The Beachcomber

New Hydroflight Venture Takes Water Hobbies to New Heights

By SARAH HODGSON | Jul 13, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

I’ve been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember – which, if we’re getting specific, was when I was about 6 and doing my best to sidle back down the slope of the Badlands in South Dakota. My malleable, hyperbolic memory remembers a steep, thinly ledged incline that my mother and I were forced to crawl along, ninja-like, to avoid slipping into an abyss of air and earth. Crying only impaired my judgment as I inched down the slope past warning signs of stick figures careening off the rocky edge. I gripped my mother’s arm (she, also afraid of heights, was doing her best to keep it together) as the rest of our family journeyed on toward the top of that rugged mass in their fearless ease.

Now, my feet tingle in IMAX theaters, my hands sweat when I look at skyscraper window washers, and occasionally I get a little dizzy when I think about birds. So, when the opportunity fell into my neurotic, unsuspecting lap to test out JetPack NJ in Beach Haven, I balked like a skittish pony and called on my much taller, much bolder younger sister to take the reins. And just as any other human would jump at the chance to soar above a placid bay on a humid Tuesday just before the 4th of July, so did my sister, Cece.

Bradley Gesser, the owner of JetPack NJ, met us at the Beach Haven Doggy Bay, a little stretch of shore beside a row of Caribbean-colored condos in Bay Village. Dogs dashed liberally in and out of the hushed surf while their humans conversed and paused now and again to usher a command or throw a ball. Sitting along the shoreline, just out of the water’s reach, was a peculiar backpack perched on a tripod beside some clunky boots. Attached to tube-like contraptions, both items looked new and crisp, like toys that had just been peeled from their packaging. The orange and black material painted a pretty, vibrant picture against the gray backdrop of the sky and glass-stillness of the bay, or the stage of what was to be Cece’s hydroflight debut.

Gesser gave Cece and me a quick, preliminary tour of the equipment. The pair of boots was attached to what is called a “Flyboard,” a hydroflight device invented in 2012. A long fire hose connects the Flyboard to a Jet Ski, which follows the Flyboard in flight while pumping water into the fire hose. Below the boots are jet nozzles where the pressurized water shoots out from, propelling the rider into the air.

The JetPack, on the other hand, was exactly how you’d imagine a JetPack to look: tall and chair like, comparable to the seat of a roller coaster ride. “This is like 40 pounds,” Gesser said, pointing to the JetPack. “But they both float and they both are propelled by water, so when you’re flying, you don’t feel the weight.”

Gesser informed Cece that for this occasion, she would be forgoing the JetPack for the Flyboard, which would require some core strength and balance. He instructed Cece to remove her shoes, then handed her a life vest and helmet. After she was snug in her safety gear, Gesser helped wiggle her feet into the Flyboard and positioned her so that she was face down, floating in the shallows and readied for takeoff.

This is Gesser’s first year with JetPack NJ. He began doing hydroflight rentals in Florida in 2013, before moving to South Carolina, then Chicago and now Long Beach Island. In his hydroflight career, he’s flown senior citizens, teens, middle-aged folks and clients with disabilities and hearing impairments. Gesser has enough experience under his belt to adapt to the unique strengths and weaknesses of each and every customer, providing instruction accordingly.

Mike Mishkovsky, a resident of Beach Haven Crest and frequent JetPack NJ flyer, began with Gesser just two months ago and has already made significant progress, he said. “I love riding the Flyboard because it feels like I’m surfing in midair. Brad is such an outstanding teacher. After only a few flights, I have progressed to doing stunts like doing three 360-degree spins in a row. I can even execute a dolphin dive.”

The rental service is the only one of its kind on the Island, so Gesser has a firm control of the market. “I keep it cheap. If you go down in the Caribbean, they’ll charge a buck fifty ($150). I’m $75. It’s a half hour flight with instructions. Basically the price of a Jet Ski rental, but a lot cooler,” he said, laughing. “Superhero s***.”

The pair swam out to the channel where the watercraft floated in waiting. Gesser gave a go-ahead, inaudible to me, and Cece straightened to a standing position and began moving forward.

Initially it was a strange sight from my vantage point. Waist up, her body was out of the water, so it looked as if she was simply standing and that some invisible force was pulling her along from the front. Malia Olson, Gesser’s fiancée, who was watching with me from the shore, said this was normal and riders rarely get out of the water on their first go. It usually takes five to 10 minutes to become acclimated to the gear, the water, the motion.

“Once you’re up, it’s really not a ton of work, but it’s just that initial learning. She’s gonna get it. I can tell. She’s definitely bouncing up,” said Olson.

Cece continued to bob along the water like a rogue buoy, Gesser always not far behind on his Jet Ski. At points, she’d rise from the water, all the way past her thighs, and Olson and I would gasp, poised to screech our praises across the water. But her knees would buckle and she’d fall forward, or slowly sink upright, back down to her chest. Now and then, Gesser would shout something and they’d meet in the middle. He’d proffer instruction (again, inaudible to us landlubbers) and Cece would nod, distance herself from the watercraft and wait for the go-ahead.

After a few a more knee-buckling falls (one of which I captured on video and posted to all or most social media channels), Cece majestically rose from the water. It was almost Biblical, her hovering over the bay shakily, like a confused disciple. She rose from the water a few more times, just enough to skim the wake, and then it was time to come in.

“She got there,” said Gesser, after they’d both waded back to shore. “Not as hard as you thought, right?”

“It’s really not,” Cece said, smiling in her soaked shorts and tee.

“It’s all about relaxing. People try to fight it. You gotta relax,” said Gesser. “The first five, 10 minutes are weird to you because you’ve never experienced anything like it. But I keep stressing relax, minimal movement. And once it finally clicks, then you’re like, OK, it’s really not that hard,” said Gesser, who was all smiles and encouragement.

Cece, still beaming, confirmed she would “absolutely” do it all over again. “It’s so fun. It felt like I was flying. It was indescribable,” she said.

Gesser has high hopes for JetPack NJ to become a staple hobby for residents and tourists, especially among the younger crowd. “There’s only so much to do for these kids. I like to believe that offering something so unique and exciting is something to remind kids what that natural ‘high on life’ (feeling) is like. There’s not enough of that around.”

JetPack NJ has the potential to engage teens, busy them, and subsequently steer them away from nefarious activities. By lifting them up, Gesser hopes to keep kids grounded.

To learn more about JetPack NJ, visit thir website at https://jetpacknewjersey.com/.

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