The tricks of Jordi Vilalta, the paragliding reference in Spain: "Vultures are our guides"

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«Paragliding has a magical part: you must understand the air, know how to read something invisible. To fly, beyond each person’s tactics or ability, the most important thing is to interpret the weather,” he summarizes. Jordi Vilalta about a sport that nobody understands. How do those human birds sustain themselves? With their wings, their chairs and the cables that connect both parts, they are capable of ascending up to 5,000 meters in altitude, traveling 60 kilometers in a single flight, and exceeding 40 km/h. How do they do that?

«The key is the thermal columns. When the sun shines on the ground, it creates a mass of warm air above it that rises. What we do is get inside that mass and go up with it, spinning inside. We replicate what vultures do. In fact, along with cumulus clouds, vultures are our guides to detect where those thermals are, which is the most difficult part of the sport. A flight consists of gliding and climbing, gliding and climbing,” describes Vilalta, one of the best in the world crossing mountains with these aircraft.

Last July he became the first Spaniard to finish the Red Bull X-Alps, something like the Tour de France of paragliding. Most competitions are based on speed, seeing who crosses a valley first, but not this one. The Red Bull X-Alps is an endurance test in which the participants, chosen by the brand for their merits, must cross the Alps, just as it sounds. This year they started in Salzburg, Austria, crossed Switzerland, went around Mont Blanc and returned through Italy to reach Zell am See, again in Austria. In total, about 2,200 kilometers to travel in less than 12 days. Vilalta, who finished twenty-fourth, walked 570 kilometers and 1,700 flying with a maximum flight altitude of 3,986 and an average speed of 36.11 km/h.

«It is the mecca of sports. I am a firefighter, paragliding is just my hobby, I am an amateur, but the majority of those who participate are professionals. There is the Swiss [Christian] Maurer [ganador de las últimas ocho ediciones, todas desde 2009] and it’s like being a tennis fan and being able to play at Wimbledon against Roger Federer,” says Vilalta.

“When you fly you realize how slow you are walking,” concludes Vilalta, 38, who will hardly return to Red Bull X-Alps. Although Red Bull gave the registration fee and the material was provided by a sponsor, he had to pay his expenses and those of his friends, who served as assistance with a van in which he slept. In the end, a good pinch. Furthermore, the test requires arriving in Austria a week before to pass several medical checks and compete in the prologue, which is why he spent almost a month, all of his vacations, away from home.

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