HIGH FLYER – Alberta Flyboarding instructor Nikki Wallace soars above Sylvan Lake during a recent practice run.

The sport of flyboarding takes off in Central Alberta

Local enthusiasts enjoy thrills and spills of relatively new venture

A new sport has taken the world by a watery storm in the last few years.

Since its invention in 2011 by French watercraft rider Franky Zapata, flyboarding has since created a following around the world, North America and locally in Sylvan Lake.

Co-owner of Alberta Flyboard Inc. Brody Wells said he will never forget the first time he witnessed the sport while searching YouTube.

“I had just purchased a jet-ski and was looking for new ways to make it a little bit more interesting and unique,” said Wells. “I came across a flyboarding video and thought to myself what better way to go out and use your jet ski.”

Flyboarding works as an extension of your personal watercraft or Jet Ski by using that craft’s propulsion system to drive the flyboard through the air and water.

A flyboard rider will then stand on the board, connected to it by the boots on their feet, allowing them to seemingly fly through the air or dive head first through the water.

Upon seeing the video, Wells contacted a company who allowed him to gain the rights to become the sole distributor and dealer for flyboards in Alberta. Along with a friend, Wells traveled to Florida to the company’s training facilities where he learned safety practices and techniques associated with the boards.

“In Florida we hopped into some fairly murky water that may have had more than a few alligators and crocodiles in it,” recalled Wells. “When we got to the water there was a 6 ft. baby crocodile right beside the dock and the guys are saying ‘Oh that’s just a baby,’ and we’re just standing there thinking ‘What better incentive to stay above the water’.”

Soon after trying the sport, NBD Water Sports was created by Wells and his business partner Rodney Biggar, which has since underwent a rebrand to become Alberta Flyboarding in 2013.

Wells and Biggar have since started fly boarding locations in Cold Lake, Wabamun Lake, and Jackfish Lake and hope to have two to four more locations throughout Alberta in upcoming seasons.

Since the invention of the flyboard and its increasing popularity, competitions across the world have been popping up, including the Flyboarding World Championships, which were held in Doha, Qatar in both 2012 and 2013.

Wells along with a few associates travelled to the games both years where Wells was among the top 10 to compete in 2012. The crew of Canadians declared themselves the unofficial ‘Team Canada’ of the championships.

Recently the team travelled to the 2014 Fly board North American Championships at the Waterfront Festival in Toronto on June 20th-22nd.

“The North American Championships really just spurred me to continue to push myself and continue training,” said Wells. “When I saw what skill level some of these riders are carrying with such an early sport, it really blew me away. There are a lot of people out there running double back flips and all sorts of crazy tricks.”

While Wells explained there have certainly been ups and downs to getting the sport going in Alberta, he said, “Seeing that reaction on people’s faces when they figure it out and the look of disbelief in their eyes when they get up on the board for the first time makes it all worth it.”

A particular struggle Wells faced in the early days of Alberta Flyboard was finding an insurance company to back such a new sport despite proven safety measures.

“When you call up an insurance company and try to explain to them what you want to do they kind of gasp – ‘You want to do what? Strap a jetpack to yourself and fly around? I don’t think so’.

“But once we found someone who understood what we were doing, saw how safe it was, saw our extensive safety practices and what we went through to make sure our customers were safe and comfortable, it was a breeze.”

Alberta Flyboard, then NBD Water Sports, experienced coverage on a national level when CBC-TV personality Rick Mercer visited Sylvan Lake and stated, “It’s one of those things you can’t believe you’re seeing, and it has barely even begun.”

jswan@reddeerexpress.com

 

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