Watch Sam Sunderland race to the top of the world's tallest building
The 2017 Dakar Rally winner rider dashes through the desert dunes, golf courses and shopping malls of Dubai to be on top of the Burj Khalifa in his new edit, Yalla.
The 2017 race-winner brings a whole new meaning to the term 'off-road riding' in his new film, Yalla.
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 – Sunderland was given the freedom of Dubai. He could ride his KTM 450 SX-F motocross bike wherever he liked with nowhere off-limits.
Once he'd got his bike to the 160th floor of the world's tallest building, the 830m-tall Burj Khalifa, Sunderland dismounted and climbed the remaining 90 minutes to the top.
Get to know Sam Sunderland and learn all about his 2017 Dakar Rally triumph by watching the video below:
Get to know Sam Sunderland
How the idea for Yalla came about
The seed of the idea for Yalla was sown when Sunderland 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 motocross bike and tearing it up.
One day, they hit up a half-finished course that had been abandoned before completion, and for Sunderland, that experience "put the thought in my head: can you imagine how cool it would be to actually ride on a golf course?"
Sunderland's imagination was fired up 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.
The Emirates Hills Golf Course was just one of the many exclusive locations that Sunderland 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 the top of the Burj Khalifa. What an absolutely mad experience that was.”
Honestly, climbing the Burj Khalifa was petrifying
How Sam Sunderland got to the top of the Burj Khalifa
With the sky being the limit, the world’s tallest building had to be featured in the film. Sunderland went to the very pinnacle of the skyscraper. While space was way too tight for him to get his bike up there, it was as terrifying as any stretch of the barren, lonely and inhospitable desert he’s ever likely to face in the Dakar Rally.
“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 two or three 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, Sunderland 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.
Sunderland 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 Sunderland.
“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.”
The fact that Sunderland was riding an 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.
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 I realised there was nowhere to land when we got there. As soon as I touched down, there was a palm tree, a load of bushes and a hard 90-degree right turn.
“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 Sunderland, a location that translates spectacularly in the film.
“That was really cool. They built a dhow [a sailing boat] for me to jump. It was mad and 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.”
This is Sunderland's favourite film of his career (so far)
Sunderland'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, Sunderland'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 Sunderland's progress in the Dakar – and all the action from every classification and stage of the race – on Red Bull TV.