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To jetpack or not to jetpack on vacation

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The jetpack in action. (Jo Piazza)

“Call me Ishmael,” was the first thing my jetpack instructor said to me without a dose of irony.

This gentle man named Ishmael was about to load a jet propulsion system onto my back in the middle of the Indian Ocean to see if I could successfully figure out how to “fly” 12 meters above the water, like James Bond, or the Jetsons

As far as water sports go, jetpacking today is what water skiing was to the eighties or parasailing was to the nineties.  A relatively new addition to resort recreation packages, the jetpack has become the hottest new activity to try on vacation.

The Four Seasons Kuda Huraa in the Maldives just started offering the activity a month ago, and it has been growing in popularity.

Naturally I wanted to try it. Naturally I wanted to be good at it.

“I will look like Iron Man, right?”

Ishmael looked at me questioningly. I pulled up a picture of Robert Downey Jr. on my phone. “Like this?”

He gave me a smile that I couldn’t quite read.

Your jet pack experience begins on dry land, when they strap you to the fiberglass frame and four-stroke marine engine while sitting in the sand. You sit in the jetpack and you control it by moving your body ever so slightly.

 “Don’t squeeze them. Light touch,” Ismael said to me. I proceeded to grip the handles with dear life.

“Touch them like you would hold a baby bird,” he continued with patience. “You don’t want to kill the baby bird.” I really didn’t want to kill the baby bird.

The Jetpack is attached to a hose and uses water as the jet propulsion medium.

Ishmael rolled me on my back, making me feel like a tortoise who wouldn’t be able to roll back over, but I managed to pull myself upright to get into the jetpacking start position, which is essentially sitting on a chair in the water.

“I’ve got this,” I thought. “Easy. I sit. They turn the jets on. I become Ironman.”

Except that’s not what happens. I sat. They turned the jet packs on, and I toppled face first into the water. My face smarted, water went right up my nose and my mouth.

As I rolled myself over sad tortoise-style, I could hear Ishmael telling me what I had done wrong.

“You didn’t keep your arms parallel,” he said.

“I did,” I replied.

There was no arguing with Ishmael. “You did not.”

And so we went again, with the same result. And again, and again. The truth is that holding your arms parallel to the ocean is hard for two reasons. One is that you are constantly being pushed forward by the jetpacks, so it is hard to figure out exactly where parallel is. The second is a matter of arm strength. It’s difficult to keep the controls up for an extended period of time if you don’t have some serious triceps.

Ishmael wouldn’t abandon me. “I am going to talk you through this. He tread water behind me and kept shouting up at me, “Parallel arms, down a little up a little, no, yes, parallel, no, yes, oh dear.”

After about eight tries I was finally above the water … just a meter, but still I was above the water!!! Flying … kind of like Ironman.

“You’re tired,” Ismael said.

“I’m not tired. I can go again,” I said with the impertinence of a small child.

I was very tired.

And so we returned to shore to my friends, who didn’t seem to know what to say. To them, it looked like I failed splendidly with the jet pack. Only Ishmael and I knew how hard it actually was.

Here’s a fun fact: women don’t typically do the jetpack. Ishmael said that he has seen way more men gravitate toward the activity and because it can take some upper arm strength, it isn’t always the easiest thing for ladies. Also, it takes about two or three sessions to really get the hang of the thing. I don’t know if he was feeding me a line to satiate my ego, but it certainly felt like something that was true.

But should you try it? I would argue that, if you only have time for one go, you should never try to waterski for the first time on a short vacation … or wake board … or kite ski. These are things that take time to master. Falling on your face over and over again isn’t great fun.

Still, if you are adventurous, have strong triceps and you have enough time to have more than one session then by all means, give it a go.

Just remember to keep your arms parallel.

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