A Day With: Desert bike rider Dana Miskulnig

Jay Asser 06:57 17/11/2016
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  • All action biker: Dana Miskulnig.

    There’s not much that Dana Miskulnig can’t do, making her something of a renaissance woman. Whether it’s handling her motorbike, travelling the world and capturing it on her GoPro, setting up an apparel brand or even juggling kids (not her own), the 23-year-old can do it all.

    The 23-year-old of Austrian descent who was born and raised in Dubai is one of just three women competing in the Emirates Desert Championship, the top desert racing event in the UAE which caters to bikes, quads, buggies and cars.

    Sport360 caught up with Miskulnig to talk about growing the sport for women, how often she has a camera strapped to her and the message behind her apparel brand Elevaete.

    How did you get into motorbiking?

    My dad has always been a bit of a petrolhead. Back when he was living in Kuwait, he used to race in rallies with cars. When I was 16, for Christmas my dad got me and my mom a dirtbike and he taught us how to ride. I kind of got the hang of it and then he got himself one so we could go to the desert and ride together.

    The bike I first learned on was a 250cc, so it was a good beginner’s bike and he got himself a 450cc, so I borrowed his bike for a little while and I ended up not giving it back to him. I kind of stepped up in terms of power and handling. He had to get himself a new bike, but it was me, my mom and my dad riding together in the desert for a couple of years.

    My dad taught me everything I know about bikes. When I was old enough, when I was 18, I started racing in the Emirates Desert Championship. I thought ‘okay, a lot of guys are doing this, a couple girls and my dad used to race rallies’ so I thought I’d give it a go and see what it’s all about.

    Dana out on the dunes.

    Dana out on the dunes.

    I started two seasons ago so this is my third season. I really enjoy it because it’s very psychological. You basically race for two hours, give or take, and it’s always a different route in the desert. The first lap is always about kind of seeing what the layout is like and what kind of dangers you need to avoid.

    It’s kind of cool to race against the guys, like plus or minus 90 guys, and see where you rank amongst them.

    As a woman in the sport, do you get surprised responses from people when you show or tell them what you do?

    I definitely think it’s still a novelty when I tell people I ride dirt bikes, let alone that I know how to ride a motorcycle. They get a bit of a ‘oh wow’ moment. While it’s nice, it would be nicer for it to be more of a normal thing.

    Since I began, there’s definitely more coverage. Not always, because sometimes they don’t include the ladies as often in the reports or in magazines or whoever publishes about the races. Sometimes there’s only three of us racing, so I guess they think why should they cover it. But then again that’s what we need to show – that there are women racing.

    Once you’re part of this biking community, the guys are so willing to help you. I wouldn’t know half the things I do about bikes and be able to ride half as good as I can if it wasn’t for the guys along the way who have pushed me, taught me and helped me. I think they also want to see more girls out there and are willing to help where they can.

    Is there a way of getting more girls involved in the sport?

    I’ve had so many girls ask me and say ‘please teach me’ and ‘show me how to try it’. I taught a couple of girls last year how to ride and it’s really, really nice because they tell other girls about it.

    If I had the means, I would be teaching a whole academy of girls. We have a list of like 25 Emirati girls who want to learn how to ride a motorcycle. The only thing that’s missing is the equipment to be able to give them helmets, boots and other protective gear, because it is a bit of a high startup cost just to try it.

    Especially for girls, there’s not the right size boots for us and there’s not a lot of people you can borrow boots from that have girls’ sizes. I think there’s a huge potential at a grassroots level to start it if you give the girls an opportunity to try it and go from there. There is a curiosity but they don’t know where to start, that’s the problem.

    You’re part of the GoPro Family. What is that and how did you get involved?

    I’ve quite recently started taking a lot more photos with GoPro, which I really enjoy doing because the GoPro camera itself is very discreet and you can take a quick action photo. It helps an amateur photographer like me get some nice photos without trying too hard.

    So I just started posting a lot of photos, doing my thing, riding my bike and travelling. Then GoPro Middle East contacted me and asked if I wanted to be part of their family. When they have events, they invite you to meet other family members, or if they see an opportunity you can be part of, they let you know. If there’s new equipment they want you to try, they’ll send you that.

    Or even like recently, we had the Hero 5 launch and a few of us were invited to come out to Majorca and try out the camera and test it a bit. One thing they make sure we know is that if we travel to other places or have projects we kind of want to put forward, we just need to let them know so they can support us with equipment or financing.

    Ambitious: Dana and business partner Tanvi Malik.

    Ambitious: Dana and business partner Tanvi Malik.

    You’ve also created an apparel brand called Elevaete. How did that start?

    A couple months ago, I got together with another girl, Tanvi Malik, and we decided to start an activewear brand to make our own gymwear basically for women in the UAE, be it local or expats. We have the women here in mind with their body types, culture and all that. We also have this social aspect where we really want to have a positive impact on the community and really have a culture behind what Elevaete is about.

    Our goal is to encourage women to work together and encourage each other, for us to find ways to give women opportunities, like hosting a networking event.

    Surely you can’t have much time for even more hobbies, can you?

    I’ll ask anyways. Growing up here and with the parents I’m lucky to have, I got to learn a lot of different activities. I wakeboard, I have a boat driving license, I scuba dive, I longboard here and there. I also just love to try new things and learn new things.

    One thing I really enjoy doing before every race is servicing my own bike. When I tell guys I service my own bike, they open their eyes and think ‘wow she does that herself’ when it’s just because I want to save 500 bucks.

    You also babysit and nanny. What’s that been like?

    I actually wasn’t much of a kids person when I started, but maybe I do have a knack for it. I nanny regularly three days a week and it’s been interesting learning negotiating skills, patience and how to actually deal with kids.