The 1984 film The NeverEnding Story introduced us to Falkor, a white-haired, 43-foot-long “luck dragon” with huge brown eyes who soars through the skies of the fictional land of Fantasia. We immediately fell in love with Falkor because, in many ways, he’s a giant flying dog; give him a few ear scratches, and he can’t help but let his big tongue droop from his mouth. What we wouldn’t give for a companion like Falkor, and to fly through the sky on the back of our furry best friend, but fiction is fiction … or so we thought.

Turns out that Falkor doesn’t live in Fantasia but rather in a van currently parked in the French Alps; his name isn’t Falkor but rather Ouka (oo-ka), and he isn’t a century-old flying luck dragon but a three-year-old Samoyed who enjoys paragliding. To understand how Ouka became a flying Samoyed, we must go back through the pages of his story and understand how he came to find his owner, 39-year-old Shams.

“As a child I wanted to be a filmmaker,” Shams tells us, “but when I was young, the internet was not like it is today; it was difficult to find information about how to become a filmmaker. My mom was like, ’If you want to do something like that, you have to go to school and study well.’ So that’s what I did, I attended a university in Marseille and then, boom: eight years later I’m working in computer graphics and pursuing a PhD. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it’s what I was doing.”

Through his office window, Shams looked out at a mountain where people often went paragliding, so he decided to take a lesson — and after that, never stopped paragliding. “It took me a few months to keep going and manage to find time with the Ph.D., but I kept going on the lessons and started to fly more and more,” Shams says. “It’s a very time-consuming activity, so you need to dedicate a lot to it, and with the Ph.D., it was complicated to fly during the first years.”

Shams had found the passion he yearned for but still felt stifled by the life that he’d created for himself. Then one day, after a heated conversation with his boss, Shams looked through the window in his office and saw a paraglider take off from the mountain. “I was like, ‘That should be me on top of this mountain,’” Shams says. “I closed my laptop, went to the director’s office, and told him I was not coming back the next day.” In 2010, Shams quit his job, abandoned his nearly finished PhD, and pursued his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

It took him a year to find his first clients, whom he met through paragliding, and soon Shams started creating videos for a bunch of brands involved with paragliding, skydiving, and BASE jumping, because he understood how to film in the air instead of being on the ground, capturing cinematic movement in the sky. “In 2013, I went on a trip to Polynesia with two Red Bull athletes to stay on a boat for three months,” Shams says. “Red Bull liked what I did and wanted to keep working together, and that’s how the things went: small step by small step, but very fast, because it’s a small industry.”

In 2017 Shams bought a large Renault Master van and outfitted it to live on the road. Over the next three years, he traveled to, and lived in, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Greece, Norway, and Turkey, before he decided to visit India in early 2020. “Then COVID started in March and changed the situation drastically,” he says. “I was blocked in India and had to leave the van in India in the end of March when I was repatriated to Europe by emergency plane. I was thinking, ’Okay, in two or three months, this small flu is going to end and I can go back to India,’ but I was not able to go back until January, 2021.”



That’s when Shams started considering getting his first-ever dog. He says, “For a long time, I was super happy to be alone, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but it was starting to be a bit sad to be alone. I wanted to share those moments with someone.” He wanted a Samoyed because a friend of his had one who would do tandem paragliding flights, strapped into a harness between the owner’s legs. “It’s not extreme at all, actually, for the dog,” Shams says. “Some people are very afraid that we are jumping from a plane or doing BASE jumps, but that’s completely different. If I was going to get a dog, I needed a dog that could reach the top of mountains and would hopefully fly down with me.”

Serendipitously, Shams found a two-year-old Samoyed named Ouka available for adoption at a shelter in a tiny village in northeast France. Ouka had been abandoned twice, first by a family that lived in a small apartment and bought the puppy as a stuffed animal for their kids, surrendering him after only six months, then again by a family who had another dog that was aggressive toward Ouka. Shams says, “Ouka spent 18 months living outside in their garden, not able to go inside the home, so he’d escape and run away, and that’s why they brought him back to the shelter, dirty and full of parasites.”

Shams didn’t know what to expect when he first met Ouka, but immediately he bonded with the playful and friendly pup. “I asked the owner of the shelter, ’What is the trick? I don’t understand how you can abandon a dog like this, because he’s super nice and super cute,” Shams recalls. “The main reason was that Ouka is a very athletic dog and needs to go out a lot, and he didn’t have the luck to find a family that can bring him in nature and run for many hours every day. I think that was the main problem, but really, he’s just perfect — for me at least.”

In an instant, all of the loneliness and sadness that Shams felt was gone, and he and Ouka cohabited comfortably in the van, adventured throughout France, and started working toward flying together. Shams says, “I wasn’t going to force him, because the Samoyed breed is infamous for being quite stubborn, and when they want to do something, they do it, and when they don’t want to do something, they don’t. If he didn’t want to paraglide, I would’ve lived with that, but I was very surprised and very happy to see that we passed every step, one by one, very easily and very quickly.”

First, he made sure Ouka was not afraid of heights, which he wasn’t. Then they spent a couple of weeks hanging around paragliding takeoff areas so the dog could become familiar with the sound of the glider and the sight of airborne humans. Then Shams started to play with his glider on the ground and above his head to be sure Ouka didn’t spook, which he didn’t, then they started training for the takeoff. “For the takeoff, Ouka has to run, because he’s between my legs,” Shams says. “I started to train him to come between my legs and run without the glider, and then we did the same thing with me having the glider above my head, but Ouka not attached to me.”

Then Shams fitted Ouka into his harness and lifted him off the ground to see if he’d remain calm, and the dog didn’t wince or wiggle at all. One of Shams’ friends saw that and said, “Oh, your dog is ready to fly. My dog is not acting like that at all, he doesn’t even want to put the harness on.” Feeling confident, Shams and Ouka took their first tandem flight, which lasted only a few seconds. “Since I couldn’t ask him if everything was okay, I was paying a lot of attention at the takeoff and landing about his reaction. For example, Ouka is scared of chairlifts at ski resorts; when we pass under one, he stops walking and starts to bark — though he never usually barks — so it’s very clear that he’s afraid and doesn’t like it. I was ready to see a similar reaction from him after the first flight, but no, he’s just super happy.”

They then flew for 10 seconds, then one minute, then two minutes, and then five minutes, and now Shams and Ouka are totally in sync, both content and relaxed while gliding through the French Alps. In late summer, Shams shared a video of him and Ouka flying through the sky, set to the theme song of The NeverEnding Story, and the video went viral, with commenters going wild over the similarities between Falkor and Ouka. The video did so well that GoPro shared the video and awarded Shams with a cash prize.

Today, Ouka and Shams are living in the van, looking for their next adventure. When we ask Shams if he’ll keep flying with Ouka, he says, “If one day he decides to not fly anymore, well, we just stop, and we will have a good time until that. But so far, he’s just super happy.” And when we ask Shams how Ouka has changed his life, he says, “Before meeting Ouka, I lost motivation for almost everything, so just waking up and going outside was difficult. Then I got Ouka, and he doesn’t ask if you want to get up and go outside. When he wakes up, he wants to go outside and run, and I have to do it, because when I decided to take him, I knew that I had to take care of him and do a lot of activities. As soon as I started to do that again, I was like, ’Okay, it’s true that it’s cool to go on top of a mountain, and to watch sunset is super cool also’ … the kind of stuff I stopped doing, but I know that I loved doing. Ouka reminded me of it.”

In the words of Falkor: ”Never give up, and good luck will find you.”

Follow the adventures of Ouka and Shams: @ouka.sam

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