Sam Sunderland: Yalla
© Naim Chidiac
Rally Raid

Watch Sam Sunderland race to the top of the world's tallest building

It's Sunderland till Dubai! See the 2017 Dakar Rally winner rider dash through the desert dunes, golf courses and shopping malls to be on top of the world in his new edit, Yalla.
Written by Joe Caron Dawe
6 min readPublished on
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The road to Dakar Rally 2022 has been pretty spectacular for Sam Sunderland.
The 2017 race-winner brings a whole new meaning to the term 'off road riding' in his new film, Yalla. Take a look for yourself:
I was given free rein to come up with these dream ideas of places to ride my bike
For Yalla – which means 'hurry' or, 'let's go' in Arabic – Sam was given the freedom of Dubai. He could ride his KTM 450 SX-F motocross bike wherever he liked – with nowhere off limits.
And once he'd got his bike to the 160th floor of the world's tallest building, the 830m-tall Burj Khalifa, Sam dismounted and climbed the remaining 90 mins to the top.

How Sam Sunderland got to the top of the Burj Khalifa

How the idea for Yalla came about

The seed of the idea for Yalla was sown when Sam was just starting his rally career. Based in Dubai at the time, the Brit and his friends would marvel at the city’s many immaculate golf courses, and fantasise about getting out there on a MX bike and tearing it up.
One day, they hit up a half-finished course that had been abandoned before completion, and the experience, “put that dream in my head: can you imagine how cool it would be to actually ride on a golf course?"
When Kriss Kyle helidropped in at the Burj Al Arab
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Sam's imagination was fired again in 2019 when he saw Kriss Kyle drop from a helicopter on his BMX, land on the Burj Al Arab's helipad and ride on to turn Dubai's landmarks into his own personal BMX park.
Sam Sunderland jumps a bridge at Emirates Hills Golf Club
© Naim Chidiac
The Emirates Hills Golf Course was just one of the many exclusive locations that Sam hit up in the film, and he explains how the idea for the project quickly took shape.
“I was given free rein to come up with these dream ideas of places to ride my bike – the sky was the limit.
“It turns out that everywhere I wanted to ride, I could. And there were places I didn't even think about going, like stood on top of the Burj Khalifa. What an absolutely mad experience that was.”
Honestly, climbing the Burj Khalifa was petrifying!
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With the sky being the limit, the world’s tallest building couldn’t not feature in the film. Sam went to the very pinnacle of the skyscraper, and while space was way too tight for him to get his bike up there, it was as terrifying as any stretch of barren, lonely and inhospitable desert he’s ever likely to face in the Dakar Rally.
On the Burj of greatness: Sam climbed the building for film's final shot
© Naim Chidiac
“Honestly, climbing the Burj Khalifa was petrifying! We took the lift to the 160th floor, then climbed ladders for about an hour-and-a-half and it was still dark when we got to the top. We’d set off at about 2 or 3am in the morning to make it up there in time for sunrise.
“There’s this little hatch when you get to the very top. They opened it, I looked out over the edge, and I was like: 'No, I don't want anything to do with that'."
Eventually, Sam edged out onto the tiny platform in full riding kit and the shot was nailed from a helicopter. “That was mental. Absolutely mental,” he says of the opening day’s shooting.

Sam was battling illness on the shoot

A lot of fun was had during the shoot, but it was also extremely challenging. Eight successive days of filming, with the workload often lasting up to 14 hours, was preceded by a less than ideal lead-in to the project for Sam.
Ripping through a dune in the Dubai desert
© Naim Chidiac
“I’d been at Rally Morocco for two weeks, but got food poisoning on the penultimate day,” he reveals. “I flew home for one day, then was straight off to Dubai and we started the shoot the next day.”
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The fact Sam was riding a MX bike instead of his regular enduro set-up meant there was a bit of adapting to do on the first day, and of course there was the unspoken worry that lurked at the back of his – and everyone on the shoot’s – mind: the risk of injury.
Going against the train: Sam passes some of the local camels
© Naim Chidiac
The biggest challenge however came in the least expected form. It wasn’t perching perilously atop the Burj Khalifa, neither was it flying down La Mer beach at full speed, nor ripping up bunkers on the golf course.
“Honestly, the sketchiest thing on the shoot was the tiniest jump in front of the Burj Al Arab,” he remembers. “We wanted to do something there with the Burj in the background. It's just this one bridge jump, but when we got there I realised there was nowhere to land. As soon as I touch down, there was a palm tree and a load of bushes and a hard 90-degree right turn.
The jump over the bridge at the Burj Al Arab was a hard technical challenge
© Naim Chidiac
“The jump was three times as long as the space I had to stop and turn the bike. That one was probably the smallest and most insignificant jump of the shoot, but I was genuinely scared when I had to run it!”
La Mer beach was a real highlight for Sam, a location that translates spectacularly in the film.
Sam rode around the resort of La Mer, where he had to jump a boat
© Naim Chadiac
“That was really cool. They built a dhow [a sailing boat] for me to jump. It was mad, but also very funny, because we got there and were all set up ready to rip down this tourist beach and jump a boat. Then someone told me I couldn’t damage any of the flowers where I was supposed to do the jump! So we had to improvise a bit and invent a bit of a track between some bushes and trees. It all turned out really cool in the end.”
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This is Sam's favourite film of his career (so far)

Sam’s been on plenty of shoots before, but the burden of expectation made Yalla his most rewarding challenge to date.
All the weight was on my shoulders
“Yalla was another level! I’ve been lucky to be on some crazy shoots before, like the Red Bull Gardians of the Dakar one with the Kamaz trucks and Peugeot car, but this one was so different.
“All the weight was on my shoulders, with the massive set up and big crew. Now it’s me. I need to do my thing! But it all fell into place and went really well – the crew were really experienced and an awesome bunch.”
By comparison, Sam's next challenge is relatively simple: no world record-holding buildings to climb, golf courses to navigate or flowers to swerve. He just has to win the Dakar Rally...
Follow Sam's progress in the Dakar Rally 2022 – and all the action from every classification and stage of the race – on Red Bull TV.