It starts with a wobble, then an overcorrection, then ignominy. It’s a spectacular spin-out, and I plant into the water, most painful part of the body first.
I’m fairly sure Marty McFly and Co. didn’t have this sort of problem in Back to the Future Part II. But they promised us hoverboards, and now they’re finally here.
The Flyboards – as the real-life interpretation of the sci-fi staple are officially known – are French technology. But they’re slowly spreading across the world – and that includes St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne, Australia.
After swimming out to the Jet Ski puttering around Port Phillip Bay, it’s possible to get a good look at how it works. The board is attached to the Jet Ski, but also a powerful pump that gets water from the sea via a long plastic tube, then thrusts it out again. Newton’s third law takes over from there – the reaction to the water being powered out is the board (and its rider strapped in via modified ski boots) being boosted upwards.
After a few Superman-style test runs, where I whiz along, chest out of the water but legs flying through it, the time comes to properly hover. The instructions for this are remarkably simple: Stand up straight and relax.
The Jet Ski driver flicks a switch and I feel the power beneath my feet. I straighten, and start soaring upward until I’m standing perfectly still in mid-air, way above the swell. It’s frighteningly easy to develop a messiah complex in such scenarios.
Turning, however, is slightly trickier. In theory, it should be simple – just bend one knee and redistribute a bit of weight onto the other foot. Unfortunately, my brain has been conditioned to lean into the turn. And that’s where things go a bit wrong.
Once the balance goes, any attempts to regain it tend to end in overcompensation and comical splashdowns. The less you do, the less likely you are to take a dunking.
When it does work out, however, it’s fabulous fun. The Jet Ski speeds up, and I start flying round in circles, then figures of eight behind it. Confidence builds to the point where I can treat the curious spectators on the beach to an airborne performance of the Stayin’ Alive dance.
It’s time, the Jet Ski driver decides, to raise the stakes. “Fancy a go at dolphin diving?” he says. This means abandoning the calmly upright position to leap forward into the water, plunge through it and soar back out again using the rocket boosters underfoot. It’s supposed to look like a dolphin gliding in and out of the water, riding along in the wake of a boat. A quick inspection of the video afterward indicates that it’s more like a man falling over, then flailing and spluttering upwards through absolutely no skill of his own.
The future is here. But no one said it was going to be elegant.
Want to try?
In Canada, you’ll find Flyboard outposts across the country, visit flyboardcanada.com and flyboardqc.com for details and locations. Rates usually start around $150 for 30 minutes. Head to Toronto’s waterfront June 20 to 22 for the inaugural North American Flyboard Championship.
Flyboard sessions at Melbourne’s St. Kilda Beach start at $200 (Australian) for 45-minute sessions. All packages include instructor briefing, Flyboard rental, Jet Ski and operator, wetsuit and safety gear. goflyboard.com.au.