It was early morning yesterday week when Dorin Borodescu packed his gear into the car and took off on the drive from Dublin to Templemore. Two days later and he was repeating the trip. This time it was a friend driving. Borodescu’s car was still in Templemore, just where he’d left it.
It wasn’t broken down and he hadn’t over-indulged on a wild night out. Instead, he’d launched himself off the nearby Devil’s Bit, head first, into a wind that was shooting east/north-east across country. Five-and-a-half hours passed before his feet touched the ground again and, when they did, he was 122.1km away, in Moneymeen, Co Wicklow.
Retrieving the car was a price he was happy to pay.
For years, the small community of 100 or so Irish paragliders — think hang gliding with sitting harnesses rather than parasailing, the one where people are pulled along behind a speedboat — had spied the glass ceiling that was the 100km barrier, but no-one had ever managed to break it over Irish soil.
Borodescu didn’t just break that last week, so much as shatter it to pieces as he bypassed the towns of Rathdowney, Durrow, Carlow, Tullow, Aughrim, and Rathdrum before landing on the far side of the Wicklow mountains. That’s the same as the drive from O’Connell Street in Dublin to Athlone and it’s a remarkable achievement, given the meteorological conditions in this country.
The world record distance for a paragliding flight stands at over 500km, but every metre is hard fought for in Ireland, what with the wet and cold climate. Pilots require hot air rising from the ground in the form of thermals in order to counter a loss to gravity of 1.5 metres in altitude per second, so you can understand the issues involved.
“It is very exciting at the start and for a short while after,” said Borodescu in explaining paragliding to this column.
“Then, you have to start looking. All the time. Where is the next thermal? What is the terrain? It is like yoga. You have to switch off and be patient. You move like the blade of a saw: Up and down, up and down, all the time.” Chance, as it always does in sporting tales, had its part to play with his historic flight. A Romanian who studied and worked in Cork for eight years before moving to Dublin to complete a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at Griffith College, Borodescu just happened to have a rare day off and there was only one way he was going to spend it.
Like so many of us in his adopted country, he is obsessed with the weather. Not just “soft day, thank God” obsessed. Properly fixated. Paragliders and hang gliders swarm all over weather websites like sports journalists do free food and the information on his screen 10 days ago made him suspect that the heavens were aligning for a crack at the magical century mark.
“There was a front coming in from the west, the Atlantic, and I knew that it would not stay long, maybe a day or two, and then turn around,” he said. “It wasn’t predicted, but I said it to the guys on my ‘Whats App’ group, that it would be a 100km day. There were other guys who had been out on the hill that same day and they said no way.”
Some pilots fly every day. Some even choose jobs, like late-night taxi driving, that allow them to pursue their passion on a daily basis. Borodescu had spent the previous summer travelling more than 11,000km around Europe competing in events, but plans to continue on to Australia or Brazil were dropped when the college course in Dublin came up unexpectedly.
The result was that he sold his high-spec Artik 4 glider and a reserve parachute in September and had flown just the once since. So, last week he was using an Artik 2, which he has called his “old granny”. It is an eight-year-old model in a sport where most don’t last more than half that time and it showed when his two companions left him behind soon after departing the Devil’s Bit last week.
“Imagine a BMW and a small city car, that’s what it was like,” he explained. One of his companions took to the skies with a state-of-the-art PEAK 4 and still came up a few clicks short of the hundred. Borodescu slipped to a low of just 89 metres around Carlow at one point, but battled on.
Equipment isn’t everything, then, but it is of obvious importance. Paragliders can cost in the region of €3,000, but they are made of nothing more sturdy than nylon or polyester. The consequences when things go wrong can be fatal, even if there are many more statistically dangerous sports.
“People die like, you know?” said Borodescu. He was at one competition last summer when six parachutes were deployed within 20 minutes due to the conditions and injuries — including one guy with a broken leg and another who suffered a broken spine — weren’t uncommon. People can push themselves too hard.
Paragliding demands a balance of skill, knowledge, equipment, conditions and, last, but far from least, luck. A split second can be the difference between escaping a problem and “being in a wheelchair for the rest of your life”, but it is clear to see the attractions of a sport that allows man to hug the clouds.
That was apparent last week as the wonders of GPS allowed friends and colleagues to track Borodescu’s remarkable progress across the country, and again six days ago when he returned to Templemore where the Irish Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, of which he is a key member, held its annual meeting. Electricity isn’t something habitually associated with the humdrum of an AGM, but Borodescu’s achievement energised that room and everyone in it. Their Everest had been conquered, their four-minute mile finally run, but the best part in all this? He used to be scared of heights. There’s a lesson there for all of us.