The Athlete’s Perspective: Gavin McClurg

Red Bull X-Alps athlete and yachtsman Gavin McClurg explains why he wouldn’t be able to do expeditions without the shots of photographer Jody MacDonald, whose image of him flying above dunes in Mozambique was a category finalist in 2013.


“I look at Red Bull Illume as being incredibly inspiring to photographers and athletes. As an athlete, imagery is everything to us. That’s how we keep our career going. I wouldn’t be able to do these type of expeditions without sponsorship; sponsors would never sponsor me without images.

Red Bull Illume was huge to Jody’s career, which has directly affected my career as well. It’s probably the hardest adventure photography contest to get an image into and if you do get in, you’re the real deal; the level of professionalism there – there’s nothing else that compares.

I really like the images that draw you, the viewer – the armchair sailor in to that environment; an image that really allows people to imagine what you as the pilot or skipper are experiencing. As pilots we always talk about the aesthetic of flying. Any image that captures that ultimate freedom of flight without a motor – those ones in the air where you’re surfing over insane terrain –  those are my favorites.

Photographers often work harder. Jody doesn’t do anything other than photography. She’s either shooting or she’s on her computer all day, day after day, it’s insane. For an athlete, especially when you participate in something dangerous like paragliding, you only like working with certain people. Jody’s really my favorite as she’s shot so much paragliding, she gets really unique stuff. I really like working with her because she understands how it works and will never ask me to do something that compromises my safety.

A favorite image of me? Probably the dune shots from Mozambique. Those really stand out. No one had ever flown that dune. It’s massive, 20 miles long! We sailed there from Madagascar and we looked up at this massive island of sand, and we were like ‘holy shit’. To actually fly it and then to get those images? What’s interesting is what happened when we got back. These huge swells broke the dingy off anchor and demolished it. We spent the night wrapped up in one of the tandem gliders. We had no food, no water. We had flown all day so we were super dehydrated. God it was a miserable night. The next morning, I was able to get the engine up, I don’t know how, it was full of sand and shit. I got everyone back to the boat and about two minutes later the engine block literally broke open. Those pictures encapsulate that whole story. Sailing there from Madagascar, finding this incredible place. We got those pictures that one day. That was it. It was a pretty special time.”

More stunning images of Gavin in the air can be found on his website. For more about the man himself, visit Facebook and Instagram. To read about his latest paragliding expedition, head over to Red Bull X-Alps.

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