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Paragliding in Elgeyo Marakwet County

20 February 2012, 14:27 Bernard Gitau

Elgeyo Marakwet County is only well-known for producing internationally celebrated record-breaking athletes. The County is now being introduced to a new sport which is in advance popularity by the day along the Kerio Valley escarpment at the outer edge of the Great Rift Valley.

The Keiyo athletes’ legerdemain has often been attributed to rigorous training in Iten town thanks to the high altitude and undulating hills which adorn the county has continued to attract athletes from far and wide.

Some of the global-trotting record-shattering athletes from this county who have become a household name at home and internationally include: Ezekiel Kemboi, Viviane Cheruiyot, Wilson Kipsang, Edna  Kiplagat, Sylvia Kibet, Nancy Jebet Lagat, Dutch-based Kenyan born
Lorna Kiplagat to name just but a few.

The new sport is airborne unlike athletics that is ground-based. And this new sport is called paragliding.  As the name suggests, paragliding is a sport where participants run for a few metres down the scenic cliffs of the Kerio valley escarpment with parachute-like apparatus strapped on their backs.


The gliders’ apparatus are wind-propelled and they open as they run down the precipitous cliffs and once the parachutes open up, the gliders start their fabulous aerial expedition in the vast windy Kerio valley.

The exhilarating sport has for the past few years attracted many paragliders mainly from European countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland. Paragliding is a common event in these Alpine countries.

The Kerio valley escarpment is similar to the scenic rolling mountains of these European countries. That is why the paragliders have chosen this region for the new sport. 

Paragliding is a recreational and competitive adventure sport of  flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-lauched glider aircraft. The pilot sits in harness suspended below a hollow fabric wing whose shape is that of a parachute. The paragliders flight can last many hours and cover many hundreds of  kilometres though flights of one to two hours and covering some tens of kilometres are more the norm.

Hundreds of Keiyo residents thronged the escarpment to get a glimpse of the daring paragliders. So far no any African paraglider though. Virtually all of them were white foreigners who have lately ‘invaded’ Iten town for their summer holidays.

These gliders, will be there for a month which coincides with the current dry spell that is suitable for paragliding. One of the world renowned paragliders  at the gliding site was 39 year old professional pilot Markus Schapler from Germany.


Last year Schapler was also here for the sport and he set a record of 208.34 kilometres which he covered while carrying a passenger (this is called Tandem flying) strapped together to the parachute-like apparatus. In his record- breaker, Schapler flew from Fluorspar mines at the bed of the Kerio valley to Tot in Marakwet district and back with his passenger aboard the glider. According to those who witnessed this event, it was such a spectacular feat.

Schapler works at Skywalk Company in Germany and the record holder said he started paragliding 25 years ago when he was just fourteen! He now teaches paragliding in his country and he confided that he loves this job and will do it as long as his health and strength permit him.

“ I spend every summer holidays in the Kerio Valley because I like the magnificent scenery and enjoy paragliding, These flying expeditions offer me an ideal place for me to teach students how to launch the gliding apparatus,” he said through a translator as he has not mastered the English language.

The paraglider displays his skilled aerial maneuvres with un-marched dexterity soaring thousands of feet high up in the blue skies above the Kerio escarpment. “It is only in the Kerio valley where a paraglider can practice spiral dive (i.e. getting down in a spiral manner) at very fast speed of five metres per second for starters,” Schapler said adding that professional spiral divers like him could do up to 20 metres per
second of more.

Schapler has gained popularity among the local residents who often cheer him on as he performs meticulous gliding episodes in the air. On Thursday, chants of “Markus, Markus“rent the air from titillated spectators when he hovered around the launching bay. These cheers encouraged him to glide more in swift speed and making some splendid
moves mid air.

Schapler praises Kenyans for their hospitality and good nature. He said: “Kenyans are a welcoming and hospitable people. In other countries, people are aloof and unfriendly. This hospitality has always encouraged me to keep coming to the country, “he said with a
wide smile and enthusiasm written all over his face.

Another paraglider we met was Mr. Coetz  Witschle another German who says this was his first visit to Kenya to paraglide at the Kerio valley. He said he will never miss coming around this time of year every year. In fact he contemplates starting an IT business in Kenya.
He is an IT specialist.

“Paragliding is a sport like any other sport. Kenyans should diversify their sporting talents and delve into such new sports,” Witschle said. He said Kenyans majority of whom were good athletes were most suitable for the new sport and encouraged the youth to try a hand in it.
The Elgeyo Marakwet County is set to benefit enormously from the emerging sporting activities. The topography of this county is suitable for a variety of sporting activities apart from the athletics which has been the obsession of most youths in this region.

The county should encourage paragliding events as this is a sure way of enhancing revenue in the area as it is a tourist attraction. If Kenyans can venture into and adopt this new sporting activity, we will soon be gliding our way to fame and prosperity.

Disclaimer: News24Kenya encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24Kenya.

- News24Kenya

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