Pictorial: The World Flyboard Championships
New thought propagates at the speed of light in the digital age, and there was no greater testimony to this than the World Flyboard Cup held in Dubai last weekend. Frankie Zapata conceived the Flyboard in Spring 2011, rapidly prototyped and developed the sub-$10,000 personal water craft (PWC) attachment inside a few weeks and this was the third running of the world championship.
This year the competition was expanded to three categories with women and veteran (over 40 years) competitors now separated from the outright pro category. It was just as well, because the standard of flying has grown appreciably better each year, with the undoubted highlight of the event being the first triple backflip, performed by Thailand's 2013 and now 2014 world champion, Suksan Tongthai.
Thailand's Suksan Tongthai took the world title again at the 2014 Flyboard World Cup held in Dubai, December, 2014, backing up the 2013 title he won in Qatar and being the first to perform a triple backflip in competition (Photo: Liam McKenna)
In total, 86 competitors were selected via video from 29 countries and our photo essay leaves little doubt as to the growing breadth and depth of expertise that has been achieved in this brand new extreme sport over the last three years.
Just over two years ago, we wrote of the astonishingly rapid development of the "floating island" and "firehose" marketplaces, marveling at how quickly new thought in any arena can propagate globally thanks to the internet and the many commando-like development teams that can rapidly prototype and develop entirely new products.
The hero of that story was Franky Zapata who, when banned from PWC racing because he was too good for the major manufacturers, developed the sub-$10,000 Flyboard and disintermediated the $100,000 Jetlev which had pioneered the market.
Zapata's inspirational flash that catalyzed the new industry was his realization that because a PWC already has a 300 hp motor and pump, it could be adapted to constitute the majority of the machinery required to create the Jetlev's "firehose" system at minimal cost.
Zapata started to develop the Flyboard during Spring 2011 and by mid-2012, he had inspired a second such PWC-based firehose toy in the form of the motorcycle-like Jetovator, and the three "firehose" manufacturers (Jetlev, Flyboard and Jetovator) had established a global marketplace in the blink of an eye.
Fast forward another 30 months to December 2014, and the marketplace has both matured and evolved at warp speed.
Jetlev subsequently developed its proprietary jetpack-like form-factor into the €7,990 (US$10,900) "Jetpack Add-On Kit" which uses an existing PWC as the power plant, just like the Jetovator and Flyboard, releasing it to the world at the 2014 Boot Dusseldorf show, along with an all-new €27,490 (US$37,500) Shark which includes the entire pump and boat – a complete turnkey system for a third of the original Jetlev's price.
At the same 2014 Boot Dusseldorf show, we saw the release of a fourth PWC-based system entitled the X-Jetpack H3X Hydro, making a fourth company which believes that hydro jetpacking has the broad appeal to make it more than an exclusive pursuit for the rich and privileged.
In mid-2012, I characterized Zapata as a "watersports equivalent to motorsport's Colin Chapman (Lotus) or Bruce McLaren, but on a much smaller scale, at least so far."
Given his second chance at global recognition, Zapata has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and is quickly developing the Flyboard into the first global sporting platform in the "firehose" market.
The Flyboard World Cup is a freestyle competition where participants are scored by a jury of five on technical execution of tricks (risk taking, technical difficulty, innovation), amplitude (height, use of the space), showmanship (presence, facial expression, interaction with the audience), energy (number of tricks, speed and pace) and artistic execution.
The first (2012) World Flyboard Cup was won by Frenchman Stéphane Prayas, and the 2013 World Flyboard Cup, also in Qatar, was won by Thailand's Suksan Tongthai.
This year saw the third running of the Flyboard World Cup from December 4–6 in Dubai (UAE), co-organized with X-Dubai.
Pro Category 1. Suksan Tongthai (Thailand, World Champion 2013) 2. Damone Rippy (USA, North American Champion 2014) 3. Jake Orel (USA) 4. Stephane Prayas (France, World Champion 2012)
Ladies Category 1. Da-Yeob Kim (South Korea) 2. Stephanie Wells (Canada) 3. Yolanda Baker (USA) 4. Claudia Osternaud (France)
The Best Newcomer award went to Hunter Verlander, (USA) who was also the youngest competitor at 15 years of age.
Veteran Category 1. Laurent Calliot (France) 2. Martin Von Steednik (Sweden) 3. Dong-Won Yang (South Korea) 4. Antonio Martinez-Yague (Spain)
Head through to the extensive World Flyboard Cup gallery for a closer look at the action.