Hang-gliding: Jonny Durand v Dinosaur

Jonny Durand takes on airspace with a reputation for near-fatal consequences
Jonny Durand Soaring © VUE Images
By Josh Rakic

The town is named Dinosaur. But the cliffs and plateau on the Western Colorado and Utah border bear more bones than just those of ancient creatures. It’s arguably the most treacherous hang-gliding territory in the world. As evidenced by the fact it hasn’t played home to a big contest in 25 years. And, for the first time in his career, that Jonny Durand is using oxygen for fear of high altitude drama.

“This place is renowned for thunderstorms that can create havoc from nowhere,” says Jonny, who was grounded yesterday on account of said thunderstorms.

Out here, it’s pretty crazy. We reach heights of 18,000 feet. So I have oxygen that I’m flying with for the first time ever.

The five-day contest, to be completed by the weekend, boasts some 150 hang-gliders including the reigning world champion and 40 of the best pilots the world has to offer. For with one of the biggest prize purses in hang-gliding history on offer, it was enough for Jonny and co throw caution to the wind. “It’s the most prize money ever in competition and nearly all my biggest opponents are here, so it’s quite big,” Jonny continues.

“The top five guys in the world are here and we’ve all got our eye on the prize. “And it’s big air flying out here. Pretty crazy. I’ve heard stories of this place and none of them have inspired me to come here. The mountain, the terrain, the height we get. It’s not for pussies. “It just creates thunderstorms that develop super quickly. And there are stories from pilots in the 1990s about having their gliders torn apart and turned into confetti and then having to come down by parachute. It’s crazy. “It’s been 25 years since the last big comp here and for good reason.”
But he won’t have to look far for family support, with his 60-year-old father Jonny Snr contesting the event alongside him. They wanna make sure at least one of them claims the big purse.

“I’m pretty excited about. It’s only happened a few times before overseas so that’s pretty cool for me,” Jonny Jnr continues. “He’s still smashing it. He just won the last big comp in Australia and is ranked No.3 at home and 28th in the world. Not bad for an old man. But he hasn’t beaten me for a long while…”

The contest is expected to be completed by Saturday AEST, with competitors to cover anywhere from 100km to 400km per day - weather permitting.

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