Shane Jenkins paddled to the middle of a bay on Long Lake at Nine Mile Falls. His broad shoulders rose from the surface, then his life-jacketed torso and finally the dual jets fastened to his feet, shooting water with the power of more than 150 horses and propelling Jenkins almost 30 feet in the air.
This is Jenkins’ second week with the flyboard, a relatively new entry into the world of water sports. Jenkins and his friend, Mike Grytdal, both rural Spokane County firefighters, are offering lessons in their free time after contracting with AV Watersports, based in Bellevue, to offer the attraction in Eastern Washington. For $90, a waiver signature and some brief safety training, thrill-seekers can experience 30 minutes of “flight time” themselves. The equipment has already caused awe on the lake waters among boaters and Jenkins’ neighbors, who are unaccustomed to swimmers rising from the waves like dolphins.
“It’s kind of weird to think about,” Jenkins said. A fire hose tethers helmeted flyboarders to a Sea Doo personal watercraft, which provides the thrust. Grytdal piloted the watercraft, revving the engine that fueled his friend’s flight.
Both men are crazy about the water, and the new toy gives them an excuse to speak with lake-goers and make some money on the side.
“The best part about it is meeting people,” Grytdal said. “Half of it is it’s just so social out there. Everybody’s curious.”
For Jenkins, who started working for Fire District 8 in 2006, flyboarding is just the latest activity he can share with his “outdoorsy family,” his wife, Crystal, said. Joining her on the dock to watch Jenkins soar was his son Keegan, 2, and his faithful boxer dog, Tough.
With all three looking on, Jenkins pivoted his body downward, prepping for a dive. The jets shot him beneath the surface of the water. In the next few seconds, he emerged, then pointed downward for another dive. It’s a dolphin-like maneuver Jenkins quickly mastered, and his sights are now set on performing a back flip to match some of the more adventurous customers who have already tried the device.
“I’m hoping to try that soon,” Jenkins said, grinning. “I just have to get up the courage to do it.”
Flyboarding is the brainchild of French watercraft racer Franky Zapata, Jenkins said. Zapata dreamed it up in 2011.
The attraction is so new, analogies describing the experience remain in the realm of fiction. Jenkins likened the experience to the hoverboard flown by Marty McFly in the 1980s film “Back to the Future Part II.” Grytdal thinks riders look more like Spider-Man’s archnemesis, the Green Goblin, who flew a similar device over land in comic books. Websites say riders can soar over the water like Ironman.
The two enterprising outdoorsmen will accept all comers, regardless of experience. The two are CPR-certified through their work. Crystal Jenkins said she was worried at first because she’s not a strong wakeboarder, but she was able to rise out of the water on her first try.
“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said.
You might catch both men just taking the equipment for a spin themselves.
“This is what we do anyways,” Jenkins said. “We spend all summer on the water.”