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OC Adrenaline Rush: Jetpacking — for Real

This article originally appeared on YP.com on August 14, 2013. 

Jetpacking, Jetlev, Orange County, California
The author gets her feet wet with the basic skills for real-life jetpacking.

I’m flying over the surface of the ocean, salt air whipping past my face, my toes leaving a wake as they trail through the water. I raise my arms a fraction of an inch and soar higher so that I’m now a foot above the water, then two feet. Then three. The future has finally arrived, and I’m greeting it with a bear hug.

Jetpacks have been the symbol of a promised future even before James Bond blasted off in 1965’s Thunderball. Now, Jetlev has made the dream of emulating Agent 007 a reality with their dream-fulfilling jetpacks, which, for reasons both practical and safety-related, must be flown over a large body of water. A hose attached to the pack trails behind the would-be spy, sucking up water and spitting it out at the rate of 1,000 gallons per minute to propel you onwards and upwards.

Before my inaugural flight, a 15-minute on-land orientation prepped me for the basics: turning, changing altitude, and emergency power-kill. I wouldn’t have to worry about the throttle: that would be handled by a Jetlev employee supervising from land, at least for the first few lessons.

Once I’d slid into a wetsuit and donned the 20-pound backpack, I waded in chest deep and awaited instructions through the one-way headset. A few minutes later, I was puttering through the water, getting the feel of the equipment and practicing slalom like moves. The equipment required subtler movements that I expected — even a slight head tilt resulted in a sharp change in direction — but one or two near face-flops are all the reinforcement needed to make you a quick learner.

After ten minutes of practice, the cameras were turned on to capture the rest of my lesson. By now, I was feeling more comfortable, so the land-based instructor increased the throttle, which allowed me to rise out of the water to my knees. The more I rose, the more sensitive the equipment became due to the decreasing drag of my body in the water.

When the throttle supervisor realized I wasn’t going to fly myself into any of the nearby boats, he responded by increasing the power. Soon only my toes dragged in the brine, and before long I was airborne — soaring, gliding, and incorporating my newly acquired air-slalom skills. All I needed to complete my spy fantasy were some evil henchmen in pursuit as their mastermind boss stroked a Persian on the deck of a nearby yacht.

But all good things must come to an end, and soon the headset device was beckoning me to shore. With a wide grin etched upon my face, I exited the water. I had checked off another item on my bucket list. But more importantly, I’d experienced the future I’d dreamed of in childhood.

Now, if we can only get Marty McFly‘s hoverboard, we can all sleep better at night.

(Note: As of 2019, Jetlev/Jetpack America appears to have ceased operations, although Jetlev still sells the equipment on their site.)

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