Hovering above the water is almost like something out of science fiction. ALIX NORMAN gives flyboarding a go
Remember hoverboards? In my mind, these gravity-defying, wheel-less skateboards were the true stars of the Back to the Future franchise. For years I’ve been waiting for 2015 – the year to which the young Marty McFly travels in Back to the Future II – in the hope that someone will have invented such a wondrous device. But, with 13 months to go until that auspicious cinematic date, it’s not looking too promising. Which is why I decided to try Flyboarding – the closest thing to a hoverboard I could get my hands on.
Imagine, if you will, a slightly smaller snowboard: heavy boots attached to a small, pliable base, which in turn attaches to a long and snurgly – there really is no better adjective – hose. Connected to a jet ski, the hose provides the propulsion by which jet nozzles allow the flyboarder to rise above the water, performing – after a minimal amount of instruction – various soaring and swooping manoeuvres, both in and out of the waves. Powered by 100+ horsepower, direction and navigation are controlled by the rider, while the throttle is operated from the jet ski.
Buoyant in a similar manner to water skis and wakeboards, the flyboard is always accompanied by safety equipment such as floatation devices and helmets, ensuring that there’s very little danger, no matter what you try. In fact, if you Google flyboarding, you’ll discover any number of amazing tricks caught on camera: proponents hovering up to 15 metres above the surface, diving headlong into the water, and leaping through the waves like a deranged dolphin. It all looks the most tremendous fun and it’s quite unlike anything I’ve tried before.
“It’s completely different from any other sport,” says my instructor. Down at MacKenzie Beach (one of four flyboarding centres on the island) I’m undergoing the very necessary process of training, which although short – 20 minutes is all it takes to pick up the fundamentals – is crucial. The equipment and the process is explained thoroughly – emphasis being placed on the radio communication system which resides inside one’s helmet, connecting to the jet ski rider on the other end – and the basic movements are clarified.
Apparently, there are three positions: relaxed (floating on the surface), cruising (whereby the rider moves through the water in a sort of Superman pose, almost pulling the jet ski into position) and fly (which is where the fun really begins!). By the simple expedient of twisting and turning one’s body to the left or right, or tilting one’s feet forward or backward, the flyboarder can then change their direction, as well as rising straight from the waves to hover overhead. It all seems very simple, and I’m encouraged to react instinctively rather than fighting to keep my balance. “There’s always an involuntary tendency to tense,” I’m told, “but it’s best to relax one’s body rather than fight to remain steady.”
By the time I get in the water, I’m quite glad my athletic repertoire includes a number of sporting activities which rely on balance. There’s an element of the stability required in windsurfing (and a counter-intuitive relaxation – rather than tensing – needed to regain control). Like skiing, a lot of it seems to be in the toes and heels; the ability to adjust one’s centre of gravity is a useful skill to possess. And, similar to wakeboarding, one’s take-off position is critical: get it wrong and you’re going to fall flat on your face and swallow a lot of sea. Which I do. Several times. But, just as I’ve been informed, flyboarding is pretty easy, and before long I’m happily hovering 10 metres above the surface like a lightly-tethered eagle.
“There’s a 98 per cent success rate to flyboarding,” says Petra Wijnker who – along with her partner, European jet ski champion Kyriakos Erotokritou – brought the sport to Cyprus in 2012. Based in Protaras, their centre (www.flyboardcy.com) was the first on the island, and has so far logged over 15,000 flights. “Both tourists and locals are very interested in the sport, and we’re always incredibly busy – especially at the weekend. We provide lessons on a daily basis,” she says, “as well as training, and the distribution of equipment.”
Just for reference purposes, I do a bit of research into the cost of flyboarding. While the average beginner’s session (which usually lasts about 45 minutes and includes instruction time) costs anything between €40 and €65, the equipment itself – and by this I’m referring to the basic board and boots, irrespective of the various hose and jet connections, let alone an entire jet ski – can set you back well over €1,500.
It’s a good thing I didn’t know this before I headed out onto the water, or I might have been a lot less abandoned. Although, when compared with the average cost of exercise equipment, it’s fairly competitively priced. Oh yes, make no mistake, flyboarding is amazing fun and a truly novel pursuit, but it also provides what can only be described as a punishing workout; my legs and abs are still burning two days later – and not just from the sun. Anyone who wants to give it a shot should be prepared to really put their body through its paces!
However, even as I sit here typing up my flyboarding experiences, there’s a smile on my face that no amount of post-exercise trauma can dim. Despite the superficial similarities to a variety of other sports, flyboarding really is unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. Perhaps, because hoverboards haven’t yet been invented. And even when they are (come on scientists, it’s nearly 2015!) I’m not sure they could better this. Why not go see the future for yourself…
Most centres have a lower age limit of 18 years, though some will allow those as young as 15 provided they have parental permission. Regardless of age, it is suggested that anyone wishing to try flyboarding should confirm the centre has registered trainers and that adequate safety measures are in place
You can try flyboarding at one of several locations on the island: Flyboarding Cyprus at Nausicaa in Protaras (www.flyboardcy.com), MacKenzie Beach watersports in Larnaca (www.facebook.com/FlyboardCyprus), Crest Watersports Centre in Limassol (www.crestwatersports.com) and West Water Sports in Limassol (www.westwatersports.com)