Nicolas Aubert next to his paramotor, which can weigh up to 23kg. / JOSE RAÚL ABAD REINA

When the sky isn't the limit

Paramotor professional Nicolas Aubert has been flying the skies since he was a boy, and he wants to make it to the top

SHAY CONAGHAN

While sitting on the beach over the summer, you might have heard the low hum of an engine, looked up in the sky and seen something. Was it a bird? A plane? In all likelihood, it was a powered paraglider up in the air, practising for an upcoming competition or simply exploring from above. And on the Costa del Sol, resident Nico Aubert is among the best gliders in the world.

Paramotor gliding is considered an extreme sport and it comes from the more traditional form of paragliding. The one major difference is that these paragliders have a single-propeller engine on their backs, packaged into a 23-kg chassis that resembles a backpack, known as a paramotor. It gives them the initial thrust they need to take off from the ground and ensure they stay up in the air for prolonged periods of time.

Taking off

A vice world paramotor champion and holding French and Dutch nationalities, the 24-year-old Estepona resident has been exploring the skies across the world since he was a boy. Initially a kitesurfer, Aubert ended up making his first powered flight at the age of thirteen.

His father, Pierre Aubert, has also operated a paramotor-making business since 1989 and was one of the pioneers. It was a match made in heaven. "I started to ask my dad to take me flying; I loved it and from there he taught me," he said. "It's not a physical sport as such, and once you're up in the air you can let go of everything and sit as if you were on your sofa."

However, just being able to practise and compete is difficult. "Powered paragliding is a costly and expensive sport, it's not like football where you can buy a pair of boots, go to a pitch and play with your friends," he explained.

That's where his sponsors come into the mix. They provide him with the necessary equipment, such as chassis, engines, paragliders and headsets. The Estepona local is also sponsored by an energy drinks company, who provide him with the financial aid to travel and cover costs.

The struggles of training

But before competing, Aubert has to train, but it's not easy to do in Estepona. Paramotor competitions are made up of two modalities: classic and slalom. Classic, in essence, is being able to navigate with only a map. "Beacons are put down on the map and we then have to fly with no gadgets, except an analogue compass," he explained. "Slalom is a circuit with bollards and whoever completes [a lap] the quickest wins."

The problem is that Estepona is too built-up to navigate and there aren't any lakes or teams that could set up the bollards for the slalom circuit. That's why Aubert has to travel to Bornos (Cadiz province) to practise, as they have the necessary facilities there. But the training itself is expensive, with a session at a nearby reservoir costing up to 500 euros a day.

Despite the high cost, Aubert has managed to take advantage of his opportunities and he came in second place at the 2018 Paramotor Slalom World Championships. And, naturally, he isn't satisfied with not winning. "Next year there's another world championship here, in Bornos," he explained. "My objective, as with any athlete, is to be at the very top."

Staying positive

His eagerness and confidence remain intact, despite the Estepona local not performing to his highest standard at a world championship held in the Czech Republic last month, where he finished ninth. There, Aubert fought tooth and nail to reach the competition in time, as he recovered from an injury.

"Six weeks before [the competition] I broke my thumb while training on my bike, I had a silly fall. I then had it immobilised for four or five weeks and I had an operation. They didn't take the surgical pins out until two weeks beforehand," he said. Aubert had his whole summer training schedule cancelled, including sessions with the French national team. "In those two weeks I had to prepare everything, tune up my equipment and train for two days in Bornos."

His ninth-place finish at the world championship wasn't bad, by any means, but the Frenchman felt like he could have done so much more. "I was aiming a lot higher, say a top three or top five finish. But the level was very high, there were about eight of us within a second of each other," he explained. "Any small error meant you went from second or third down to ninth or tenth."

Focused on the future

Even though his recent performance wasn't his best, it hasn't deterred him from keeping his eye on the real prize: to win a world championship.

"It's something I plan to achieve as soon as possible and to remain as one of the best competitive paragliders," he said. Aubert also has plans other than competing, citing that he'd love to get involved in powered paragliding adventures or flying over places no one has been to yet. And in the end, he aims to close the circle that Pierre opened over 30 years ago. "I want to run my father's business. In a couple of years, it'll be my turn to be in charge."