At speeds in excess of 100km/h Jonny Durand has survived great white sharks, a massive ocean swell, powerful winds and the unforgiving cliffs of the Great Australian Bite to set two new world hang-gliding records.
A multiple national champion, international event-winner and world record holder for having soared higher and farther than almost all hang-gliders before him, Jonny can now add “fastest” to his list of world-beating achievements after having covered 300km in just 4 hours 16 minutes.
Renowned for his unique feats and world firsts, such as having performed aerobatics in the Morning Glory rolling cloud formation in central Australia in 2009, Jonny had long dreamed of adding another deadly aspect to his sport by flying over the open waters of South and Western Australia.
And after a year of planning and his two-week project window quickly closing in on him, the 33-year-old finally achieved his goal this week and set two new world records – quickest 300km out-and-return distance and quickest 100km out-and-return. It’s a matter of flying half the distance from base camp and back again, hopefully without stopping.
“I flew along the cliffs, at the mercy of the winds, waves and great whites below,” an elated Jonny says with a laugh.
“It was amazing, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. And in terms of personal achievements, it’s way up there. There were just so many elements.”
Most being the conditions and the treacherous terrain he hand-picked.
“We decided to do it at the Great Australian Bite, where the winds pushing from the ocean and up the cliff allowed me to stay in the air the entire time without stopping – even once,” Jonny says.
“There’s a constant flow of air and you can glide along at high speeds without having to circle for the right air and altitude. Normally, we spend a lot of our time circling and that’s not only tiring but really affects your speed.
“In the end, I only did two turns all day – one in each attempt just so I could turn the thing around to come home.”
The previous average speed record for the 300km journey was 56km/h, with a total time of just under 5.5 hours. Jonny smashed that record by recording an average speed of 72km/h. The previous 100km average speed record was 76km/h, Jonny also easily accounting for that measure by covering the distance at an average speed of more than 90km/h. At times, he reached terrifying speeds of close to 110km/h.
“I was literally beating the traffic and camera crews and they had real difficulty keeping up,” he says with a laugh.
“They were struggling to get in a position to get pics and that. It was hilarious to watch. But I’m glad they were there and waited for the right opportunity.
“We had a two week waiting period and unfortunately it came down to just one day which meant I only got to do two attempts – the 300km and the 100km. But I beat both and I couldn’t be happier.”
That’s right, he completed both flights in the very same day. Sore much?
“Haha. My arms and particularly my triceps got busted from moving around my body so much with the turbulence that can get pretty gnarly,” Jonny says.
“And the last thing you want to do is end up in the water.”
And he almost did…
“We had reports of great whites in the area but luckily all I saw were seals,” Jonny continues.
“Because I came pretty close to sinking it at one stage. I actually resigned myself to the fact I was going to have to make a water landing and unstrapped myself and everything. It’s something we try to avoid at all costs and luckily I didn’t have to. But I’ve never been closer to one.”
The Big Bight is one of the most remote and terrifying flying locations in the world. Add to that two of hang-gliding’s most coveted world records, broken at death-defying speeds, and Jonny Durand has cemented himself not only as a world-quality daredevil but a modern hang-gliding great.
“And to have my parents there, who started it all for me, watching on – I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Jonny finishes.
Heeeeere's to, Jonny!