On sand and skyscrapers
Heli Schrempf at the UAE Hike & Fly Championships
Invitation to a unique adventure
A hike & fly race in the desert with a launch from the roof of a skyscraper. Location: Dubai. The first UAE Hike & Fly Championships: a whole new format awaits the hike & fly scene.
The Emirates do not enjoy a good reputation in terms of respect for human rights. Should I enter this competition or not? After careful consideration, I decide to participate. My passion is for the sport, for flying and in all countries of the world there are people who share this passion. And maybe we paraglider pilots can bring a little “Wind of Change” to the UAE.
In any case, a completely new challenge awaits us in terms of flying - a great adventure.
Into the desert
I decided to contact NOVA and ask them to support me with a XENON and to tell them about the project. It was very short notice, but to my surprise they made it happen and provided me with one of the new ultralight two-liners - with fresh trim tuning (thanks again for that). Anticipation spreads.
A short flight with the XENON at home - then we set off for the desert of Arabia. But we only get as far as Vienna! The Covid test arrives too late and the plane departs without us on-board. Change the ticket, organise a place to sleep and hope that the rapid test will arrive on time. And it all falls into place…
Landing in Dubai. Being collected at the airport. Quick arrival at the hotel for some breakfast. Because of the flight delay it is a stressful day. On the agenda is viewing the first task take-off.
Take-off on the skyscraper?
The “Address Beach Hotel” is a rad building. We paraglider pilots sit on the terrace at the foot of the 300-metre-high hotel with its 77 floors. On the roof is the “world’s highest infinity pool” – Dubai loves superlatives! At that very moment part of that pool was being covered to construct a take-off. After seeing it, we discuss the process of the competition. You read that correctly: the organisers include the pilots in the organisation of the competition and the next day we meet to decide on the rules.
We decide not to include the take off from the skyscraper in task 1. This takes the pressure off us to perform an already dangerous take off when the conditions may not be perfect. The most important thing is to avoid an accident at the top. Each competitor can decide if they wish to launch or not.
Then a quick jog through the town with Markus, Tomi, Michi and Simon to the beach to have a look at the landing area. Very pleasant sea temperatures. A joint dinner in good company. Discussions about the following day and how it might go with the rooftop launch.
Task 1: Sprint to the 77th floor and to the beach
“Let‘s go up!” After a quick sprint outside, we enter the building and head up the staircase. It soon feels like being on a carousel. Circling, circling. On and on, ever upwards. After 35 floors, not even half way, it becomes brutal. My pulse is hammering. My legs burn. Keep going in circles. Then finally, I reach the 77th floor. Daylight, fresh air - yes!
Just as I catch my breath, a crazy euphoria sets in. Yes, I really want to take off. Some thought the wind was still to light and I should wait. But the XENON is 3.3 kilos of perfect launch behaviour... For me it's clear: it's fine! I unpack the wing. The second inflation is perfect! The wing sits nicely above me. Should I? Should I not? I want to! The moment of no return, the last step when you leave the launch platform, is indescribable! Epic! Amazing! I dare say that none of us will ever forget these emotions.
Landing on the beach. Permanent grin on my face. One after the other the others float down.
Everyone is ready for the two kilometre timed sprint to the finish. Along the beach, with a paraglider pack on my back, between the bathers. A somewhat strange sight…
Announcement of the day's winner and immediately back up to the pool and the launch platform, which is exclusively reserved for us today. The wind is perfect on the flank of the Address Beach Hotel. We play on this extreme take-off site until the city lights come on. I managed three take-offs. I will never forget them. I can’t sleep until late into the night. There are too many emotions circling around in my head. Images of these incredible moments flash through my mind.
Task 2: Djebel Jais
The first day in Dubai was unique and we were offered something exceptional - that is clear to everyone at breakfast the next day. In a great mood we travel to the next Emirate to view task 2. Sharp-edged rocks, narrow canyons and a wide valley in a breathtaking desert landscape await us there.
The task for the following day is clear. Choosing the launch site (road or campsite), we took off into 4 m/s thermals and perfect conditions. After tagging all the turn points, a pleasurable flight towards goal. On launch the almost unreal landscape around Djebel Jais gave me a certain "Indiana Jones feeling".
