

All in all, we had an unforgettable week and I was once more reminded that IYC is not just a group of young people: it´s  a group of friends, a young family.And it´s even more beautiful to see how we, “the new generation of ballooning”, stay in touch, attend ballooning events and share pictures from all around the world. Looking forward to see you again...!
Julia Hamm & Thies Bundtzen

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