Blast off on a Flyboard off Okinawa coast
When instructor Keiko Sasamoto cued me by saying, “Start!” I straightened my body upright under the water, putting strength into my legs, ready to be launched by a big thrash coming from underneath. The moment I felt the impact on my soles, my body became tight, trying to stay on top of the great force. Lifting gradually, all I cared was not to be tossed off into the ocean. As the upper half of my body passed the surface of the water, the jitters crept up on me even more. When my feet left the surface, and I was completely airborne, my mind went blank. Next thing I knew, I fell solidly into the water, appreciating the fact that I wore a helmet and lifejacket.
This is what happened once I finally succeeded in hovering in the air on a Flyboard only for a few seconds.
Leading up to this point, I had embarrassed myself like a failed human cannon for nearly 20 minutes.
Flyboarding is supposed be a cool sport that allows a regular guy like me to easily hover or fly in the air like a superhero. During a “preflight” briefing, the instructor described the appeal of the sport by saying, “Thrilling and exhilarating feelings that you cannot get from any other sports.” And my expectations were high after seeing Sasamoto cruise high in the air for her demonstration flight. But my initial experience was far from such thrill or exhilaration. To me, it was more like a rodeo; the water jet was hard to harness like a bronco. Almost every effort I made against the thrashing water was rejected, leaving me off balance in no time.
All the failure that preceded made it that much sweeter when I finally got a glimpse of what it would be like to fly like Ironman. I can say that the joy of floating in the air is worth the time I spent beating up myself in the water.
It was at Moon Beach, a resort just a 30-minute drive from Gate 1 of Kadena Air Base, that I gave my first shot at this unique marine sport. Known as one of the best beaches on Okinawa, this is a popular spot for many tourists and locals who enjoy jet skiing, sea kayaking, diving or just taking it easy on the sandy shore.
Flyboard is one of the newest additions that this place has to offer.
“You can enjoy a variety of marine sports here, but Flyboard is what I recommend the most,” Sasamoto said. “Recently, we had a group of Americans who came here for the sport as well. They were really excited when they succeeded in hovering in the air.”
The popularity of the sport was clear. Before I set off for my first launch, I could see people having fun with the water jet. I saw some very skilled tourists flying through the air like the Silver Surfer in a freeze-frame.
When it was my turn, I put on a helmet and a lifejacket before going into the water to put on shoes fixed on a board. Attached on the other side of the board was a thick black hose at the center with two nozzles at each end. The hose was connected to a jet ski driven by Sasamoto, who controlled the accelerator for the water jet.
Following her instructions, I floated face up, pointing my feet to the shore so the water jet could propel me away from land. From time to time, I bent either my left or right knee to make a turn following instructions. When I got far enough away from the shore, I rotated my body to float on my stomach, to prepare for being launched. As soon as the final cue “Start!” came, the 20 minutes of struggle began.
I don’t remember how many times I threw myself into the sea, but every time I failed spectacularly, I was looking for another shot. It was challenging but fun at the same time.
When I finally stayed on top of the water jet long enough and went above the water surface, the feeling was hard to describe. In part, it felt like skiing or snowboarding. I had my feet locked by the shoes, which restrained my ankles from moving. I had to rely on my thighs and hamstrings to keep me in balance and tame the big force. And what I saw during a few seconds I had above the water, made me feel like a superhero. Having the same point of view as Ironman felt great, even if only for a few seconds.
Things to know
• 7,000 yen for 30 minutes (includes 10 minute briefing)
• 5,000 yen for 20 minutes
* Customers need to be at least 12 years old, and weigh 88 lbs. or more.
* English-speaking staff is on site.