September 11, 2013 - By Phil Custodio
Clarkston News Editor
At full power, Jacob Burns of Independence Township launches from Whipple Lake like an armorless Iron Man, supported on jets of water from his boots.
For about 30 feet – that's about the length of the hose connecting the 12-year-old extreme sportsman to his father's jet ski.
"It's the next thing," said Jason Burns, Jacob's dad. "It's really taking off this year. They're on backorder."
Invented in 2011 by French professional jet skier Franky Zapata, the Flyboard uses the engine from a jet ski to propel water up a hose through jet nozzles in a set of boots.
Jason read about them on the internet. A professional jet skier and extreme sportsman since the 1980s, he placed an order for a set, which costs about $6,000.
"I thought it was amazing – it looked really cool," Jacob said. "I didn't think I would be able to do it, but Dad saved up for it."
It was a cold day in June when they tried it for the first time.
"When I finally got to ride it, I was excited, even though the water was freezing," Jacob said. "I fell a lot as I figured it out. It's like learning to walk, you can't teach it."
He used hand jets to start, but can now hover, soar, dive, and even porpoise through the water with just the boots. He maneuvers by leaning, bending his knees, and turning. The hose is 55 feet long, but Jacob is only allowed to fly 30 feet. He said he's ready for more advanced stunts like back flips, but that can wait, his father said.
"Not until next year for that," he said.
It's easier to learn than other water sports like wake boarding, Jason said.
"It's all with balance, like a balance board," he said. "It's not as radical as it looks. It's very controlled. It's easy to learn but hard to master."
Falling just means a plunge into the water, he said.
"It's not like you land in the dirt – it's like falling into a foam pit, like a 'Nestea plunge,'" he said.
Jason and Jacob took the show on the road this summer, performing and competing in shows in New York, Canada, and Michigan, including Baja Brawl in Millington and Detroit River Days. Jason took first place awards at the Midwest USA Championships, Roar on the River 2013 in Trenton, Mich., and USA Regional Championships, Oswego Harborfest 2013.
"It's really fun and exciting to perform," Jacob said. "It's cool to see everyone looking and clapping, a great experience and part of a great childhood."
Jason estimates his son has performed in front of 500,000 people total. For many spectators, it was the first time seeing the device in action.
"It's a lot of fun, a show stealer," Jason said. "When he pops up out of the water, people go crazy."
Jacob, a student at Sashabaw Middle School, is mature for his age, his father said. He earned the privilege by demonstrating responsibility, safe behavior, and by taking a class for certification.
"He made this happen for himself," Jason said. "It's like he's been born on it. He's grown up on the water."
Water sports keeps the whole family together, he said.
"My father's sport was barefoot water skiing, mine was jet skiing, and now Jacob is doing this," Jason said. "We all have our own thing."