Paragliding Through the Skies of Madagascar

Tom de Dorlodot and friends swoop in with a cultural experience like no other.
By Tarquin Cooper

For the Search crew, the goal was a simple one. Get the boys together and do a mission to a remote island off East Africa: Madagascar.

These world-class paragliders are on a quest to seek out the most obscure and incredible places in the world to fly. No trip is the same. And, of course, every one has its challenges and difficulties. But they always return with epic stories and even more epic footage and images.

Check out the video above and you'll see what we mean.

 

"I have a world map at my place which I love to look at," says mission chief Tom de Dorlodot. "For a long time I’ve always looked at Madagascar thinking it’s got a huge ridge, winds from the ocean, it must have high potential."

The Search crew doing what they do best – exploring new places to paraglide
Coastal flying at its best © John Stapels

So did the flying live up to its promise?

"It was complicated in terms of access," he says, "really hard to get into the mountains, very hot and there’s only one road going north to south, the rest are tracks off the beaten trail. To cover 100km takes five to seven hours by 4x4."

Getting about in the country was hard going for the team. Here they are held up by muddy roads
Covering 100km could take 7 hours. © John Stapels

The rest of the crew consisted of paraglider pilots Horacio Llorens, Theo de Blic, Tom’s brother Harold and filmers and photographers Benoît Delfosse and John Stapels. For the team, the adventure was as important as the flying. They weren't disappointed — just getting to some of the launch sites was a challenge in itself.

hiking through a jungle
The team hike through jungle to reach a launch. © John Stapels

To obtain access, the guys hiked or drove for hours in a 4x4. And, on one corner of the island, the only access was via a pirogue — the traditional boat.

 

Sailing by Pirogue in Madagascar
The adventure was as important as the flying © John Stapels

They also needed to get special permission to visit some parts of the island. Amazingly, the authorization forms were typed on an old-fashioned typewriter.

Official types up authorisation
In Madagascar they're still waiting for Windows 95 © John Stapels

Meeting and interacting with the locals of Madagascar was very fulfilling. de Blic even mananged to convince a local fisherman to join him for a tandem flight.

"He was really cool," says Tom. "He took us to a flying spot after we explained what we were looking for. Afterwards, we took him flying in return to thank him. After that, he was a local hero — everyone wanted to know what it felt like."
 

Tom de Dorlodot shows off his acrobatic paragliding to watching locals
Showing off some acro skills © John Stapels

The best part?

"For us, it’s all about sharing the adventure and that comes with being able to immerse youself in the local lifestyle. You really get deep into it and learn how the people live. It's very interesting. Paragliding is great for that ... it's a great way to break the ice."

 

Photographer John Stapels and both Tom and Horacio took some epic images from the trip. The fact that Madgascar has been completely cut off from mainland Africa for thousands of years made this a totally unique experience. (These images barely do it justice.)

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