The inaugural UAE Hike-And Fly International Championships has been forced to change its planned first task less than 24-hours ahead of the start after pilots saw the competition’s first launch site.
Organiser Gui Padua confirmed that following a pilot meeting pilots would now not be scored on the flying part of the urban hike-and-fly challenge. Instead, they will simply be scored on how fast they complete the hiking/running element.
The UAE Hike and Fly International is an ambitious attempt to bring the spirit and action of Red Bull X-Alps style paraglider adventure-racing to the incredible landscapes and city-scapes of the United Arab Emirates.
Twenty-five of the world’s best hike-and-fly racers have been invited to take part in the competition, which starts Sunday 21 November. See the pilot list here.
The male-only line-up includes a host of Red Bull X-Alps faces including stars like Chrigel Maurer, Aaron Durogati and Antoine Girard.
Over the next week pilots will fly in three or four different locations in the UAE, starting with downtown Dubai.
The task for Sunday was initially to run to the top of the 77-storey five-star Address Beach Resort before launching from the top, flying down to a turnpoint on the beach and running back to the hotel. The circuit was expected to take less than an hour.
However, after pilots saw the launch on the top of the hotel for the first time on Saturday the rules were changed so they now don’t have to fly to score.
Sharing pictures and footage on social media, the launch platform was revealed by pilots and the organisers to be a collection of flat planks above a sheer 300m vertical drop.
On Instagram Chrigel Maurer, seven-time Red Bull X-Alps champion, diplomatically said the launch would be “a challenge”.
“I think how it will be tomorrow with the competition and the stress. The wind is coming up [the front], but on the ramp it is a bit lee. So it is not so easy.”
He added: “Maybe not to be the first here will be a good tactic.”
Other pilots shared footage of themselves leaning over or sitting on the edge of the launch. One said: “This has to be the craziest take-off for a paragliding competition ever. [A] 300m high building. This is where we are supposed to fly from tomorrow … Insane.”
One non-competing pilot who was on the roof of the hotel with the competitors told Cross Country: “All of the pilots were very quiet when they arrived at the launch site.”
Other pilots were quick to express their disbelief on social media. On Instagram professional pilot Pal Takats, who is not taking part and is not in Dubai, posted a plea to boycott the launch. “Dear friends in Dubai, please boycott this joke before somebody gets killed.”
Following the reaction from pilots organisers were quick to explain that the launch was actually unfinished. They said it would be completed with more planks and astroturf, to create a smooth, flat take-off area, albeit still very small with only a 3-4m gap in front of a pilot fully laid out and the cliff-like edge.
Following the pilot meeting organisers also agreed to make the flying part of the hike-and-fly task non-mandatory.
Instead, pilots will be expected to complete the foot-race with their hike-and-fly equipment, but can decide not to launch if they don’t want to.
For those who do choose to fly, they will be allowed to choose to fly a smaller, easier-to-launch glider. Several pilots have single-skin gliders or mini wings with them, which are easy to launch in difficult conditions.
Organiser Gui Padua confirmed the change in the first task. He said by WhatsApp message: “In the end, the flying part would not have a big difference on time, because it is more like a glide down. So we decided to take the pressure off pilots, and look to the safety side first.”
On the look of the launch as pilots saw it on Saturday he said: “The take off is far from finished. We are having to build it overnight due to hotel rules. What you see is the bottom of the take-off, not the real take-off. We had six hours to build the bottom, and six hours tonight to build the top. Tomorrow you will see it.”
If pilots do decide to launch for the fun of it, it will still be a very technical launch. Pilots have been discussing techniques like using a cobra launch or a crosswind launch, running across the take-off from corner to corner to maximise the space.
The Address Beach Resort in Dubai is one of Dubai’s newest five-star hotels and claims to have the world’s highest infinity pool. It opened in December last year and is two 77-storey towers connected by “the tallest inhabited skybridge in the world” to create a giant arch.
Although unusual, hosting an air sports competition in such an urban environment is not without precedent. Over the years Dubai has hosted numerous parachuting competitions and also hosted the multi-disciplinary FAI World Air Games in 2015.
Other cities have also hosted successful air sports competitions. Copenhagen, for example, held the parachuting Swoop Freestyle FAI World Championships in 2018 in front of a crowd of thousands.
The UAE Hike and Fly is being broadcast live on YouTube from 10am local time (10am UAE / 7am Europe / 2am USA East Coast / 10pm USA West Coast). Find it here.