The day after, task 2: from the task start at 900 metres altitude over roads and across sharp-edged rocks towards the launch point. My idea to take a shortcut turns out to be a difficult climbing route and takes a lot of time. At last I reached the sign-in board and off into the air! But this day the launch is in the lee and very turbulent. Full speed to the cylinder and back to the start, where I catch up with most of the pilots again. Always with the thought, how can I get up faster than the others?
Impatience and delays
A small mistake, I launched too early - and bombed... With the glider in my hand, I stand on a small path leading to a few houses and look for a place to take off. Finally, I found one. After a couple of attempts between the sharp rocks, I am in the air. That is when I see the broken B-line. But the XENON still flies well and stays completely manageable. Onwards! Difficult thermals and finally I top landed to sign the board. Lines get repaired and I headed off again, in the direction of goal.
To sum up the day: far too many delays! And amazing what the XENON can do. A very well designed wing with everything one could wish for. And I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at the beginning.
Prize-giving for task 2. Chatting with colleagues about the day. We enjoyed the evening in this breathtaking landscape.
Task 3: riding the razor blade
We drive through the desert to Al Faya. A striking cliff edge with a red sand dune in front awaits us. Start and Finish are in a sports ground at the base of the cliff. At the task briefing, the pilots decide to change the task to make sure it is safe. So we omit a top landing spot, which was probably a good idea…
The task criss-crossed the ridge and we also had to fly out into the flats. To the turn points, signing-in boards below the ridge and back up by foot. It looked mega cool.
After the start at the sports ground, we walk up the dune, then continuing by kiting up. Those with good control of their glider and who have a glider that is easy to control, are pulled upwards. This was much less physically strenuous than trying to hike in the soft sand. As soon as one of us was high enough to assume the wing could take off, they launched. Airborne! Five meters above the ground and full speed-bar. The flying really is at the limit. Nobody will gives way even a metre. We soar along the ridge closely following each other, with total concentration and really at the limit. The smallest mistakes cost a lot - and I had to do two more short hikes.
Later, I searched for a turn point on XCTrack, use my mobile phone and involuntarily test the collapse behaviour of the XENON - fully accelerated (you can see this on the one video). The XENON behaves well, no further issue, but it costs me six places. In goal I sadly hear about two accidents. In the clear light of day, flying at full speed close to the ground is a ride on a razor's edge.
Task 4 is revised
I need the rest day to digest the experiences and thoughts and to sort out my emotions.
The last task was supposed to take place in Abu Dhabi, but very strong winds were predicted. The organisers set another task in Al Faya - with more tactical turn points and above all, more distance to the slope...
But this didn’t change the “racing mode”, which everyone seems to have in their blood. My conclusions of the last two days: full speed alone doesn’t cut it. Sometimes it is necessary to put tactics ahead of skills with the control lines.
Without any incidents, the last day of competition comes to an end with soaring until late in the evening. The light was amazing. The day ends with a BBQ and drinks - obviously without alcohol.
Four unbelievable tasks in the Emirates are over. Unique impressions and emotions with friends as well as a lot of airtime come to an end. Also flying, playing, enjoying together with local pilots and the flying organisers. A big thank you to all the drivers, helpers, camera people and especially "Gih" as the organiser who made it all possible for us. The format definitely has potential and challenges the pilots in all sorts of ways.
About the XENON
The XENON proved itself to be a loyal companion in this extreme hike & fly adventure. Weight, pack size, glide performance and speed are spot on. The launch behaviour is brilliant and it remains well controllable during extreme flight incidents - as long as the pilot isn’t playing around with their mobile phone at the time. But what makes it special is the sum of these properties. All in all it is a brilliant combination.
I will compete in my planned 2022 hike & fly races with the XENON and give my best in the newly created Hike & Fly World Cup. Events: UAE Hike & Fly Championships, X-Pyr, Eigertour and Dolomiti Superfly.
Thank you for the photos to Adi Geisegger, Michael Schröder and Alex D‘Emilia
More information and images at:
https://youtu.be/gJhyAmrOsNA – a super-cool video of the race by Nick Donini and @alexdemiliavisual / @mountainfilm_crew, also www.instagram.com/nickdonini/