I’ve tried my hand (well, mainly my feet) at flyboarding last Friday in Sandbanks near Poole. My one-hour experience (typically 15 to 25 minutes of flyboarding) cost me £100 (£120 on a weekend). Aquatic JetPacks are affiliated with Jetski Safaris, with whom I’ve done an awesome jetski group ride to Old Harry Rocks a few years ago (no longer offered).
In the run-up to the experience, it had been a tiny tad disappointing that my initial appointments were cancelled and rescheduled several times because of strong winds. When I booked, the strong weather dependency and the high risk of several reschedules had not been entirely clear to me. You often have to wait for a day or so for an email response and no one ever seems to pick up the phone.
On the plus side, though, Ross, the co-founder of Aquatic JetPacks, always advised me several days ahead of time that the experience would have to be rescheduled, so no hard feelings.
Despite the fact that I arrived just a few minutes before the session, not the requested minimum 15 minutes, everyone was very relaxed and I still got to do a relatively long time on the board, probably 25 minutes.
Safety briefing and changing into gear
You have to watch a safety video on an iPad, sign a couple of disclaimers, get changed into the wetsuit and swim vest, both of which are being provided. Then you make your way from the base to the beach. Ross and I were joined by Tim and John. I presume usually they make do with less staff, but I had booked the photography package, which comes at a very reasonable £20 extra. Two jetskis were involved. One of them had the flyboard and supply hose attached to it.
John was my instructor. He rode out first and got the gear set up. Then Ross drove Tim and me out. Tim was sitting on the jetski behind Ross. I was kneeling on a small, pretty shaky body board that was being pulled by the jetski, while holding on to the handles around the seat of the jetski.
Ross and I got off the jetski and onto the raft. I was given a few more instructions, then I slipped into the shoes that are attached to the flyboard and fastened them with the straps. Next I slipped into the water and immediately turned so that my belly was facing down.
Safe and comfortable – despite the heavy gear and 16C degree cold water
As both the flyboard and the wetsuit with buoyancy aid provide a lot of uplift, my fear of feeling uncomfortable floating upside down with heavy gear attached turned out to be unfounded. It all felt natural and rather pleasant. Despite the cold water temperature of maybe 16 degrees Celsius (61F), there were no issues thanks to the wetsuit.
The technology behind it
At this stage we were probably already 25 minutes into the one-hour session, and it was getting time to rock’n’roll. John checked if I was ready. I gave a thumbs-up, and John pulled the throttle on his jetski. A U-pipe between the waterpipe exhaust of the jetski and the supply hose attached to my flyboard started pushing enormous amounts of water to the flyboard beneath my feat. The water was starting to shoot out of the tiny jets of the flyboard. My body, which was floating horizontally on the water, was beginning to move forward across the water surface.
After several recent mishaps with water sports such as a failed attempt at wakeboarding just a week earlier, I had been rather anxious. What were my chances of actually getting the flyboard to lift me out of the water in a controlled, vertical way? I had had no idea how easy it is.
Do you like to ride your bike?
Probably I should mention that I’ve tried quite a large number of water sports, and despite my many failures and mishaps, I guess it was a good preparation. The closest to flyboarding was perhaps my successful attempt to ride a jetlev a few years ago. Others will say that a jetlev requires much less balance than a flyboard and that inline skating and cycling (which I do) or skateboarding (which I don’t) would be more relevant.
Easier than you might think
Either way, I’m sure you’ll find it easy, too. John told me that nearly everyone manages to get out of the water and ‘fly’ for at least a few seconds. I was thrilled when after only three minutes I was able to lift myself out of the water. I splashed right back into it face first after a second or so. But hey, that’s half the fun, right?
How does it compare to a jetlev?
Different from my jetlev experience, when I swallowed what felt like several imperial gallons of water during the first few moments alone, this experience was very gentle. I literally didn’t swallow a single drop of water. While the jetlev had made several serious attempts to give me more than just a little scare, the flyboard was not even trying to be difficult.
Success and failure are based on perception
It took another five minutes or so, until I managed to stay in the air for more than ten seconds in a row. During the remaining time, I learned how to move forward and make turns. I’ll be honest. For onlookers on the beach it might well have looked like a complete disaster, what, with me falling back into the water again and again, often after just 15 seconds or so. Nonetheless, I was very pleased with my progress. It really does feel like flying.
Was it fun?
Would I do this again? Hell yeah… a million times hell yeah. A real thrill and an abundance of fun. 5 out of 5 in my book.