IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? NO, IT’S A FLYBOARD jetpack that shoots you up into the air and lets you leap in and out of the water like a dolphin all sounds very futuristic, but it’s actually a pretty common sighting just off the beach at Praia da Rocha. It’s called flyboarding and it’s the latest watersport to arrive in the Algarve. “We have been selling jet skis in the Algarve for more than 20 years, so it made perfect sense for us to introduce flyboarding,” said Stefania Balzer, a former Aquabike world A champion and marketing coordinator of the Angel Pilot Group, the company that distributes the Flyboard here in the region. Based in Parchal, Angel Pilot was set up in 1991 by Stefania’s father, Alessandro Balzer, an Italian jet ski champion with his fair share of European and world jet ski titles. It was during one of these international competitions ­ the Jet Ski World Championship in China in 2011 ­ that the Angel Pilot team witnessed first-hand the presentation of the Flyboard, 23 2 ACTIVITY an ingenious device that attaches to a personal water craft ­ in this case a jet ski ­, and propels the rider into the air and through the water. It was clear from the start that flyboarding and Angel Pilot were the perfect fit. Invented by jet ski champion Franky Zapata, the Flyboard is similar to a wakeboard, where the rider’s feet are strapped into boots with jet nozzles underneath, which are connected to the jet ski’s turbine through a long hose. Using the power of the jet ski, the rider can be thrust up to a dizzying 14 metres into the sky. It took months of waiting for the legislation to be approved, but in August last year, Angel Pilot finally got the nod to provide this unique experience to clients across the Algarve. As well as being the region’s official distributors of the Flyboard, the company also has three certified instructors who can teach clients how to manoeuvre this state-of-the-art equipment. “It’s a great sensation. At first it can be a bit nerve-racking but you soon get the hang of it!” says a smiling Stefania, who is one of the certified instructors to take clients out to their official flyboarding spot just by the mole at Praia da Rocha. “At the beginning it’s that feeling of being up high and seeing everything from a different perspective, you get a feeling of freedom. Then when you get the hang of it and move around a bit better, you can have lots of fun.” Open to anyone over the age of 16, Stefania notes that some people are quicker to pick it up than others. “Some people can get up high very quickly, others take a little longer to adapt. It has to do with the balance and the person’s understanding of how it works. You have to straighten your legs when it starts up, but for some reason there’s a natural tendency to bend your knees and that makes it harder. There are those who catch on to that straight away and those who don’t.” 24 SPORT Once you have commanded the technique and gained some height ­ during these ‘courses’, the maximum height you can reach is four metres ­, you can start doing twists and turns and dive like a dolphin into the water. More practised riders can do flips, spins, back-flips and other aerial stunts, with a number of professional flyboarding competitions already taking place around the world (the first Flyboard World Championships took place in Qatar in 2012). But for beginners and amateurs, the courses led by the Angel Pilot team sees groups of at least four people heading out to Praia da Rocha to try their hand at the region’s latest watersport. After receiving a briefing on the boat, during which time the team prepares the equipment on the jet ski, clients are given a life jacket and helmet, and a wetsuit when it’s colder, for the experience which lasts 20 minutes. “As long as people follow our instructions, there are no dangers at all,” assures Stefania. The legislation is also somewhat limiting, according to the marketing coordinator, and requires that a boat accompanies all the courses, which must take place outside the sea walls, making it particularly challenging in the winter months. However, it means that those who don’t want to try flyboarding can still join in, take pictures and enjoy a few hours out on the boat. While the 90 price tag makes it a more special experience, Angel Pilot offers reduced prices for large groups, and has created gift vouchers for the summer which are perfect as a birthday present.

Author: Inside Carvoeiro

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