We have yet to tell the story of how we wound up flying on a beach in Dubai with Ben Merrell and his friends. At the end of last summer, right at the end of July, we announced that the Jetblade was ready and we started to ship the boards. At the time we had no familiarity with the workings of the tight Flyboard circle and the carefully stage managed turmoil that was contained within. We got into contact with Ben Merrell and he was interested in trying the board, at the same time, he and Jeff Elkins had announced their new wireless throttle project. Essentially they had been “excommunicated” (a term that we would hear over and over from all kinds of affiliates) from the “Flyboard Family”, he had the option to try something new, the Jetblade was a perfect fit.
Ben got on the Jetblade and immediately began to explore its potential in a way that no one else had. He was killing it on the Jetblade with new tricks and the freedom to move faster and easier than he had on his Flyboard. He posted on YouTube the first video shot by Randy Borrell on September 15, 2014. ka-boom.
This was a bombshell. Suddenly there was an alternative, the Flyboard had remained relatively unchanged for a few years, now the Jetblade had arrived and offered more possibilities. And a new controversy on how one of the stars of the Flyboard scene could ride another product. Franky was angry at what he viewed as a defection and a betrayal and let everyone know, seeking to apply the social pressure that had worked so well in other cases. Franky then relented and sought to bring Ben back into the fold. But the cat was out of the bag, Ben now liked riding the possibilities that opened up with the Jetblade, liked the discussions and the feedback that he was able to offer us. When Franky insisted in Facebook postings that having independent foot movement was “too dangerous” and “could only be flown by a top rider such as Ben, we were flying more and more beginners.
Ben made the choice to keep on riding the Jetblade and turned down some lucrative offers to sell out and go back into the Flyboard Family fold. However, being a competitor, what Ben missed was the opportunity to fly in a contest with his friends and try to win. We started exploring the options of being able to compete, with Ben on the Jetblade in the “World Cup” in Dubai. We pushed to have Ben be able to attend the World Cup competition, we were met with hard resistance from the Zapata camp. We tried a second route. As our distributor in Dubai is well connected and has done a tremendous effort in the uptake of responsible hydro flight in the UAE, he contacted the organizers of the contest. However they were already well informed from the Zapata office in France, Flyboards only. The quote “this is a closed manufacturers event only”. Like a Renault car race, the Dubai Flyboard World Cup is a manufacturers promotion, single message, single product. We started to get a clearer and clearer picture, fair enough. We knew the same as the organizers, it was not really fair contest, Ben could do tricks on the “Indy Jet” Jetblade that were not possible on a Flyboard with its fixed flatboard foot mounts.
We had laid seige the the Cup and failed, but this was a huge opportunity, a once a year gathering of the world’s best jetboard riders. Our distributor was running the Jetblade on the beach not far from the event anyway, we thought, lets go to Dubai and be present, lets show what could have happened in December of 2014, the possibility of an open competition. Let’s give the opportunity for any rider that wants to try the board to make a short trip down the beach. We packed our bags and headed to Dubai.
Day one, turning an SVHO into a dual impeller beast.