Flyboarding is taking off on Alabama's lakes.
The water sport, which has several operators on the Gulf Coast, has made its way inland as companies are beginning to sprout up, bringing the looping, diving fun further inland.
"The first time you do it, you don't know what to expect," said Blake Harper, owner of Alabama Flyboard, based on Smith Lake. "You're nervous, you're excited, you don't know what to expect. But you go a little higher, and it's like nothing you've ever done before."
Flyboarding, or hydroflying, debuted in 2012 in Europe and made its way to America shortly after.
Alexis Goldhagen of Alexander City owns Lake Martin Flyboard. A marketing student at Auburn, she first tried it during Spring Break this year on Grand Cayman Island. It came easy, as she is used to water sports, diving and even skydiving. Getting her parents to invest in the equipment, she started her business after training in Fort Lauderdale and has flown about 100 people this summer.
"I just picked it up really fast," she said.
Harper, who lives in Hoover, first tried it in Nashville, he said, falling in love with the concept and going back for more. Then he decided to take it to Smith Lake.
Imagine a hoverboard above water - way above water. A rider straps on the boots which are connected to a board. The board is attached to a long hose, which in turn is connected to a Jetski or Sea-Doo.
Pressurized water is then forced through the hose and propels the rider into the air. With the right amount of pressure, a rider can ascend 49 feet above the water. The operator on the seacraft controls the amount of thrust, while the rider controls the angle with his feet. That allows for spins, dives and flips. Riders wear an ordinary bicycle helmet.
"Once you get up there and you're actually flying over the water, it's like 'Holy crap!'" Harper said. "You may have very mixed emotions at first. But it's awesome."
Goldhagen said the concept is still new enough that most adults haven't seen it, while kids may be aware of it from YouTube videos. She's had customers who were 72 and 66 years old, and some people catch on faster than others, depending on their skill level. Most people are on top of the water within 10 minutes.
Only one person can fly at a time. Harper usually spends about 10 minutes briefing riders before beginning, to familiarize them with how the equipment works, and how to manipulate the board by moving their feet. They also work out hand signals for when to stop and when everything is good.
"When they're out there, I tell them to straighten their legs, go left, go right, back," he said. "I try to encourage them when they're in the water. I've always got my eye on them, so I know what they feel comfortable with."
Harper and Goldhagen also book parties and family get-togethers, as well as weekends. As the summer's gone on, demand has risen.
"We're looking to expand next summer," Goldhagen said. "Business has been so busy this summer."