Maybe you’ve seen them on the water: People with jet packs strapped to their feet, hovering above the water, spinning around and diving like a dolphin.
It’s called flyboarding, and it’s become one of the most thrilling water sports around.
“I hear ‘I feel like Iron Man’ a lot,” says Neil McCormick, an avid waterskier and windsurfer who was the first licensed instructor to bring flyboarding to Oregon in 2013. He’d discovered and fallen in love with the brand-new sport in Maui, where he and his wife now spend their winters.
Gorge Flyboard is now in the midst of another adrenaline-fueled season in the Columbia River Gorge, world-renown for its epic windsurfing and kiteboarding scene. The Gorge is also a growing hot spot for stand-up paddleboarding (including SUP yoga) and paddling through the various Columbia River inlets.
Flyboarding (which takes place in Hood River or Cascade Locks, depending on conditions of the day) offers some of the same thrills as board sports, McCormick says, but the learning curve is a lot quicker.
In about 15 minutes, you can learn the basics, like how to move your legs to hover about five feet above the water. When you’re ready to go higher — up to 15 feet — McCormick increases the throttle of his jet ski, which connects by hose to your flyboard (aka jet pack). Everyone wears life vests and a two-way radio in their helmet to keep in contact with the instructor throughout the flight.
“I’ve had helicopter pilots say the motion of their legs is similar,” McCormick says. “I’ve had skydivers say this is more fun because with skydiving you tend to go tandem, and the other guy controls the movements.” Here, you’re the master of your own movement — like dancing or surfing on the water.
The flyboarding season runs May through mid-October, but the delightfully warm-but-not-sweltering conditions and lack of crowds in September make it one of the best months to visit the Gorge and spend time on the water.
“I need to convince people it isn’t necessarily an extreme sport,” McCormick says of flyboarding. “I relate to it like skiing. Snow skiing can be extreme if you want it to be, but everybody starts on the bunny slope.”
Also check out Hydro Flight Adventures, which leads similar flyboard adventures on the Columbia River out of North Portland.