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Flyboarding lands in the Gorge

New business brings fun new ‘boardsport’ to river

gorge flyboard owner Neil McCormick demonstrates just how simple the water-powered setup is to maneuver. The system pushes about 1,000 gallons a minute, powered by a jetski.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
gorge flyboard owner Neil McCormick demonstrates just how simple the water-powered setup is to maneuver. The system pushes about 1,000 gallons a minute, powered by a jetski.

For most people, watching a YouTube video of an extreme sport usually instills a sense of awe — and then they go back to their regular lives.

Neil McCormick, however, became inspired from a video he saw, and set off to Florida to purchase the necessary equipment and get all the required training. What started as a simple video link posted on Facebook by his nephew quickly turned into a new passion, and a business opportunity. With his wife, Sue, McCormick started Gorge Flyboarding, which is now up-and-running and ready for customers.

Flyboarding is one of the newest action “boardsports,” born in Italy in 2011 and brought over to the U.S. in 2012. If you haven’t heard of it, you may have seen it on the Columbia River just east of the bridge and asked yourself, “is that someone on a jetpack?”

The concept of flyboarding is fairly simple: It’s a small setup about the length of a skateboard strapped onto a rider’s feet with wakeboard bindings, which is connected to the outflow of a jetski via fire hose. As the operator of the jetski revs the engine, water flows at high pressure through the hose and out a valve under the feet of the rider, which provides lift and enables him/her steer through the air by simple body movements.

McCormick explains the technical side of the sport on the website www.gorgeflyboard.com: “Realistically speaking, the flyboard is 1,000 gallons of water per minute, at over 60 PSI and almost 400 pounds lift of pure adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding, eye-catching fun.”

“I learned about it in February and thought this is going to be huge, so I started training for it in March,” said McCormick, who lived Cascade Locks for 23 years before moving to Maui with his wife. The two say they plan on being in Hood River every summer to run Gorge Flyboarding.

McCormick saw flyboarding as a unique sport and a great business opportunity for a town like Hood River. People in the Gorge tend to love their action sports and McCormick says that “Hood River has always been on the cutting edge of sports since windsurfing started up here.” His vision is that flyboarding will give people another option for playing out on the river.

Gorge Flyboard is the only certified school currently operating in Oregon and is one of about 30 currently in business in the United States

As an early adopter of this new sport, McCormick is excited for the possibilities in flyboarding as it continues to evolve and he hopes to share this enthusiasm with others. He is confident he can get just about anybody to fly, but they do need to be at least 18 years of age. Most people are able to fly within 5-10 minutes, and they can become fairly comfortable with it by the end of their first experience. In just one short lesson, boarders will learn proper steering controls, taxi position, flying position, recovery, and landing.

McCormick hopes that flyboarding will serve as an attraction for people who come to town to play in the wind and the water, as well as those who aren’t necessarily extreme sports athletes. Gorge Flyboarding is operating from the dock in front of Best Western Hood River Inn and started giving formal lessons two weeks ago. They’ll operate into the fall, as weather permits, and will be back early next summer.

For more info or to book a lesson, go to www.gorgeflyboard.com.

Learning to Fly

A couple weeks ago as I was driving by the Best Western as a passenger of a car, I saw something that I couldn’t believe — a rocketman was in the Columbia River and just hovering above the water. We ended up backtracking to the hotel parking lot, got out of our car, and walked over for a better view. The “rocketman” was connected to a jet ski by what looked like a fire hose. We watched for about 10 minutes in amazement and I took photos on my phone that were promptly sent to some family members saying something along of the lines of “You’ll never believe what they are doing in Hood River now.”

After finding out that this rocketman scene was actually a new player in the watersport world called flyboarding, I really wanted to give it a shot. As someone who spends a lot of time in the water, I thought it’d be great to experience it from a new vantage point. I figured that it might be tough, though, as I didn’t know anyone with a jet ski, let alone a flyboard setup.

photo

KELLIE DUNN tries the flyboard.

Then I heard about Gorge Flyboard. It’s a brand-new company in Hood River that teaches you the sport, run by Neil and Sue McCormick. I met up with them at the dock right at the Best Western hotel and Neil ran through the basics. It was then that it occurred to me that maybe the fact that I’d never done a true board sport in my life might be a problem — my feet have always been independent of each other in everything I’d done!

Neil was quick to reassure me that it would not be a problem and it could even help me out a bit as he plopped a helmet on my head. I also donned a lifejacket for obvious safety reasons and went ahead with the recommended wetsuit — anything to soften the blow of the impending falls.

After the run-through, things were sounding fairly simple. Knees straight. Back straight. Look at the horizon. Make very small adjustments. The instructions were fairly basic for something that has such a commanding presence on the river.

After plopping in the water like a Labrador jumping from a dock (a graceful dive was out of the question with my feet attached to the flyboard), I was propelled away from the small dock. I felt a little like a flying fish since the jet ski was already filling the hose and moving me forward. Much easier than swimming. We got out in the open water and Neil said to go for it. I brought my legs underneath me, started rising up, and then fell straight forward on my face. At least that was out of the way. Once I was straightened out, I gave it another try — same result.

Neil gave me a couple pointers and I went for it again. This time I actually got out of the water. I’m fairly certain I was soaring high, but in all likelihood was probably just inches above the surface. Then my moment of glory ended with another splash into the water. With each attempt though I found I was able to get up a little higher, hold it a little longer, and I started keying into the balance aspect. My affinity to putting more weight on my toes did lead to a few more falls, but then I started to realize that it led to a very natural dolphin motion. It quickly became my favorite part since I have never managed to master the butterfly in the pool, but felt like Michael Phelps without putting in any real effort.

With just a few tweaks to my balance stance after some really ungraceful crash landings and some very helpful reminders from Neil, I found myself able to stand on the board with ease. It was amazing that once I found the right position how easy it became. With just a slight bend of a knee I was able to turn the board and I felt like I actually had control instead of just being at the whim of the throttle of Neil’s jet ski.

Compared to the first day of snowboarding where people go home battered, bruised, and a little down on themselves, I left feeling like I actually accomplished something and had an idea of what I was doing. I know I didn’t master flyboarding by any means, but it was nice to learn something new in such a short time frame.

Even when I was landing hard on the water, I knew it was the perfect action sport to learn — falling in water is much more forgiving than falling on cement, snow, or dirt and even a few hard slaps in the water doesn’t turn you off from wanting to give it another go.

Gorge Flyboard definitely succeeds in leaving you with a positive experience and a huge grin on your face.

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