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by Ailyn Martín Pastrana

“That adrenalin rush is what hooks you,” say the pilots who time and time again face danger as they jump from heights that seem difficult to attain. Skydiving, or parachuting, is the granddaddy of all flying sports. In Cuba it has a long tradition associated with aviation—many skydivers have received training as part of their professions and then gone on to practice it as a hobby. The Varadero International Skydiving Center in Matanzas Province is the main site for jumps in the country.

Tandem flights are made there at customer request and you can also get flights for paragliding and paramotor, two variations that have been gaining popularity in Cuba for a while. Equipment for this sport include an ultra-light rectangular and flexible glider which weighs less than the pilot. Paramotor uses the same equipment but with the addition of a motor and propellers. Both disciplines are considered types of skydiving, only that the jumps are taken from steep slopes and not from planes.

In Cuba, flying sports are becoming more and more popular. Flying enthusiasts are participating in the effort to promote a hobby that is an adventure in the air but full of difficulties on land. The participants tell us that the main drawback to promoting these disciplines on the Island is the high cost of the equipment along with the fact that it is impossible to buy them in the country. Thanks to the collaboration of the Cuban Free flight Federation with other similar groups abroad, the practitioners receive donated equipment.

“It’s hard to carry on practicing the sport because the equipment needs maintenance and it’s impossible to buy parts here. For example, the wings have a useful lifespan of 300 flight hours. After that, you start taking risks with every jump,” Roberto Urribares, the president of the Havana Paragliding Club tells us.

Cuban paragliders are able to measure their skills, both as individuals and teams, at the national competition which in 2107 will be taking place from April 11 to 17 at Isla de la Juventud. Current national ranking is led by Granma Province, followed by Isla de la Juventud, Santiago de Cuba and Havana. The ideal locations to practice paragliding are in the eastern part of Cuba and that’s why most of the clubs are found there.

Havana does not really have any good locations for takeoffs and flights and so paragliding enthusiasts generally meet in Canasí. This area has a campground where people interested in flying sports can do tandem exercises with expert pilots.

“Those wanting to learn about this sport merely need to get in touch with the club. We have no limitations other than the scarcity of equipment.” Urribares said. He has recently published a dictionary on paragliding terminology and he’s getting another one ready that deals with the history of the sport in Cuba.

Paramotor is the “baby” of air sports in Cuba. It reached the height of its media coverage when the veteran Cuban pilot Luis García flew from Varadero to the Morro Castle in Havana. Right now, plans are underway to include this type (in tandem flights) among the items offered by the Varadero Center.

“The Varadero…Havana trip was incredibly exciting; it made us more visible as a sport. Now we want to do a Key West…USA trip. We’ve done several training flights from Sagua de Tánamo (Holguín Province) to Cárdenas (Matanzas Province) and from Kilometer 259 (Cienfuegos) to Havana. We have a team of five pilots, with all the required safety devices, planes, boats, etc. In the event we can’t make this trip we have others in mind such as Haiti…Maisí (Guantánamo Province), Pinar del Río…Cancun (Mexico) or Pilón (Granma Province)…Jamaica,” announced Gerardo Ramos, who belongs to the Alas Bayamo Club and is currently the pioneer in this type of sport in his city.

“I started skydiving and then I got interested in paragliding and finally paramotor. Since I didn’t have equipment at first, I made the first paramotor ever in Cuba. Gradually, this hobby has taken over my life,” he told us in an interview. He hopes to join the Varadero International Skydiving Club very soon.

Tips for practicing flying sports in Cuba:

If you wish to take solo flights, bring your own equipment because you can’t buy it in Cuba.

To use Cuban air space, you have to get a permit from the corresponding authorities, so get complete details before you jump.

If you don’t know how to do solo jumps, choose the tandem flight option accompanied by Cuban specialists at the Varadero International Skydiving Club.

Don’t forget your camera (GoPro), aerial views of Cuba are truly spectacular. Besides, you can record your own personal reaction to jumping—it tends to be a lot of fun.

Thanks to LaHabana.com for this article.

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