A New Ross paraglider won a stage of the sport's world championships, flying into the history books in the process.
Bogdan Bialka, who goes by the name Skymaster, became the first ever Irish resident to win a task at the Paragliding World Championship in Krushevo, Macedonia, last month.
Competing against 150 of the best pilots from all over the world (from 49 nations), Bogdan won the final stage and was given a hero's welcome at the podium, where the MC commented on the success of the Irish resident in the first time Ireland has competed in the championships.
Draped in an Irish flag, Bogdan held his hands up high in celebration as his name was called out, having collected a bottle of champagne for his efforts.
'Paragliding is the closest humans can get to the feeling of flying like a bird,' Bogdan said afterwards.
'It's a fun and safe way to experience flying in its simplest form. You simply lay out a wing on hillside or mountain, inflate it over your head like a kite, run a few steps and before you even know it, you've stepped off into the sky.'
Once in the air a pilot is able to maintain and even gain altitude using lifting air currents and thermals.
Altitudes of up to 6000 meters can be reached in some parts of the world.
'Landing a paraglider is quite easy,' Bogdan explained.
'The pilot simply steers it into the landing area and glides down for a very gentle touch down back to earth. Paragliding is one of the fastest growing air sports mainly thanks to the portability of its equipment. Entire gear can be easily folded into a large backpack and taken anywhere with you. For those who wonder what is the paragliding competition in cross country flying about let me explain. There is one race per day and the competition can last up to 10 successful tasks completed. All competitors are racing on a predefined course selected by task committee just before the start of the race.'
The route is usually between 50kms and an astounding 200kms long, marked by tags (virtual cylinders to be crossed in order). The task is to complete the course by reaching the goal as fast as possible.
This year Ireland took part in World Championship for the first time in the history and the Integer (formerly Lake Region) employee had the honour of proudly representing the nation. During the championships Bogdan successfully completed ten tasks, with a total of nearly 900km flown.
In the competition, the pilots collectively flew an incredible total of 128,662 km, more than three times the circumference of the globe.
'After many struggles and technical problems caused by my limited financial resources I have managed to win the last, tenth task making history in the sport of Irish paragliding. As it was my first participation in World Championship my goal was primarily to gain as much experience and knowledge as possible. I went with no expectation of results.'
The majority of other national teams had technical support, coaches, managers and best equipment possible.
'I had to take care of all that by myself. Despite all that I have managed to be a winner in one of the tasks, coming in front of a great deal of former world champions, world cup champions, European champions, national champions and great flock of paragliding legends etc. It was well noted in the paragliding world. That made me believe again to never give up and fight to the end. It had also confirmed my potential for victories in future competitions.'
Paragliding racing is a very complex sport and requires multidimensional knowledge from many branches like meteorology, aerodynamics, navigation, equipment tuning etc. As it is an extreme sport, mental preparation, tactics, strategy and risk management play a key role as well.
'With my full-time job I am struggling to organise time for training and to embrace all those aspects by myself. But the most important thing is that progress can be noted so I am very positive about the future. Even now with my very limited resources I am able to compete with the best pilots in the world. It would be great to finally obtain a sponsor. It would allow me to be more competitive, progress faster and bring some more trophies back to Ireland.'
Bogdan can be contacted on 085 7214764.