For self-proclaimed adrenaline addict Luis Fernando Jimenez things haven’t being going so well at this year’s National Paragliding Competition. “I keep making mistakes,” he tells Colombia Reports, “On Friday it was one turn, yesterday another; I’m certainly not winning.”
But for the majority of the 45 paragliders gathered in the competition’s take-off and landing zone – located just a rickety motor-taxi drive from the small central Colombian town of Sopetran – winning is the least important part of the extreme sport event.
“It’s an incredible course,” enthuses American competitor Bobby Blount. And it certainly looks that way. With miles of open mountain terrain dotted with tiny villages, the view is good from the ground, let alone from cloud-level.
Hosted by Sopetran resident Juan Diego Cano and organized by paragliding expert Mayer Zapata, the competition is the second of its kind to be held in Colombia – where adventure sports are starting to take off in popularity with both locals and foreign visitors.
Although this year’s event is a bit smaller than last year’s (a fact that Zapata attributes to Medellin’s South American Games stealing the area’s sports fans) things have been going to plan and the excitement about the day’s race is tangible, both amongst the competitors – who are tanked on sponsorship energy drink – and the gaggle of Sopetran residents who have gathered on the hill to watch the paragliders take off.
“The weather conditions have been perfect and are good again today,” says Zapata, who has been flying for fourteen years, as he points out the telltale cloud formations that will dictate the speed and manoeuvres of the pilots.
From 11 AM competitors will enter the route’s co-ordinates into their GPS systems and have a two-hour time period in which they may launch from the take-off zone. After riding thermals to reach heights over 2500 km above sea level, they will attempt to complete the 100 km course as quickly as possible, collecting points throughout the four day event.
Pilots will be gone from anything from two to four hours, returning to their hostels in the late afternoon.
And the sport certainly isn’t risk free.
“There was almost a collision yesterday, the cords can get tangled,” said Swiss competitor Jonathen Vigano.
Yesterday another competitor broke his foot landing in unexpected terrain. Jimenez explains that the most dangerous times are take-off and landing. The rest is plain sailing.
So don’t the competitors get scared?
“The fear is part of the fun,” says Jimenez with a grin, “I can’t get enough.”
The National Paragliding Competition is a yearly event open to competitors from all nations. To find out more, click here.