It’s shameful to admit, but my first exposure to flyboarding – the latest and hottest beach activity to hit cruise ports – came via US magazine, when I spied a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio zooming up into the sky, like a waterborne Iron Man.
Granted, Leo breathes far more rarified air than I do; his adventure with the modified wakeboard came while he vacationed aboard a yacht in Ibiza with his girlfriend, a German model (of course). But as the celeb magazine so aptly puts it, “Stars, they’re just like US!” So with flyboarding now an activity in places such as St. Kitts, St. Tropez and Cabo San Lucas, it was time for me to rise to the occasion.
So when I had a chance to give it a go in St. Thomas last week, I jumped at the chance. I worried a bit about the degree of balance required; my build is decidedly more Amazonian than gymnast. But I’m always up for a challenge (and hey, if this 40-something woman can do it, chances are you can too!)
My positive attitude diminished a bit when I arrived at Lindbergh Beach, where St. Thomas Flyboarding has set up shop. As is usual with adventure activities, I was greeted by two men in their 20s who, in addition to being ridiculously attractive, were versatile in all kinds of sports that I don’t do.
“So, do you snowboard?” asked Randy, the Scott Foley look-alike who would be taking me out.
“Water ski?” Nope. “Snow ski?” Nope. “Skateboard?” Nope.
“Anything that requires balance?” he asked, clearly stretching for some frame of reference. Well, sorta, if you count not falling down when I run on a treadmill.
Even when confronted by my lack of sportiness, Randy remained upbeat. “You’ll be fine,” he said, as we waded into the water. “People usually pick it up within 10 to 15 minutes.”
The pictures of Leo hadn’t prepared me for the logistics of flyboarding. Essentially, the activity involves taking the power from a Jet Ski and funneling it through a hose into jet packs that are attached to the bottom of a board. Because your feet are strapped into boots that are welded to the board, you are the one who controls where the Jet Ski goes.
Randy directed me out toward the bay and, as I lay on my stomach and stretched out my arms like Wonder Woman, he gave the jet packs gas and we were off. This part was easy; there’s a bit of a rush having so much water power attached to your body. I could have been pushed around by the Jet Ski all day.
But that’s not the point of flyboarding, so when we reached a deeper part of the bay, Randy gave me my lesson. “When I gas it, point your toes down until the board gets underneath you,” he said. “Straighten your legs. Then when you rise up, bend them slightly to maintain balance.”
Sounds easy enough, right? Er, not really. Lean too far forward as you go up, you fall in the water. Lean too far backward as you go up, you fall in the water. Let’s just say I drank a lot of the Caribbean as I struggled to do my first rise.
Then finally, when I had just about reached my limit, everything snapped into place and I began to go up. And up, and up, and up, until I was soaring above the bay. “Woohoo!” I yelled, raising my arms high – a motion that immediately caused me to flop back down into the water.
“Ok, so that’s done,” I told Randy. “We can go in.”
“Yeah, right,” said Randy, who had been encouraging me through all my fails. “You want to do it again, I know it.”
He was right. Once I knew flying was possible, I wanted to master the maneuver, until I had it down. And while I still had a few dips and face-plants, by the end I could reliably make it up at least five feet – and in some cases, much higher. During my best run, I reached 12 feet and could maintain it for several minutes. Progress!
I returned to the shore amidst claps from people on the beach who had been embarrassingly watching my progress (you’ll notice that there’s no photos or video of my flight; that’s by design). My throat burned a bit from all the salt water I swallowed and the shorts I had worn were beyond waterlogged, but otherwise, I had no ill effects from the experience. I could tell my core and legs had received a workout, but it was nothing more strenuous than I face in Pilates class.
Would I flyboard again? Sure. Now that I have the moves down, I think I’d be able to get up faster and stay up longer. Maybe I’d even manage to do a few tricks.
For now, I’m content with the knowledge that there’s something – OK, the only thing – that Leo and I have in common.
For wannabe superheroes, St. Thomas Flyboarding offers a 2.5-hour Explorer Experience that includes a 30-minute Flyboard lesson and water time, a paddleboard lesson and 2-hour rental for $125. Participants must be older than 15 and weigh between 100 to 300 pounds. Tour size is up to four people in low season (May through October) and eight people in the high season (November through April).