Flyboarding

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine October 2016

When it turned out hoverboards were a fake, Enjoy the Algarve was pretty disappointed. We really wanted to move like Marty McFly (doesn’t everybody?). So when we heard it’s possible to hover over the ocean, propelled by water jets, we immediately drove to Albufeira to try flyboarding.

“I’m one of the very few locals here,” Adérito Guedelha (52) laughs. Together with his mate Carlos Vieira (47), Adérito set up Ski Molhado in 1991. Coming from a fishing background, the Portuguese men are now working with tourists, as are most people in the coastal village that’s insanely popular with holidaymakers. Apart from flyboarding, Carlos and Adérito offer a dozen other activities in their watersport centre at Praia da Oura. A group of British men on stag do are advised to take the rings rather than the UFO, as the sea is nice and calm and the donut shaped rings will provide more of a thrill ride.

We, however, have come here for the flyboarding. Invented in 2012 by the French water-craft rider Franky Zapata, it’s the latest craze among water athletes who’ve already tried skimboarding, bodyboarding, kiteboarding & wakeboarding and are now looking for a new boarding sensation. Carlos himself has only done it a couple of times. “I found it very easy. After 30 or 40 seconds I got up.” No pressure then. He’s quick to add that not everybody is as fast: “Some people take a bit longer. Most of them take 4 to 7 minutes to get up. But between 90 and 95% of the participants succeed in flying within a session.”

No, you’re not really flying. Here’s how it works: you’re standing on a so-called flyboard, your feet secured in by bindings, and are propelled from water jets below the device. Someone on a jetski controls the power and thus ensures enough water gets pushed through the tubes that connect to your flyboard. Although these tubes are 18m long, there’s no need to fear tumbling down from insane heights; in Portugal, the height limitation is 4m and beginners are usually taken up only a couple of metres above the water surface. However, “Experienced flyboarders can go up to 12m high,” says Carlos.

I gear up in a wetsuit, lifejacket and helmet, and join instructor Valter Constacio (41, pictured below) on the boat which will take us to the designated zone for watersports, away from the swimmers. As he helps me attach the gigantic device to my feet, a lot like a wakeboard, I listen to his instructions. They include keeping your legs straight, keeping your body straight, and dividing your weight equally. “Remember, the most common mistake is that people bend their knees,” his last advice is. As I lie in the ocean on my belly, I push my legs underneath my body and come to a standing position in the water. With only my head poking out of the sea, I give Valter the OK sign and he pushes the throttle…

And off I go. Falling backwards into the water before I even get out of it because I’m leaning back too much. Next try, I fall forward. As I struggle to get out of the water another half a dozen times, Valter keeps giving advice and saying “Watch your feet!” It takes a while until I get he doesn’t mind this literally – every time I look towards my toes, I subconsciously lean forward and fall in. Instead, I concentrate on dividing my weight equally between my feet. After a couple of minutes, something clicks and I manage to get up. It gets easier every time and soon I find myself standing pretty relaxed, looking out over Albufeira’s coastline.

Valter is almost as enthusiastic as I am – his job satisfaction comes from people having a good time & people managing to get up quickly and I’m ticking both boxes. I briefly contemplate letting him believe that I’m just really talented, but then admit that I’ve tried flyboarding once before, in my native Holland. Valter’s smile falters, but is soon back as he suggests moving my feet next time I’m up in the air. Following his new instructions, I move my hips from side to side, feeling like I’m dancing on the water. It’s great fun. When I eventually fall in, however, it becomes clear the goal was to steer in circle around the jetski and not to swing on the spot like a bobblehead doll.

Practice makes perfect and soon I’m controlling what I call my rocketboots. This is how Superman must feel when he rises up from the Earth and flies off, I think as I manage to get upright quite quickly, literally rising from the ocean. I want to throw my hands in the air in a cool Superhero pose, but then lose balance and have to flutter them around like a chicken in distress. Shame the flyboard doesn’t automatically come with Superpowers.

I also try letting the water jets propel me through the sea, diving in and out like a dolphin. But instead of elegant dolphin jumps, I look more like a humpback whale crashing into the ocean. As I signal Valter to step on the gas, taking me up higher in the air, he luckily reduce the power again whenever he sees me losing balance, thus giving me the time to regain my composure or at least soften my fall. Also when I get overconfident, make big turns, misjudge my ability to steer and threaten to crash on top of the jetski, he expertly steers away. Something I’m pretty grateful for – apparently it takes longer than one session to completely control the flyboard.

Twenty minutes pass way too quickly for my taste. But when I get up the last time I notice there’s no power left in my legs. Valter assures me that’s normal: “It does take a lot of leg strength – some people book two sessions in a row, but nearly all of them stop after half an hour as they’re knackered.” The ideal thing would be to buy a flyboard myself and use it every morning as a quick wake-me-up workout.

Enthusiastically, I ask Valter about the price. Bugger. A flyboard set sets you back anywhere between 4.000 and 10.000 euros, depending on the quality. And that doesn’t even include the jetski or boat… Anyone having a spare flyboard lying around? Let us know – we’ll give you a free Enjoy the Algarve subscription for the rest of your life! 😉

 

When to go?

In the beach season, which usually runs from the end of March until the end of October. Flyboarding is best done in the mornings as there’s a better chance of the sea being flat (trust us, you don’t want to do this if the sea is choppy). Obviously it all depends on the weather conditions.

Take swimwear and a towel. Wetsuit, helmet and lifejacket are provided.

Want to go? Just turn up as there’s no need to reserve. However, in the high season it’s advised to book a session a couple of days in advance to avoid disappointment or waiting for an hour. This can be done via their website.

 

For whom?

Supermen and –women who want to fly! This activity will appeal to people looking for something new and who don’t mind getting wet. Ideal if you’ve already done skimboarding, bodyboarding, kiteboarding and wakeboarding and want to add a fifth ‘boarding’-activity to your repertoire.

All participants have to be confident swimmers. The minimum age is 16. There are no height and weight limits, but participants should be able to fit into a wetsuit and have a shoe size that’s between 38 and 46 (or you won’t fit into the boots).

Having a sense of balance and strength in your legs helps a lot. Is it worth to start training your leg muscles a couple of weeks before? Hell yes it is!

 

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine October 2016

Posted in This month we try.