On Lake Minnetonka, Rodney Jansen is used to the stares.
Jet skiers stopped to gawk as swimmers in Cook’s Bay paused to snap photos of the unexpected, futuristic sight: Jansen suspended 20 feet over the water with a jet pack and blast of water seemingly shooting straight out of his feet.
It’s called flyboarding — an increasingly popular water sport in Minnesota, home to one of the first flyboards in the Midwest and one of the best flyboarders in the world.
“There’s no comparison — you can fly,” said Jansen, who rents flyboards in Mound.
A jet pack mounts onto his feet in heavy bindings that look like massive snowboard boots. Water pressure from a hose hooked into a water scooter lifts him into the air, allowing him to hover over the water, then dive or do back flips overhead.
“It just looks like something out of a sci-fi movie,” said Miranda Jackson, who visited Minnesota from Maryland and decided to try flyboarding for the first time this week.
Part sci-fi, part water sport, flyboarding is taking off on Minnesota lakes since Caleb Gavic of Coon Rapids says he bought the first one in the state in 2012. The 23-year-old had seen an online video of flyboarding soon after it was developed by Zapata Racing. He forked over $7,500 and started using it at the family’s cabin in Brainerd and on Long Lake in New Brighton.
“Hovering at 50 feet; you’re above the tree line and you’re flying while doing it,” he said. “It’s probably the fastest growing sport, at least in the water sport industry.”
And yes, he says: It is a sport.
In 2013, Gavic entered the Flyboard World Cup in Qatar, placing fifth out more than 50 competitors from around the globe with his dives, flips and spins lifted some 50 feet over the water. Next up: Gavic said industry leaders are pushing for the sport to someday be included in the Olympics.
“It’s constantly going up,” he said of the interest.
Gavic and his family became distributors, selling 40 flyboards last year all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota — up from 10 the year before. They also rent out the flyboards across the state. And since 2012, several other places now rent flyboards everywhere from Duluth to Prior Lake to Lake Minnetonka.
A costly sport
Flyboarding may seem novel, but it’s not just a daredevil sport.
“From a 7-year-old girl to a 72-year-old guy, and everybody in between … it’s a lot easier than it looks,” Jansen said.
It doesn’t come cheap, though. With the jet ski and all the equipment, he said it can quickly add up to $20,000. In two years of owning flyboards, he’s run through 10 water scooter engines due to the extra wear it takes with the flyboards.
He rents them out for $299 an hour. But more and more people are curious about the unusual sport, with Jansen doing 3,000 rentals last year.
Now, the summer may be winding down, but business isn’t. He said he’s booked the rest of the season.
“It’s become extremely busy,” he said. “I think it will just keep growing and growing.”