by Tyler Kindred
We met up with the two-man crew just outside of Turk’s in the Dana Point Harbor, just past the poster advertising HydroFlight Xtreme. Aboard the small boat, we signed release forms, and headed outside the jetty. After some basic instructions, we were setup with life jackets, helmets and the boots and bindings connected to the Flyboard©.
The first push from the gas propulsion caused me to toss and turn quickly. The guide warned the key to stability was in keeping posture perfectly straight. As opposed to most action sports, bending the knees actually made keeping balance more difficult, and I found myself constantly fighting the urge to bend low.
Being pushed around the water in swimming position, what the guide called “surfing,” was enjoyable enough, and I learned I could also make the propulsion out of the water a little easier. By initially gaining speed horizontally and then leaning back, I could get out of the water without having trouble balancing … what the guide called “surfing into it.”
After getting used to the feeling of holding balance above the water, I was introduced to some tricks. Keeping one foot flat while the other angled would spin you around, leaning forward allowed you to dive back into the water; and what might have been my favorite maneuver, was called “dolphin diving.” It’s exactly what you’d think. Diving into the water from the air and emerging into consecutive dives the way a dolphin does.
How it began
The history of the hydro-flight sport can be traced back to a jet ski engineer and racer named Franky Zapata from Marseille, France. Although an established jet ski performer and professional, his innovations in the Jet-Ski arena soon branched into less conventional concepts.
With the help of Zapata Racing and the company’s engineering expertise, one conception developed which would be called, the “Flyboard”©, a propulsion system that would lift a participant through and above water, using the same turbine propulsion that propelled jet-skis.
In December 2011, history was made with the product via a YouTube video that would gain 2.5 million views in only 15 days. Thus the potential of this unusual contraption was established.
The prototypes from then on would focus on creating more of an intuitive experience by adjusting balance and performance, bringing the activity closer to action sports like wakeboarding and snowboarding. Personal Water Craft (PWC) would power the device, while helmets would always be recommended (in large part, for protection against collisions with the PWC). Today, the Flyboard© is connected by a hose ranging from 18-23 meters, and can propel the rider up as high as 12 meters.
While jet-pack type systems are also on the market, the Flyboard© system became dominant as a board-centered hydro-flight company, as well as the equipment we’d be using today.
A few searches on Google show you what the serious athletes can do. There is even an aptly named event, called the HydrOlympics, which allows the best to compete for cash prizes. Consecutive back flips are common and are done more-so in a falling motion until being caught up again by the propulsion; 15-20 ft in the air seems to be the average hovering height
The boots and bindings connecting to the board could almost pass for those of a wakeboard or snowboard, so the stance and center of gravity was similar. The biggest difference from this and any other sport I’ve experienced was the balance. Bending to keep balance, rather than keeping straight, was a response I found difficult to break. And carving and spinning was caused by a very slight tilt from the ankle.
The learning curve is made easier by the fact that painful falls are not common the way they are in other intensive sports. And gliding along and zipped like an aquatic Iron Man is exhilarating, even before getting in the air. Considering sports like snowboarding can take months to master, the Hydroflight Flyboard© is comparatively more intuitive, and can be mounted the first day.
Knowing the hydroflight sport is young, only five-years-old, it’s hard to imagine where the future of the industry will go. Like racing or motorsports, the boundaries are intertwined with the state of the technology and science. And in this way it breaks away from traditional action sports, where improvements in equipment might be made through incremental changes, hydroflight can drastically develop or branch off into distant cousins through experimentation and development.
The newest development in this technology, released this year, bridges the gap between hydroflight and futuristic hovercraft technology. Franky Zapata, along with Zapata racing, debuted the newest Flyboard Air on April 9, 2016 to an awe-struck virtual audience. Setting a Guinness Book of World Records for the longest flight with an independent propulsion unit, the craft looks almost identical to the hydroflight Flyboard, but with only fuel vapor and air being released rather than water. It took four years of R & D, and it releases kerosene as fuel to the craft, along with sophisticated algorithms that help to stabilize it.
Aside from the Dana Point Harbor, HydroFlight Xtreme is available throughout southern California and Arizona. Their flyer claims most people can get “flying” within five minutes, which is ambitious, but possible if the user has any previous experience with similar sports. There are often deals available through Groupon, which is where I’ll be looking for my next trip.
Dana Point HydroflightXtreme, Dana Point Harbor, directly in front of Turk’s & Proud Mary’s. 714-330-3429. DanaPoint@HydroflightXtreme.com