We have lift-off (or maybe not!) as a new craze heads for the beach: French Flyboard inventor Franky Zapata reveals the secrets to soaring above the waves... but it's not as easy as it looks

  • Frenchman Franky Zapata, 37, invented the Flyboard back in 2011
  • MailOnline's Harriet Mallinson joined him for a lesson in Malaga
  • The sport required a surprising amount of muscle strain and concentration
  • Initially it was nearly impossible to rise above the surface of the water
  • But, when mastered, the feeling of flying was incredible... but terrifying

In retrospect I was wrong to think that the sight of me flyboarding would resemble The Birth of Venus.

I wasn’t so much a poised, glamorous, goddess rising from the waves as a screaming, panicked novice plunging face-down into the Mediterranean.

Having traded my office for the Costa del Sol, I found myself off the coast of Malaga with the inventor of the Flyboard himself, 37-year-old Franky Zapata - a rather hunky Frenchman from Marseille with a wonderfully strong accent - who was trying to teach me how to fly.

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Majestic: Harriet found herself off the coast of Malaga with the inventor of the Flyboard himself, 37-year-old Franky Zapata (pictured) - a rather hunky Frenchman from Marseille who was teaching her how to fly

Majestic: Harriet found herself off the coast of Malaga with the inventor of the Flyboard himself, 37-year-old Franky Zapata (pictured) - a rather hunky Frenchman from Marseille who was teaching her how to fly

The Flyboard is a type of snowboard-cum-hoverboard – think Marty McFly from Back to the Future – which connects to a jet ski with a long hose. Water is forced to a pair of boots on the board with jet nozzles underneath thrusting the rider out of the water to heights of nearly 50ft, or enabling them to dive in the water to depths of 8ft.

Franky started out in jet-ski racing, founding his own company, Zapata Racing, in 2008 before deciding to expand and give the business an edge by inventing the Flyboard in 2011. ‘My idea was to fly above the water no matter how,’ he says; ‘I had the chance to believe very strongly in my dream.’

Appearing in France’s Got Talent in 2013 helped boost Franky’s career and now the sport has a global following with a world championship held in Dubai every year. The married-father-of-one tells me: ‘Flyboarding has completely changed my life.’

I was given the chance to grapple with the flyboard about a mile off-shore with a handful of others - and we were all fairly nervy.

Our boat journey out afforded brilliant views of the palm tree-lined beach glistening in the bright sunshine and huge mountains towering behind the high-rise hotels - but we were too busy bombarding Franky with questions to focus on aesthetics.

'It's very intuitive,' Franky told us as we powered out to a spot deemed suitable by the team. ‘It’s not so hard to fly. The important thing is to not be scary in the water.’

But while Franky’s command of English grammar may have room for improvement, his aerial acrobatics certainly don’t.

The dulcet tones of Miley Cyrus and One Republic blared out of the speakers as he prepared himself for a demonstration. I had seen clips of the inventor soaring above the waves before, but nothing quite prepared me for the real deal. 

Lesson: Franky (centre) explains how best to flyboard: 'It's very intuitive... The important thing is to not be scary in the water’

Lesson: Franky (centre) explains how best to flyboard: 'It's very intuitive... The important thing is to not be scary in the water’

MailOnline Travel's Harriet with Franky Zapata: The Frenchman has spent his entire life doing extreme things. ‘I really need challenge to enjoy my life,’ he revealed

MailOnline Travel's Harriet with Franky Zapata: The Frenchman has spent his entire life doing extreme things. ‘I really need challenge to enjoy my life,’ he revealed

High life: For Franky the Flyboard simply becomes an extension of his body. 'When you fly it’s extremely peaceful,’ he said

High life: For Franky the Flyboard simply becomes an extension of his body. 'When you fly it’s extremely peaceful,’ he said

He zoomed out of the water like a modern-day superhero, water blasting out of the nozzles under the board, creating a circle of foam on the surface as he ascended. He flew up towards the sun, a wet-suited Icarus, and spiralled in the air, flipping and turning, sending a beautiful arc of water spinning into the air.

The Frenchman has spent his entire life doing extreme things (unlike me)) and so is entirely at ease with the unusual watersport. ‘I really need challenge to enjoy my life,’ he reveals. For him the Flyboard simply becomes an extension of his body. ‘When you fly it’s extremely peaceful,’ he says - and I can believe it as I watch him shooting gracefully through the air.

