By Barbi Barbee, ChinLin Pan, Alisa Semiens
You bike alongside Lady Bird Lake, and all of a sudden, you see a guy standing on a board up in the air with water spurting out from under his feet. What the heck is he doing?
You’re actually witnessing flyboarding in action.
Flyboarding, also called water jetpacking, is a relatively new water sport about 3 years old. Someone stands on a water jet pack — the Flyboard — connected by a firehose to a jet ski, driven by another person. The water pressure from the jet ski moves the person on the Flyboard in the air.
“There is nothing else on your mind, except for what you are doing and just how much fun you are having,” said Damone Rippy, the youngest professional flyboarder to compete in the 2013 Flyboard World Cup at age 15.
Since its inception, there have been a few Flyboard World championships. Rippy finished in fourth place at the 2013 Flyboard World Cup in Doha, Qatar and in first place at the North American Championship in Toronto.
To train for these championships, Rippy practices about four to five times a week at Aquafly where he works.
“[There is] a certain training regimen that I have to complete before the day is over and that either comes to landing a certain amount of backflips in the air or doing double backflips or doing a certain new trick, or keep on trying it,” Rippy said.
Because the sport is so new, one of Rippy’s coaches Christopher Vance explained that the community of flyboarders is like a family.
“We have what’s called a flyboard family. Everybody pretty much knows everybody at this point,” Vance said. “The competitions that we go to, we all get together and have fun, we go out and drink and eat together. But when the competition starts, it’s very competitive. Not cutthroat, but everybody wants to win.”
French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Now, the sport has taken root in Austin.
UT alumnus Ed Hughes owns Fly Lake Austin, one of several rental locations in Texas that instructs people how to flyboard.
The first time Hughes flyboarded was January of 2013 when the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. He immediately fell in love with the sport after reading about it on the Internet.
Since he opened Fly Lake Austin last year, Hughes has taught people of all ages, ranging from 6 years old to 80 years old, and people who loved sports or couldn’t swim.
Besides the Flyboard, people can try flyboarding on a Jetovator, another water sports accessory that allows the flyboarder to redirect water and propel and elevate into the air.
“The Jetovator is a very similar apparatus. It flies on water power from a jet ski,” Hughes said. “It’s more like a motorcycle than a board that you stand on. It also has to hand controllers that the person on the Jetovator controls the up and down with that. There’s a little more control for the rider on that.”
Hughes teaches with both the Flyboard and the Jetovator. While some people prefer one or the other, most people like using both.
Hughes has seen flyboarding become what it is today and how popular it is — or lack thereof — among Austinites.
“People are becoming more and more familiar with this,” Hughes said. “Yet every weekend, I see people that say they have never seen anything like this before. Or they’ve only seen it on the Internet.”
Hughes believes some people stray from flyboarding because it appears dangerous or they feel they cannot grasp the Flyboard or Jetovator.
“A lot of people are intimidated by these machines, but they’re easier than wakeboarding and most people are up and flying in two to to five minutes once you get them out on the water,” Hughes said.
Like most sports, Rippy says, people can get hurt, but it also takes time “to learn the techniques and get in the zone.”
Rippy says that his young age helps him avoid injury in competitions.
“I can bend easier than some of the people and I heal very fast when I get hurt,” Rippy said.
For people who are not professional flyboarders, the risk of injury is low, when they are in capable hands of an instructor. Hughes encourages people of all ages to try if they’re interested because “it’s way easier than it looks.”
As Texas faces a persisting drought, homeowners and business will need to change their view on curb appeal and incorporate more native plants into their landscapes.
The idea of owning a home for the first time means success and equity and the idea of lush, manicured lawns. But this dream is not practical for Texans due to extreme droughts over the past year and imposing city water conservation ordinances.
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John Dromgoole, owner of The Natural Gardener, said Texas rarely gets rain anymore and Texans compensate by using more water for their lawns. “The lakes are dramatically close to running out of water, and when that happens, we won’t have any water to drink,” he said.
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A report by the Lower Colorado River Authority reports that central Texas lakes are experiencing their lowest amount of inflow in recorded history. According to the same report, water inflows have been the lowest of any five year period going back to 1942.
According to a report by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, one out of ten U.S. watersheds is stressed with the demand for water exceeding the natural supply.
In Texas alone, 30 communities have the potential of running out of water by the end of this year, according to a list compiled by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Texas Tribune reported that the community of Spicewood Beach, near Austin, ran out of water last year and was forced to truck-in their water.
According to the EPA, Water is needed for drinking, cooking and bathing, but nearly 30 percent of residential usage is devoted to landscaping, totalling nine billion gallons per day. In addition, 50 percent of water used for landscaping is wasted due to evaporation, wind and runoff.
Despite living in a desert climate Texans still desire large, unnatural lawns with non-native plants, like St. Augustine grass, that take more water than other types of grass. This year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill preventing homeowner associations from enforcing rigid landscaping rules that banned the use of water-hungry, non-native plants.
“For a while, a lot of homeowner associations were not so hot about xeriscaping, as that aesthetic didn’t work well with the surrounding babied lawns and classic English style landscaping,” Reed Spector of Austin Native Landscaping said.
Spector continues that homeowners are drawn to xeriscaping because of the low levels of maintenance required and the amount of water that can be conserved.
“You could have a xeriscape that requires absolutely zero additional watering and that is only irrigated by the rains. There are a wide array of lawns and landscapes with various degrees of water input requirements,” he said.
Austin City Council in 2010 passed a city ordinance to encourage homeowners to cut down on water usage called the Landscape Conversion Incentive Rebate Form. Austin homeowners are eligible for a $25 rebate for every 100 sq. feet that is converted from turf to landscaping or gardening that does not require additional water from irrigation.
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Through a combination of record drought-levels and financial incentives xeriscaping will continue to be a force within the central Texas landscaping industry.
“There has definitely been a huge rise in demand for xeriscaping, especially after having the worst summer in Texas history a few years ago. I fully believe that having lawns in Texas in a decade or two will not be the norm. As more and more folks move to beautiful Austin, water will become more and more scarce and expensive,” Spector said.
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