Rothbury couple Matthew and Nicola Scaife say support and teamwork are what helps them succeed.
The dynamic duo finished first and second in the National Ballooning Championships in Western Australia in August, and will now compete at the World Ballooning Championships in Saga, Japan in October next year.
Ballooning is not only a passion for the couple, it’s their life. Both are pilots with Balloon Aloft in Lovedale.
Matthew was brought up around ballooning. His father owns Balloon Aloft in the Hunter Valley and Sydney.
Now parents to two-year-old Hugo, the Scaifes met through ballooning in Canberra 10 years ago – Nicola went up on a flight and loved it so much she got a job crewing.
They moved to the Hunter Valley permanently four years ago, which is about the time they became involved in ballooning competitions.
Matthew and Nicola wanted to participate in a sport having done so earlier in their lives, but struggled to find the time on the weekends around their work.
“We’re both pretty sporty,” Matthew said.
“And very competitive,” Nicola added.
The couple were to start competing individually in ballooning in 2011, but Nicola tore ligaments in her ankle a few weeks before the competition, so she navigated for Matthew instead.
And once they began competing, they were hooked.
Competitive ballooning is different from commercial ballooning, mainly because of the shape and size of the aircraft.
Competitive balloons are much smaller than their commercial equivalent, taking roughly a 350-kilogram load instead of a 2.5-tonne load.
And look more like a teardrop which alters the way they travel through the air.
“It’s more like flying than floating,” Nicola said.
The 2015 national championships were held in Northam in Western Australia over five days and involved a number of tasks over a set course with goals, targets, scoring areas, time and distance limits.
Competitors throw sandbags from their balloon toward targets set out on the course, rather than landing the balloon on them.
“Actually, competing in ballooning is completely different,” Matthew said.
“You’re really testing your skills a lot more.
“It gets those juices flowing.”
In just a few short years the couple has added a few trophies to their collection.
Matthew defended his national title from 2014, was named the Northam Aero Club International Ballooning champion this year and won the equivalent award last year.
Nicola is the first and only women’s world champion.
Despite being competitive with one another, Matthew and Nicola say they work together and support each other.
“It’s way more beneficial to work together as a team,” Matthew said.
“You can lose a bit of focus, so we tell each other to concentrate. It doesn’t really matter who ends up where.”
And possessing different skills, they balance each other out, providing the yin to the other’s yang.
“Matt just seems to have this freaky, innate talent for ballooning,” Nicola said. “He’s just kind of got it.”
“Nicola’s advantage is her ability to focus,” Matthew added.
“If you apply those two advantages then I think that levels us out in a way.”
The pair went in to the competition with the goal of coming first and second, which was exciting as Nicola had finished ninth and fourth in the previous two national competitions.
“I was really happy,” Nicola said.
“It’s nice that the hard work and the practice you put in is paying off. To be second was confirmation of that.”
This will be Nicola’s first open world championship, and she will be one of the, if not the only, woman in the mix.
“It’d be nice to show a few of the boys up,” she said.
From now until then, the pair will have a busy summer of commercial flying, including the Hunter Valley Balloon Fiesta on October 17 and 18, as well as pre-world championships and the World Air Games in Dubai for Matthew in December.
From flying Khloe Kardashian around, to seeing different corners of the globe during competitions, the pair has enjoyed a lot of experiences in the air and appreciate that they get to do it every day.
“I love that it’s my job, getting to meet new people and share it with them,” Nicola said.
“You never tire of seeing the look of awe on peoples’ faces at 1000 feet,” Matthew added.