Such a state of zen was not to be afforded me however. It was as I tried to get myself into a ready position to begin flyboarding that I remembered – I’m rubbish at watersports. 

Memories of that fateful year seven windsurfing trip to the Isle of Wight came flooding back as I tried to straighten my legs, pulling every muscle in my leg as I did so, incapable of making myself vertical. There was a reason I always got A for effort but D for achievement in PE at school 

Soar point: Franky flew up towards the sun, a wet-suited Icarus, and spiralled in the air, flipping and turning, sending a beautiful arc of water spinning outwards

Soar point: Franky flew up towards the sun, a wet-suited Icarus, and spiralled in the air, flipping and turning, sending a beautiful arc of water spinning outwards

Easy peasy... for him: 'It's very intuitive,' Franky told Harriet. 'The important thing is to not be scary in the water’

Easy peasy... for him: 'It's very intuitive,' Franky told Harriet. 'The important thing is to not be scary in the water’

Finally though I mastered the pose and Franky activated the jets. My body was forced upwards, out of my control and I tried with everything I had to keep my legs straight, as per Franky’s instructions, while I inched out of the water, but within moments I found myself falling forward, submerged once again in the sea.

I frequently found myself plunging back into the Mediterranean - landlubber that I am - gulping mouthfuls of salty seawater every time and frantically grasping for breath until Franky propelled me upwards again. It was more waterboarding than flyboarding until at long last something clicked and my body adapted to the movements required.

I broke through the surface of the water and rose up until I was entirely out of the water - a (soggy and bedraggled) phoenix from the ashes. I looked down beneath me as I was thrust upwards only to see the Mediterranean getting further and further away from me, my concentration levels pushed to their maximum as I focussed on keeping my balance.

Once on a roll I was able to fly in the air multiple times. There was an unbelievable sense of power as I rose majestically above the sea. 

It was like being on a rollercoaster only without the safety harness, making the experience simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. ‘I’m doing it!’ everything inside me wanted to yell, certain that I looked every inch like Leonardo di Caprio when he stands on the bow of the Titanic yelling, ‘I’m King of the world’ - only I suddenly seemed incapable of any noise, terrified that the slightest peep from me would break the spell and send me tumbling downwards. 

Easing her way in: At this point Harriet remembered that she was rubbish at watersports

Easing her way in: At this point Harriet remembered that she was rubbish at watersports

No flying yet: Harriet's body was forced upwards and she tried with everything she had to keep her legs straight while she inched out of the water, but within moments she found herself falling forward, submerged once again in the sea

No flying yet: Harriet's body was forced upwards and she tried with everything she had to keep her legs straight while she inched out of the water, but within moments she found herself falling forward, submerged once again in the sea

WATERING DOWN THE COSTS – AND DIFFICULTY – OF FLYBOARDING 

Zapata Racing used to just cater for high profile customers and racers but now hopes to develop a Flyboard that is not only easier to master, but cheaper, too.

Franky intends to create a board that will make the experience much simpler so anyone can find themselves flying in the first session, no matter what their experience.

Currently the sport requires too much equipment to easily take up as a hobby what with the need for the jet ski, the hose, the board and the fuel.

At the moment flyboarding is still an expensive sport reserved for thrill-seeking holidaymakers or competition-level professionals.

Just enjoying a two hour teaching session in England with Wet Jets - the first Flyboard company in the country - at one of their three flyboarding centres will set you back £89.

‘It’s only the beginning,’ Franky says when I ask him whether he ever sees the watersport as a rival to surfing or windsurfing. ‘It could happen in the next few years but we have to work very hard to reach that.' 

It has to be said it was nowhere near as easy as it had looked when Franky was spiralling around in the air like an aquatic circus performer, but the sense of achievement when I was doing it – albeit only at a low height – was superb. 

However, none of my experiences so far could compare to when Franky offered to let me ride behind him. 

If I thought the uncontrollable rollercoaster was frightening before, I had another thing coming.

We surged upwards above the water and the jet ski beneath us got smaller and smaller. I told myself sternly: ‘Don’t be scary in the water, don’t be scary in the water’ - but it was nigh impossible to hide my fear.

