Clearwater locals Sigrid Vermeulen and Willy Rens, owner and operator of X Sky Paragliding, recently hosted the 10th anniversary of the El Nido Fly-in above Mt McLennan around Birch Island.
Twenty-seven hang glider and paraglider pilots from the Okanagan Valley, Kamloops, Lower Mainland and Bulkley Valley descended upon the Clearwater area for a free flying event that saw records in distance, altitude, flight times and new routes broken.
“I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations from all corners, even from Europe; they said this is pretty amazing,” Rens said of the 10-year milestone for the event.
“It feels good, of course, it feels like an accomplishment; there is a lot of work behind the scenes people don’t know about, but it doesn’t feel like work because it’s from the heart.”
Rens and his wife, Vermeulen, have been paragliding for 25 years and have done flights all over the world, including Europe and South America.
For those not in the know, paragliding is an adventure sport of flying para-gliders, which uses lightweight, free flying, foot launched gliders with no rigid structure, explained Rens.
The pilot sits in a harness, suspended below a fabric wing, with the wing shape maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of the air entering the vents in front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.
Despite not using an engine, paraglider flights can last many hours and cover many hundreds of kilometers, though flights of one to two hours and covering some tens of kilometers are more the norm.
By skillful exploitation of sources of lift, the pilot may gain height, often climbing to altitudes of a few thousand meters.
Some numbers for the records broken at the El Nido Fly-in include max altitude: 4040 m, longest flight: four and a half hours, free flight to Avola: 56 km and free flight to Barriere: 71 km.
Rens noted these are records strictly for the El Nido site as every site has its own records for various accomplishments.
El Nido got its name from a climbing trip Rens and Vermeulen took to Bolivia, where the base camp was named El Nido del Condor, or Nest of the Condor in English.
“We fly big birds,” Rens said of the para gliders. “Hence the name; So we shortened it to El Nido, the nest.”
After 10 years of hosting the El Nido Fly-in, Rens said this year was the biggest event yet.
Coupling that fact with all the site record that were broken at the fly-in, he toyed with the idea of ending the event while it was on a high note.
“We’re thinking, should we end this in glory and call it after 10 years? But I don’t think I can do it—it’s in my heart and it makes me happy to see other pilots coming up and having a good time. We’ll continue I think.”