Photos by Chris Casella

I Believe(d) I Could Fly

I am hovering 15 feet above the surface, bursts of water spewing out of my high-tech boots, and for a brief moment I feel like Poseidon, God of water, or Starmie, God of water Pokémon. I am soaring. And, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, I get way too high, freak out, and fall backwards, crashing back into the lake—and that my friends, is flyboarding.

This is some 21st century shit.

I am not an extreme sports guy. The first time I went snowboarding was during a Mad River Mountain midnight madness event; I showed up at 10 p.m., took four shots, and strapped the board onto my feet with whiskey confidence. Within seconds, I fall on my ass and start rolling and flailing down the mountain. I try to get up, fall back down, catch myself with my wrists like an idiot, and continue to roll. The boarders and skiers on the lift above are now taunting me, soon calling me a dead, beached seal when I finally decide to give up and just lie in the snow, defeated.

But flyboarding is different. It doesn’t require any real physical skill or endurance; just a smidgeon of balance and the acceptance that you will probably somersault backwards and land on your face. But that’s ok. Sure, it took me a few minutes of flailing around like a goddamn ragdoll before getting the hang of it, but I suppose if I wouldn’t have kept trying to make the Wu-Tang symbol for the photographer while hovering above the water I would have gotten it much sooner.

To those of you like myself, who are completely confused by what is happening in the picture to your left, let me explain. A flyboarding is a type of water jetpack (that’s right, jetpack) that is attached to a jet ski via a giant hose. That hose supplies propulsion to the boots strapped to your feet, which have jet nozzles underneath that provide the thrust that enables you to fly through the air like a mechanical dolphin. This device is only three years old, and has only been available for two years. And now, as of last month, it is in Ohio—a state not typically associated with extreme water sporting.

Jeff Grashel, proprietor of Flyhio, bought a flyboarding and started a business. It’s really as simple as that. He first jetboarded in Toledo and afterwards saw the business potential. After all, it looks like it is straight out of a Phillip K. Dick novel, or should be on the cover of Wired magazine. Anything associated with a “jetpack” is bound to poop dollars.

I just knew that I would land on my stomach, get the wind knocked out of me, lose consciousness, and propel myself into the bottom of the lake, which at the very least would be a pretty epic death.

When my editor first posed the idea, I jumped on the sucker like potheads on patchouli. (I bragged to my friends that I was going to try waterboarding, which was completely alarming to them until I realized that I was calling it by the wrong name.) I remember watching the YouTube videos in preparation, figuring that if I studied the form of the water acrobats that maybe I could replicate their 360-backflip nosedives.

When I first got to the beach I was completely terrified. I just knew that I would land on my stomach, get the wind knocked out of me, lose consciousness, and propel myself into the bottom of the lake, which at the very least would be a pretty epic death. Jeff and his friend Mike appeared in the horizon on a jet ski, which was a pretty cool grand entrance if you ask me. They supplied my friend and me with a wetsuit, a life vest, and against my wishes because I wanted to look cool, a skateboard helmet, which he said was purely for insurance purposes.

My friend Kelvin, who is in every way more physically adept than me, volunteered to go first. Within minutes he was up in the air. I could hear his joyous cackle while watching from the beach 50 feet away. Then it was my turn. I get in the water, strap the boots on my size 13 dogs, lie on my back, and listen to Jeff’s instructions.

“When I start this thing up, the hose attached to your feet is going to start filling up with water, which will give you the terrifying sensation that you are going to drown. Don’t worry, this is natural.”

I accepted my fate, and was ready to die in style. Other than that brief warning, his other instructions were simple. Keep your legs straight, stand flat on your feet, and if you do end up falling backwards, he will stop the propulsion and will start again when given the thumbs up. Then he screamed at me, “Let’s fly!”

My feet started furiously vibrating. This was it. Time to meet that giant spaghetti monster in the sky. Thankfully, I became comfortable, and soon, was ascending out of the water like a magnificent mermaid. I remember laughing so hard that it didn’t matter that I was continually falling face first, taking in mouthfuls of lake water with every crash. The feeling of pure bliss was unimaginable. I felt like I was on top of the freaking world, and not even the fear of peeing in Jeff’s wetsuit could stomp out my joy.

And let me tell you, if my uncoordinated pack-a-day ass could do it, so can you.

To follow your own adventure 1-10 feet above the water, visit flyhio.com.

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Danny Hamen

Insatiable bibliophile. Intrepid journalist. Born to run. Here for the cake.

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