WHITEFISH – You would think being catapulted out of the water 15 feet into the air would be the most terrifying part of flyboarding, but you would be wrong.
The most unsettling part of the experience comes before you even get into the water, when Shawn Finley and Justin Heyne put a dry suit and helmet on you. It’s the same type of stuff you see on a television show like the “Deadliest Catch.” And usually, when those crusty Alaskan fishermen are putting on a dry suit it means something has gone terribly wrong – you know, like the boat is sinking.
It was that same shipwreck feeling that came over me as I sat on the edge of a pontoon boat in the middle of Whitefish Lake, which isn’t exactly the Bering Sea. Minutes before, Finley and Heyne were demonstrating their new toy – the flyboard. Created in France two years ago, a flyboard is essentially a snowboard connected to a jet ski. With a long hose, water from the back of the jet ski is pumped through and propels the board up, as far as 30 or 40 feet into the air.
Finley and Heyne first heard about flyboarding after a friend of theirs had traveled to Costa Rica last winter.
“We saw (video) and were just so blown away, we knew we had to bring it to Whitefish Lake,” Finley said. “We knew the people here would love it.”
Earlier this year, Finley and Heyne traveled to Florida to buy a board and get trained on how to run it. Upon returning to Whitefish, they organized FlyBoard of Montana and got approval from the city council to operate on the lake. Their first flight was in April and since then about 75 people have tried it. Trips begin at City Beach, where customers board a pontoon boat and are taken out on the lake. On the boat, people are geared up and then jump into the water while one of the instructors operates the Jet Ski, which moves the board up and down out of the water.
Even though they only began flyboarding a few months ago, Finley and Heyne look like seasoned pros when using it. Dashing around the lake, Finley was able to do backflips.
After a 30-minute demonstration, Finley and Heyne returned to the boat to get me ready for my maiden voyage.
“Looks a lot easier once you see it, right?” Finley asked as he neared the boat.
“Ahh, yeah, sure does,” I said, trying to hide the fact that I was still uneasy about the idea of being shot into the air like a guy in one of those old sideshow canons.
As I sat on the edge of the boat, Finley helped put me put on a lifejacket over my dry suit while Heyne strapped the board to my feet. A few moments later they said it was time to slip into the water.
Finley then told me to roll onto my stomach and push myself away from the pontoon. With the boat a safe distance away, he started the engine and I began bolting though the water. Using one leg or the other, I was able to turn and circle the Jet Ski. With that accomplished, Finley said I was ready to go airborne.
He told me to point my toes down so that the jets could push my body upright in the water. Once the board was directly below my feet I was ready for liftoff.
“We haven’t had anyone who couldn’t fly within a few minutes,” Finley said.
Finley revved the engine and I began to emerge from the water. A few seconds later, I was out of the water and in the air. A few seconds after that, I shot backwards and splashed into the lake.
“Everyone falls,” Finley said. “Ready to go again?”
As I flopped and flipped in the water, trying and failing to shoot snot out of my nose, I said I was ready. It was a lie, but I didn’t want to seem like a quitter.
The jets again shook my feet out of the water and this time I got a little higher. It felt like I was 10 feet above the water, but it was probably just a few inches. I fell again and the flopping and snot shooting repeated.
A few more failed flights and a few more flops later, I was actually staying above the water for more than five seconds.
“You’re flying now!” Heyne yelled from the pontoon boat.
Amazingly, he was right. I was flying! From the jet ski, Finley asked how I was doing and I could only reply with incoherent shouting.
I would fall another dozen times, but by the end of the 30-minute lesson, I was spending more time above the water than below. Finley and Heyne said flyboarding is addictive and, once you start, you don’t want to quit.
“The comment we get the most is ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done,’” Heyne said.
FlyBoard of Montana plans on running through the summer and into the fall. On July 4, Finley and Heyne plan on putting on a flyboard demonstration at City Beach during the day. For more information, visit www.flyboardofmontana.com or call (406) 261-5921.
RAW VIDEO: Flyboarding on Whitefish Lake.
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