>>>“Pakistan is the most spectacular place I’ve ever flown”
We interview Horacio Llorens, professional acrobatic paragliding pilot

“Pakistan is the most spectacular place I’ve ever flown”

He has soared through the skies of more than 40 countries on a paraglider, and was the first to do it during the Northern Lights. At 33 years old, he is still setting himself new challenges, such as piloting the first flight over the Antarctic.
H
oracio Llorens is the record holder for doing the most vertical loops in the air: 568 loops, after jumping out of a helicopter, at a height of 6,000 m. And it was not the first time he had done it. The Spanish sportsman is one of the leading paragliding pilots in the world. While acrobatics are his specialisation, he also seeks adventure. His calling to explore dizzying heights has taken him to Polynesia and Tanzania.

When did you decide you preferred looking at the world from above?

I have dreamed of flying since I was a child. I would dream Peter Pan was my friend, and always dressed up as Superman at school. When I was seven years old, my older cousins, Raúl and Félix Rodríguez, started flying. Today, both are legends in paragliding. I knew that, at some point, as soon as my mother would let me, I was going to do it too.

He bought his first paraglider by working as a sailor for his father, the captain of a ship.
Photo: Thomas De Dorlodot

What do you remember about your first flight?

The first time I flew alone was in Chinchilla de Montearagón, near Albacete (Spain). I was 14 years old. It was a very short flight, at 60 m, and lasted a minute and a half. But, while it was the shortest flight in my life, I became utterly enamoured with the sensation of flying: climbing, being able to see things from above and being able to control the flight myself.

During his journey to Africa, he soared through the skies of countries like Sudan.
Photo: John Stapels

What does the world look like from up there?

Spectacular. I like going up high and seeing the place from a different perspective that no one else can see. Flying gives you the purest sensation of freedom.

Infinity tumbling is the most complicated acrobatic paragliding manoeuvre: the pilot passes vertically over the wing, doing as many loops as possible.
Photo: John Stapels

You have just returned from Madagascar. What most surprised you about the African island?

Its size (1,500 km long, by 500 km wide), not to mention the wide variety of different climates, because it changes a lot from north to south. The east coast is very dry, the west coast is forest, and the central plateau has extremely high mountains and giant cliffs. The landscapes were different to anything I had seen before. We were flying over green cliffs, rock walls, 500 m high, completely covered in some type of moss.

“People in Madagascar are very hospitable. They were very kind to us.”
Photo: John Stapels

It is also thanks to the sport that you have been able to see the Northern Lights up close. How was your “borealis flight” in Tromsø, Norway?

It was a real challenge. Firstly, because of the cold. We were at -20ºC on land, and the apparent temperature in flight, going 60 km/h into a headwind, drops significantly. The equipment was very important: I was wearing thermal gloves and a neoprene suit. I was flying with a paramotor because there were katabatic winds, which means descending winds, and I had to fight against them to move upwards. We also had to wait for the aurora boreal for several days. Sometimes it would appear at 9pm, others at one in the morning, and other times at 5am. It goes away so quickly that I had to be prepared, with the paramotor running. We slept little and worked a lot, but the photographs were worth the effort.

“It was a fight against the clock to get a photograph with aurora boreal.”
Photo: Frode Sandbech
I normally travel with my paragliding rucksack

What has been your most special flight?

There are several. When I flew over the Mayan pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala, over the Gran Jaguar and the entire surrounding complex. Also, the flight I did across Africa, from north to south, from Egypt to South Africa, in four months. I flew over Victoria Falls, the second widest waterfall on the planet, over elephants on the Okavango Delta and over Ngorongoro National Park. There, I landed on the crater of the Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Mountain of the Gods, according to the Maasai. It had been four years since its last eruption, and it had the perfect shape of a volcano, with recent lava.

The height of Victoria Falls, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, varies from 80 to 108 m
Photo: Thomas De Dorlodot

Where would you like to fly next?

In Antarctica. Our idea is to be the first to go there, because no one has ever crossed it on a paraglider. We want to open up a way through this frozen paradise. We are also planning an expedition to Mongolia, to cross it by flight and bivouac. This consists of following a route for several days, where you arrive, sleep, and then keep flying the following day. However, at the moment, what I most want to do is go back to Pakistan. I was there in 2011, and it is the most spectacular place I have flown up to now, with mountains of up to 7,000 and 8,000 m, and hidden valleys. There are no roads, no towns, nothing.

He will make a new attempt to beat the world record for paragliding height, in Pakistan. To do this, he will climb to more than 7,000 m, with an oxygen tank.
Photo: John Stapels

And when you are on land, what type of travel do you like?

I don’t have much time for holidays. I normally travel with my paragliding rucksack. When I don’t have it with me, I always feel as though I have forgotten something. I normally go to Majorca with my girlfriend. My father has a boat, and I love sailing. I am also a big fan of scuba diving. I would like to go to New York next year.

When he is not soaring through the skies, Horacio also enjoys water sports, like scuba diving.

And fly next to the Empire State building?

Yes (he laughs). Jumping off the Empire State building would be a great adventure.

Biography

Horacio Llorens got his love of heights from his family. His cousins and his uncle, Félix, a flight instructor, taught him how to fly. Since going solo, at 14 years old, he has not stopped chalking up achievements with his inseparable paraglider.

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