Brave People Crowned by the Sky
Although Serbia has only twenty three clubs and three hundred paragliding pilots (in France, for example, there are tens of thousands of them), their results have surpassed many economically wealthier countries and bigger nations. Flying is a great challenge and a gift, conquest of freedom and beauty, an experience that changes you forever. And up there, when literally reach the clouds, it becomes clear why the birds sing

By: Bojana Damjanović
Photographs: Archive of the Aero Club of Serbia

Since time immemorial, man has sought to rise above the ground, to take off and feel the freedom. And never before was it easier to make this ”most beautiful dream of the human soul” come true. It is pure heaven, paragliding, daring and a place of take-off. This sport, in which Serbia in recent years achieved remarkable results, is today the easiest way to experience the magic of flying.
– Since 2008, when our pilots became European champions in discipline called paragliding precision landing, there has not been an international competition from which they would not bring back medals. Last year they placed second at the World Championship, third at the European. They won many medals are competitions during the World Cup and, to our great joy, continued the series of exceptional results. At one moment we had the strongest league in the world in paragliding precision landing, and even today we are one of the best three nations in this discipline. In the second discipline – racing, which has many more practitioners (they say that there are three-four million pilots in the world), we have also been very good in the past years – says Željko Ovuka, for many years a member of our representation in paragliding in discipline racing and general secretary of the Aeronautical Union of Serbia (VSS), one of the fans who with their work and perseverance gave a great contribution to the worldwide takeoff of Serbian paragliding. – Our pilot Vladimir Bačanin placed twentieth on the world ranking list, which is an exceptional success. Petar Lončar, an exceptional guy, placed tenth on the world ranking list in the third paragliding discipline, acrobatic paragliding. Nobody was practicing this discipline in Serbia, and there are no good terrains, which makes his success much more significant. It is necessary to have an appropriate lake above which the pilot would exercise acrobatic movements, so Petar went to Macedonia for training.


Labud Bulatović, president of the Aeronautical Union of Serbia (VSS), the person who knows the best the measure and secrets of success of Serbian paragliding, shared some of it with us:
– There are only three hundred paragliding pilots in Serbia, while (for example) Slovenia has one thousand and France tens of thousands, but we have managed to surpass them, relying on our courage, creativity and professional work! It is a fortune, at these international competitions, attended by Americans, Germans, Russians, Chinese and other big nations, to be able to proudly say where you are coming from, what country you represent. Athletes are really the best ambassadors of Serbia, and pilots also have some additional charm for socializing and breaking down prejudices. Wherever they go to these big European or world championships, from Tokyo to Los Angeles, they achieve significant results, win medals and leave excellent impression.
Thanks to this reputation, in October 20011 Belgrade was the host to the one hundred fifth General Conference of the International Federation of Aeronautics (FAI), says Bulatović. Despite the suspicion of some of the participants, we were all truly impressed by the Serbian organization, professional work and hospitality. Already at the subsequent conference, in Turkey, they expressed the wish to come to Serbia again. Reputation of a serious aviation nation and good Association has continued to grow, and Željko Ovuka, general secretary of the VSS and the state record breaker, was selected as Vice President of the Committee for paragliding in the International Federation of Aeronautics.
– On the basis of all this, we have entered into European pre-accession funds, which is very important for our sport. In the past years we have hosted some important international competitions. This year we are organizing the world cup on Kopaonik, and the following year the European championship in Vršac and on Kopaonik. We are trying to expand the range of competitions, from those on the local and club level to state championship. We have Serbian League, Pre-world and World Cup... This is opening a chance for younger competitors and attracting new athletes, who are the future of this elite sport – adds Bulatović.
President of the Aeronautical Union of Serbia is pleased because they have managed to attract many ladies into paragliding. They, just like the boys, have been achieving success for years. Milica Bićanin, Tamara Kostić, Milica Marinković... Young and talented, they were bringing home medals from world championships when they were eighteen.
– Thanks to high enthusiasm and creativity in all twenty clubs in Serbia, paragliding here has a future. Serbia has many beautiful terrains for flying, which is also important from the perspective of tourism. People why have chosen this modern, beautiful and attractive sport, after taking off, look like powerful eagles, birds who are so beautifully swaying and flying.


– Paragliding flying is really eagle-like thermal turning – explains Željko Ovuka. – Eagles are catching thermal pillars, lifts of warm air, which carries them upward. We are also trying to find that warm air and circling, centering, we are slowly moving upward. When you achieve the height, you start flying. In Serbia, I have achieved height of 3,500 meters. In this way I flew over 186 kilometer from Vršac to Niš and set the state record. Very few people had an opportunity to see Serbia from that particular height, not from an airplane, from 10,000 meter, from where you cannot really see anything. These are scenes of great beauty. For example, from the spot where the Danube enters the gorge near Banatska Palanka you can see the entire flow of the river toward Belgrade and see how it’s winding, while the water glitters and sparkles in the sun Enchanted, you feel a great peace and excitement at the same time. You are surrounded by nature and the sky, you are flying, you have your sports goal that you achieve or not, but these images remain forever in your head, for the rest of your life, In addition to birds, in this beautiful sport you also meet people. I used to land in various places... Most often I would encounter children. They follow, watching you fly, then they sit on their bicycles and come to ask you something. For this reason I always bring candies when I fly.
Thanks to paragliding, says Ovuka, he has traveled all over the world. Especially interesting trips were those to other continents. Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, India, Taiwan, Korea, Australia...
– I especially liked Brazil, because people there are happy, satisfied with what they have. In some countries it is not only the most beautiful in the air, but also the safest. As soon as you land, you are facing various dangers. In India people warned me and told me not to go far from the runway, because there were pumas, cobras and other dangerous animals. I was careful to land near the places where I had taken off. There were temptations also, but everything ended well. In Australia it was also interesting because of various animals. On some images from Mexico it can be seen that we were guarded by the police with long rifles while we were competing. It all ended without problems, because it was the World Cup, competition at the highest level, where everything was organized exceptionally well. For us, it was an opportunity to follow the development of our sport in the world, in order to transfer important experiences to our young pilots. Only in this way one can remain up to date and strive toward the top.


– My instructor, a superb competitor in the discipline precision landing, quickly inspired a desire for competing and top results – says Tamara Kostić, young Serbian representative. Sports spirit, knowledge and skill enabled her to achieve exceptional results in the previous season. She is the state champion in precision landing, and she placed third at the World Cup in 2012.
– I love when at a competition I feel that my effort was not in vain. Because of this, I prefer some of my silver medals to gold ones. In order to achieve good results in this discipline, one needs a lot of experience, concentration and sports luck. On the other hand, the mood at competitions is always cheerful and I easily adjusted to this. Since I started practicing this sport, I have actually been fulfilling my dreams. This freedom that you experience already during your first flight gets under your skin forever. Vicinity of the clouds, the feeling of flying through the air and that moment when you take off the ground are magical. In time and by practicing, you are learning how to reach the clouds and literally touch them! Then you realize why the birds sing.


How Dangerous Is It?
– Despite some preconceptions, paragliding is not a dangerous sport – says Željko Ovuka. – Actually, it is as dangerous as you want it to be. You take a bicycle, you run down a busy street and you will risk being hit by a car. But if you are riding moderately and carefully, you will have no problems. The same applies here. Actually, paragliding can be dangerous because of ignorance. In Serbia we have six schools which are working profoundly and systematically. We don’t have any problems. Accidents only happen when an individual makes omissions, fails to follow procedures. In order to be a good pilot, you must know meteorology, micro-meteorology and flying technique.


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