Perhaps I had inherited my dad’s vertigo after all.

I clung on with all my life, crushing poor Franky’s ribs in sheer terror. ‘Relax,’ said the Frenchman, laying a comforting hand on mine, ‘don’t stress.’

‘Don’t stress?’ I wanted to scream, ‘Any minute now I’m going to plunge down to my death and I’m supposed to NOT STRESS?’

In hindsight it’s hard to die when you’re only 13 feet above sea level, (something Franky only revealed afterwards - cheers mate) but it felt like we were as high as Big Ben.

Harriet said: 'So frequently did I find myself plunging back into the Mediterranean - gulping mouthfuls of salty seawater every time and frantically grasping for breath it all became a lot more waterboarding than flyboarding'

Harriet said: 'So frequently did I find myself plunging back into the Mediterranean - gulping mouthfuls of salty seawater every time and frantically grasping for breath it all became a lot more waterboarding than flyboarding'

Harriet said that 'finally something clicked and I broke through the surface of the water and rose up until I was entirely out of the water - a (soggy and bedraggled) phoenix from the ashes'

Harriet said that 'finally something clicked and I broke through the surface of the water and rose up until I was entirely out of the water - a (soggy and bedraggled) phoenix from the ashes'

Terrifying yet exhilarating: Harriet was certain she looked every inch like Leonardo di Caprio when he stands on the bow of the Titanic yelling ‘I’m King of the world’

Terrifying yet exhilarating: Harriet was certain she looked every inch like Leonardo di Caprio when he stands on the bow of the Titanic yelling ‘I’m King of the world’

Practically Peter Pan: Photographic proof that Harriet eventually got the hang of it

Practically Peter Pan: Photographic proof that Harriet eventually got the hang of it

Franky later told me he’d once performed on the Flyboard in a nightclub swimming pool and let the drunk women ride behind him. Emboldened by alcohol they hadn’t been scared one bit, even going so far as to hold on with one hand and dance. 

I knew I should have had the champagne on offer at breakfast. 

‘If you are very high above the water it can be extremely scary because it’s not natural for your brain, but in reality you have almost zero risk,’ he says. ‘As long as you fly above water that is more than 4m (13ft) deep I think it’s the least dangerous extreme sport in the world.’

Flyboarding was undoubtedly an amazing experience - even though I spent most of the time feeling petrified. So next time, I have resolved, I'm not going to be ‘scary in the water’, I'm going to fly.

So sure, I might not be blowing elegantly to shore in a conch shell while angels sing, but how else will I have the chance to feel like a deity for the day? 

Petrified: Harriet was given the chance to ride behind Franky himself. She was very scared, despite his assurances

Petrified: Harriet was given the chance to ride behind Franky himself. She was very scared, despite his assurances

Harriet smiled as she zoomed upwards with Franky in front of a palm-fringed beach

Harriet smiled as she zoomed upwards with Franky in front of a palm-fringed beach

Safe: ‘If you are very high above the water it can be extremely scary because it’s not natural for your brain, but in reality you have almost zero risk,' Franky explained

Safe: ‘If you are very high above the water it can be extremely scary because it’s not natural for your brain, but in reality you have almost zero risk,' Franky explained

Malaga: Huge mountains towered behind the high-rise hotels, jostling for space on the seafront as Harriet and her group took to the skies

Malaga: Huge mountains towered behind the high-rise hotels, jostling for space on the seafront as Harriet and her group took to the skies

TRAVEL FACTS 

There are 1,300 certified Zapata Racing Flyboard locations globally. In England the watersport can be enjoyed at The Inn On The Loch in Dumfries, Scotland, with packages starting from £89 for two hours. For a chance of spotting Franky Zapata in action in his home town of Marseille, head to Port de la Pointe Rouge where a two hour lesson costs £132 (€170), but only £58 (€75) for half an hour. In Cancun - Franky's Flyboard destination of choice in Europe - six centres offer Zapata Racing certified locations. Other top spots around the world include Brazil, Croatia, Chile and UAE.

Ford invited MailOnline Travel to 'Unlearn gravity' through the Flyboarding masterclass as well as drive a Ranger Wildtrak Pickup as part of a campaign that encourages people to let go of what they know to move forwards.

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