Has POTA Become a Radio Sport Contest?

Parks On The Air (POTA) may have started out as a fun way to get outside into the Big Blue Sky Shack and play radio, but now it has become very competitive. Those who like to take a casual approach to activating parks can still enjoy their hobby their way, but others have a different, more intense approach.

At a recent TechTalk on contesting at my club (Georgian Bay Amateur Radio Club in Owen Sound ON) the presenter talked about POTA being “like a contest”. There is a leaderboard based on number of activations and number of QSOs at each park. Almost every one of my own activations has involved intense pile-ups just like in a contest. At almost every unactivated park (aka ATNO: All Time New One) there is a race to be the first to activate it.

For the very dedicated there are the positions of “Top Activator” and “Top Hunter” to compete for. You have to be very dedicated indeed to vie for those honours. That’s major league. I’m keen but in the peewee class.

A Wild Rover?

The POTA organization has a “Rover” award for activating five or more parks in a day. Personally I have never activated more than three, and even then two of them were at a “two-fer” – a point that lies within two parks so that the same set of QSOs can be claimed for activating each of the two parks.

Only 10 QSOs are required for a valid activation, but who stops at just ten? I have logged the minimum in as little as nine minutes on more than one occasion. I generally go on to make 20, 30 and even 50 or more QSOs before calling it a day. If one is competing for a Rover award, there is an incentive to call QRT early and move on to the next park. Rush, rush, time is of the essence!

One a Day – Every Day!

Hams have been known to attempt – and succeed – at activating at least one park every day for a full year. If you have ever experienced the intensity of an event like the ARRL Field Day, then imagine doing that every day for a year through wind and rain and snow and ice.

The competitive bug does tend to infect many of us who enjoy activating. I often find myself checking the leaderboard for parks I have activated. How is my QSO count lead holding up? Has anybody activated the park more often than I have? QSO counts are cumulative. If you activate the same park multiple times your QSO count for that park steadily builds.

Very Leisurely, No Pressure – What?

This is the first year in which I have activated parks during the winter. In previous years it was purely a summer activity – usually done while camping. Very leisurely, no pressure. This year I ventured out to a local park while there was deep snow on the ground. I wore snowshoes and pulled my gear on a sled. I posted some pictures of the activation on the POTA Slack forum and received the comment: “That’s wanting to POTA bad my brother!”

Just a few years ago my forays out into the Big Blue Sky Shack often yielded no QSOs at all, nada, zip. The consolation was the “fun” of throwing wires into trees and eating up battery amp-hours while enjoying the great outdoors. And then along came POTA and it became addictive. Yes, I want to POTA bad brother!

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