HYDRO-FEST: Hydro Flight Takes Off
Words: Bryon Dorr / Photography: Bryon Dorr & Paige Novy
I had never heard of the term hydro-flight, but man did I learn all about it over a weekend in Parhump, NV, at Hydro-Fest. I’m sure many of you, like I, have seen viral online videos of people flying around with water propelled jet packs on their backs. This is the origin of hydro-flight. Basically what it entails is feeding the water propulsion from a personal watercraft through a flexible hose, to a device with nozzles, which provides lift and directional control of the forced water. Besides jet pack style hydro-flight devices, there are also a variety of other products that use the same principles of flight; such as surfboard shaped rigs, snowboard shaped rigs, jetboards, jetbikes, etc…
Hydro-Fest itself was the first of it’s kind anywhere, as it brought together all the key manufactures in the industry to show off their goods, and allow top athletes to compete against one another on their own gear. Past hydro-flight competitions were organized by single manufactures, and only allowed their gear to be flown in the competitions. This event was also designed to bring the key industry players together, under the World Hydro-Flight Association banner, to help build and promote the hydro-flight industry as a whole, as it is still a young industry, only being commercially viable for about 5 years now.
Jetpack America and Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club hosted the event at their world-class facilities in Parhump, NV. The on water demonstrations, test flights and competitions all happened on the facility’s man-made 4.5 acre fresh water lake, which is an impressive oasis in the desert. The facility features beach volleyball, SUP rentals, a Tiki Bar and so much more. The Resort is also the home of the Ron Fellow’s Performance Driving School, “The Official Performance Driving School of Corvette.” (More soon about this world-class facility and driving school.)
The best way to get into the budding sport of hydro-flight is to visit your local hydro-flight operator, as basic safety and instruction go a long way to making your first flight memorable, in the right ways. Jetpack America is a leader in this industry, their Parhump, NV location is only an hour from Las Vegas and the weather is quite mild, all combining to make it a great place to try this truly jaw dropping activity. Most people will start out on the jetpack style flight units, but I must admit that I found it way more fun and easy to learn on the jetboard style system. Jetpack America trains new flyers on both, and has really patient quality instructors. Most people get up and flying in under 5 minutes, with solid controlled flight after about a 20 minute session.
Paige Novy, fellow overland adventurer and 10/20 Adventure Community member, was able to join me for Hydro-Fest. We both got to jump in the water and give this hydro-flight thing a go. She was up and flying on a jetboard, in a hover, in under 5 minutes, and at the end of her 20 minute demo session was able to reliably maneuver where she wanted. No matter some initial frustrations, and some impressive wipeouts, she was smiling from ear to ear the entire time. I’ve probably got a little better balance, and tackle these things with a bit more aggression. While this allowed me to pick up on the flight controls quickly, it also made for some pretty spectacular crashes. While I paid the price of my zeal, in the form of some serious bruises and a mild concussion, I was also uncontrollably grinning the entire time and am fully hooked on this amazing sport.
A few keys to success at hydro-flight, of any kind, are to only put in minor upper body movements at a time, unless throwing a big trick, and to fully relax and let the water propulsion do the work. As you learn, a personal watercraft driver/instructor will be controlling the amount of power going to the flight unit, but once you decide to get into this sport yourself you can get a wireless remote system, and control the power while you fly. The other trick to hydro-flight is to always remember that you are attached by a hose which is attached to the personal water craft, which means you can run out of hose or kink the hose, which will both most likely make you crash. Hose management is a key to smooth controlled flight. Also take the time to fit the gear properly to you, as your performance and comfort will be greatly elevated if you do.
I was lucky enough to get out and try nearly every jetboard system currently being manufactured, with there being 4 main players in this space. I first got on the FlyDive X-Board, which had tons of floatation for easy starts and was super easy and smooth to rotate, as your feet are twice as close to axis the of rotation as the nearest competitor. The key feature of this unit is the helical splitter, which keeps the jets closer together and positioned directly under your feet, providing maximum power and control. The Zapata FlyBoard Pro is the lightest flyboard offering on the market and has a unique central pivot spring, which makes neutral controlled flight extremely easy, and can be locked out for complete beginners. I did find that the springs caused quite a bit of leg fatigue when flying forward however, as you had to fight with the springs trying to push back to the neutral position. The FlyBoard does also have limiter pins which only allow for 20 degrees of foot rotation, providing safety against knee and ankle injuries. The X-Jet Jetblade features all metal construction, for durability and reliably, and is a super fast, fun and responsive board to fly. I did find it a bit twitchy at first, but can fully see the benefits once a basic skill level is attained. The only board that I didn’t manage to demo at Hydro-Fest was the Defy JetDeck, a board I heard good things about from competitors.
If you wanted to get into hydro-flight yourself, a basic hydroboard setup will set you back around $4,000, with more advanced equipment easily adding up to about $13,000. Besides the board, hose and attachment accessories, you also need a 110+ horsepower personal water craft to power your hydro-flights. While this setup isn’t all that inexpensive, it sure is fun, and sure to impress your friends!
A shout out to Furnace Creek Resort for alerting me of this event, and Jetpack America/Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club for all the hospitality.