Austria’s veteran athlete tells us about tagging five Turnpoints in a day, and why "2011 Paul" would have come last in 2023.
How did this year compare to previous editions?
It was a totally special race for everybody. For me it was a very different race to all the six editions that I had done before. This was the first time it was more flying with a little bit of hiking. At the beginning of my career, in 2011, I was not a good pilot at all if I'm comparing it to now. I feel like I was a total beginner. I had no idea what I was actually doing, I just followed a couple of long cross-country tracks back then and put every thermal in my GPS and that's how I flew 220 kilometers 13 years ago but I wasn't a good pilot. I was lucky because in 2011 it was mostly a running race so I came in third and that started my career and then I improved and improved. Interestingly this year was the total opposite where it was mostly a flying event and I'm happy I could still keep up because with the skills I had in 2011 I would have been the last probably!
But you were happy with your performance?
I think 14 or 15 positions were within six or seven hours coming into goal and I was in there so I'm happy. Of course you look on the ranking [and you may say] he was only 13th that's not good but personally for me I'm confident. It was a ‘flow’ result.
What about Day 4 when you tagged five Turnpoints in a day and ended up in 4th. That must have been memorable!
That day was a crazy day – we hiked up to one pass, glided down, ran 20km on the flat and then launched and landed on the bottom of Niesen and then flew up [Paul took off from just 1,000m and successfully flew to the Turnpoint]. I landed on top of Niesen and then still flew to Mont Blanc and around Mont Blanc – and I could never have imagined something like this was possible actually!
Was it good to be back with the front-runners?
In hindsight I would say it was a little bit of a conflict there. I was suddenly in the front again but even after all these years I didn't want the pressure. Suddenly all these guys were with me, Pal, Damien, Chrigel was just one mountain ahead. We were together and three days before the end I started making mistakes, which wasn’t good.
Isn’t there some crazy story about your supporter driving the VW up a ski slope?
That was at the very beginning. I was running up very late to the mountain to get the last flight in and suddenly I see the Volkswagen van just racing up the ski slope, like what's going on? I mean yeah, he was all-in. [Christian Durrant is an Australian former fighter pilot turned hike & fly athlete].
Any other happy crazy moments?
The whole experience for sure is a happy crazy moment. One specific moment? Flying in the end with 60 km/h over the valleys and not feeling in danger – flying with the wind in the right direction. You’re like okay, well I'm really flying like a bird right now after 11 hours in the air and it works out and you're not in trouble.
What have you been up to since the race?
With Aaron Durogati I’ve founded a series of hike & fly events called wanderbird.io The idea is to give back to the community. These are really events for everybody. The whole concept is to create a funnel where you can learn and become better at hike and fly.
2025, you think you’ll come back?
Not sure. But I say this every time!
Top image © zooom / Lukas Pilz