Flyboarding – the futuristic new watersport that’s just arrived to Cambodia’s beaches – is probably the closest you’ll ever get to flying a real jetpack.
Utilising high-pressure jets of water, the sport sees participants propelled through the brine and high into the air with almost complete freedom of movement. If – like me – you’ve always dreamed of soaring like Astroboy, Ironman or the Rocketeer – this is the way to do it.
The technology – developed in 2011 by French jet ski champion Franky Zapata – is simple enough. Two U-shaped water jets – fed through an 18-metre hose by a nearby jet ski – provide thrust while optional smaller nozzles held in each hand provide balance.
French-Cambodian brothers Florian and Jonathan Tea, operating under the moniker Flyboard Cambodia, began offering sessions with their imported flyboard setup on Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach at the start of November. They even film them with a GoPro camera.
However, it’s not cheap at $50 for 15 minutes, with discounts for longer sessions, and Florian says most of his customers are older Europeans rather than Cambodians or young backpackers.
“Every day we get between one and four clients,” Florian said. “Sometimes clients come back. Another time we had another Russian guy who came twice. He came right back the day after. People enjoy it.”
So far, Florian and Jonathan’s marketing has mostly consisted of putting on demonstration sessions – flying and diving a few dozen metres off the chronically relaxed Otres – that leave onlookers both bemused and curious.
But keen to get some more widespread exposure, he offered to give me a free go.
Despite a warning earlier on from Florian that it could take a little while before I actually made it out of the water, I managed to breach the surface on my first attempt. I was airborne . . . for approximately two seconds until I lost my balance.
My subsequent lift-offs were the same. I spent about five minutes hesitatingly emerging from the water – graceful as a newborn buffalo – before falling back into the drink.
Eventually I remembered the advice Florian had given back on the beach, that I should keep my eyes on the horizon, and soon I was hovering relatively stably about three or four metres in the air. Giving gravity the big middle finger. It was pretty great.
The physical sensation is difficult to describe. It’s almost like standing on a flexible but solid column of water.
After 10 minutes or so I also had a go at diving through the water, cresting the surface and diving back in again over and over.
But that was the extent of the tricks I was able to perform before my time was up and we had to head back into the beach .
For a video of my lacklustre attempts to master flyboarding head to The Phnom Penh Post website.
A short clip on Flyboard Cambodia’s website shows the flyboard’s true potential. In it, the device’s inventor Zapata hovers, tumbles and dives dolphin-like through the water, spinning as he goes, like an airborne acrobat freed from the tyranny of gravity. Truly jaw dropping.
In practice, the more outrageous looking manoeuvres are too difficult for first-timers to pull off. However, it’s easy enough and a lot of fun to hover a few metres in the air and do a reasonable Flipper impression.
Is it worth paying $50 for 15 minutes? That’s not a question I can answer for you. But if you’ve got the money to spare, it’s definitely an experience unlike any other.
Video available at phnompenhpost.com/7days