Things are looking up for skydiver Nasser Al Neyadi

Emirati Nasser Al Neyadi is preparing for the Dubai International Parachuting Championship, writes Ahmed Rizvi

Nasr Al Neyadi, in red, cheers with supporters after free-falling from the Burj Khalifa in 2010. The divers made the jump after the inauguration of the building, covering a descent of 672 metres.
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Nasser Al Neyadi stood on the ledge of the plane waiting for the count, more than 4,000 metres above the ground, with nervous energy coursing through his veins.

The Emirati, like every first-timer in the world of skydiving, was tempted to look at the expanse below him.

His instructor, however, told him not to make that mistake.

"He told me not to look down, but look at the horizon, because as soon as you look down, you will get dizzy and scared," Al Neyadi said.

That was 15 years ago. Now, Al Neyadi is a skydiving expert who has clocked close to 5,000 jumps.

"From that first jump, I have been in love with this sport," he said. "The first time, you try to shut everything out. You try not to think too much. Sure it's scary, but you get over it."

The sport is not for the faint-hearted, but it is impossible to ignore the thrills once you get past that first jump, the nerves as you walk towards the ledge with wind gushing noisily past.

Even the bravest will feel giddy, when they look below them. But once you let go of the spokes on the count of three, there is no looking back.

Aficionados insist nothing can beat the exhilaration of free-falling at 200kph and gliding through the air, with the wind violently contorting your face and your heart ready to explode. You are breathless and yet in raptures.

"It's just an incredible feeling," Al Neyadi said.

He concedes to being a jumping addict who seeks the adrenalin high, especially when he is feeling a bit down.

"When I am in a bad mood, or not feeling good, I go for a jump," he said. "I come back feeling fresh, feeling great again."

Al Neyadi's conquests include a jump from the "Roof of the World", the mighty, 8,848m Mount Everest, and the tallest man-made structure, the 829.8m Burj Khalifa. He has also landed on the roof of the Burj Al Arab.

"Jumping from Everest was one of my best experiences because I was carrying my country's flag," he said. "I was so happy."

Al Neyadi describes himself as an extreme sports enthusiast; he was a regular at wakeboarding and paragliding before he went for his first free fall. Today, his four children - three sons and a daughter - also are avid skydivers.

"My father and mother supported me and just said may God take care of you," said Al Neyadi, who was introduced to the thrills of free-falling by his friends. "Now everybody in my family skydives."

Given his passion for the sport, Al Neyadi is an obvious choice to head the just-formed Emirates Air Sports Federation. The sport is growing rapidly in the UAE with more than 7,000 members at two clubs. The country also hosted the FIA World Parachuting Championships last year and now the new federation is preparing to welcome back the world's best at the richest event in the sport - the fourth edition of the Dubai International Parachuting Championship (DIPC).

The competition will be held from November 29 to December 9. More than 1,000 participants from 55 countries are expected to take part across eight disciplines.

"No championships in the world provides the kind of prize money we do at the DIPC," said Al Neyadi, who is also chairman of the tournament's local organising committee.

The prize money this year will be Dh1.51 million.

Al Neyadi said the tournament would not be possible without the support of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. "He is supporting parachuting not just here in the UAE, but across the globe," Al Neyadi said.

The UAE will have strong representation at the event, including a women's team.

"We will have 12 teams from the UAE and they will be leaving for Spain to prepare for the championships," said Yousuf Al Hammadi, the deputy chairman of the local organising committee.

The teams will compete in four- and eight-way competitions. One will comprise the country's first canopy-formation team made up of young parachuters who are at the beginning of their careers.

Al Neyadi can promise they will never have a dull moment.