Here’s a sequence of words I never envisaged writing. I’m hovering three metres above the Andaman Sea. The day is hot, the swell on the sea is calm and I’m being kept airborne by a pair of turbo-powered water jets. I am Rocket Man in M&S swim shorts. And after a short but exciting time reflecting on where I am and what I’m doing — seven glorious seconds, perhaps — I wobble, wobble some more, and perform a spectacularly uncontrolled headlong crash into the sea which, I can confirm, is very salty indeed.
In recent years, traditional beach-based water-sports have been joined by a range of ‘hydroflight’ inventions. Pedalo-scorning holidaymakers can now, in a handful of places around the world, test out jetpacks, hoverboards and even flying water-bikes. This weird and wonderful gadget, known as X-Jets Jetblades, brings a dose of comic-book futurism to the essential business of giving sunbathers someone to laugh at.
I’m at the Four Seasons Langkawi in Malaysia, one of only a few spots in Southeast Asia to offer the experience. And having watched a sample ‘flight’ online, it seems clear what’s going to be involved: I simply strap myself in, rise gracefully above the ocean and zoom around in the sunshine. Except it’s not quite as easy as it looks.
The technology involved is reasonably straightforward. A thick, 15-metre-long hose is hooked up from a jetski to the Jetblades. When the jetski fires up, the seawater that would normally propel it forward instead travels along the hose and out of the bottom of the boots. You’re completely at the mercy of the jetski pilot — the more he ‘accelerates,’ the higher you go. Assuming you manage to get out of the water that is.
“The key is to relax,” says my pilot, after I’m kitted out in boots, helmet and life jacket. He hangs his arms by his side to illustrate the point. “Don’t tense up. Loosen your shoulders. Try not to bend your knees. Stay as upright as possible underwater and I’ll bring you up slowly. Keep your eyes on the horizon. Use your toes and heels to find balance.” I give the thumbs-up, having forgotten almost all of what he just said.
First-timers, I’m told, range from not getting airborne at all to reaching a height of 5 metres. Finding the point of underwater balance is relatively easy, I discover. Staying calm and upright, not so much. Around 10 abortive attempts later, including one where I get over-excited and end up thrashing around like a human Catherine wheel, I finally get the hang of it. Slowly, surely, I’m chest-high in the water, then knee-high, then, in one transcendent second I rise out of the sea completely — suspended on the water. I keep ascending, one, two, three metres. It’s a genuine thrill. Poseidon, eat your heart out.