This topic is intended to generate some discussion so we hope after you read it you’ll share your thoughts and ideas with the rest of us!
2016 will be the first year since Freestyle Pro Flyboarding started it all in 2012 where different Hydroflight competition formats are tested and new hydroflight experiences go competitive. Very exciting times for sure as we welcome Jetpacks and Jetbikes to the mix! Along with the excitement comes many challenges as products, rules, judges, and athletes scramble to keep up with the rapid evolution of hydroflight sports. For those of us who have been involved in the competitions to date it seems just when you have a handle on what can be improved the game changes and you’re constantly working to catch up.
If you’ve been following H2RO Magazine and the competitions we’ve covered you will be very familiar with the first format our sport has employed which is freestyle Pro Flyboarding. There have been a total of eight Flyboard competitions since 2012 each very similar with only slight variations in qualifying round rules, battle rounds versus points system and length of rounds. Basically each athlete is on the water alone in the designated competition area and their Flyboard trick execution is scored by a panel of judges.
There have been many great conversations around which future hydroflight competition formats will serve up everything that is spectacular about hydroflight in such a compelling manner that the industry and public will unanimously agree this is the best way to present our sport. Below we have attempted to recall and compile some of the better ideas discussed over the last few years. First, here is a recap of the formats that have been part of competitive Pro Flyboarding.
HYDROFLIGHT JETBOARD FREESTYLE
With each competition Hydroflight athletes have been able to take their flying to new levels. As the equipment progresses so does the technical expertise of the riders and this has combined for the most exciting flying anyone has seen to date. Here are the current Hydroflight Freestyle competition formats:
Qualifying Rounds: There have been three variations of format employed in the Flyboard World Cup events, North American Flyboard Championships and Flyboard Japan Cup.
- 1 minute and thirty seconds of freestyle flying
- 1 minute and thirty seconds in which to execute five distinct tricks. (No combinations)
- 1 minute and thirty seconds in which to execute five distinct tricks in the exact order of your 5 Trick Card.
The Qualifying Round seems to have one major goal and that is to get right down to each athletes ability to flawlessly execute their biggest tricks in one attempt. No choreography, flow, or long combinations here, just weeding out the weaker riders based on trick execution. When ski flips were a real possibility this round was brutal to some athletes who had flown half way around the world only to flip a ski and be out of the competition after mere seconds but for the most part the best flyers always found their way out of this round. Now with the new tech ski flips are much less of an issue and much debate continues around reducing the penalty of a ski flip so that it is not an immediate disqualification.
Asking the athletes to execute their five tricks in the order they submitted on a Five Trick Card was an interesting experiment at the 2015 Flyboard North American Championship. Most athletes had their tricks written in sharpy on their forearms and even then they were still likely to mix them up. This comes down to the each athletes preparation and not necessarily that the demand to execute a trick card was too complex. Not sure if we’ll see this format again.
The other interesting challenge for Hydroflight judges, in this round particularly, is the introduction of never-before-seen new tricks. As a sport we are all in favor of rewarding creativity and innovation however this is always seriously difficult for judges when it’s the first time they’ve seen something and they have to attempt to put a number against it. There have been requests made that athletes submit video of their new tricks to the judges prior to competitions in order to better evaluate each maneuver. This does not always occur.
The 2015 Flyboard North American Championship was the first attempt to score the athletes with a point system and we can recall one instance when Suksan Tongthai submitted a video of his new trick for evaluation and to have a numeric score assigned to it. The trick execution on the video looked very similar to a Front Twist which we already had a score assigned to it so it was decided that due to Suksan’s trick having an additional element it would receive two extra points. Then he went out and threw the new trick in person and it was much more spectacular and technical then the video example and so the scoring didn’t accurately reflect the move. This may have been one of the reasons the entire points system that had been worked on for NAFBC was thrown out at the following Flyboard World Cup event.
Battle Rounds versus Points System:
These two formats continue to be one of the ongoing debates in Hydroflight as each have their current pros and cons. After the 2014 XDubai Flyboard World Cup we engaged athletes and attendees to share their feedback and one of the things that seemed to be unanimous among this group was the desire to rid our competitions of the Battle Round format. It seemed that people were not in favor of seeing a less than stellar Qualifying Round dictate the early exit of top competitors. There were other issues with Battle Rounds as well when scores were not carried over it meant that if you were second in a battle and you’re opponent DQ’d him/herself that you simply had to taxi out, throw one single backflip and then cruise around for a few minutes ensuring you don’t also flip the ski and that you move on. Painfully boring to watch as an audience member. Finally the Battle Round format didn’t allow for every competitor to put their best stuff up against every other competitor in the field. This meant that depending on the luck of the match ups weaker athletes could find themselves moving into the Top Eight when their flying would have scored less than many other athletes out in earlier rounds.
So after this feedback the first version of a points system was created. The idea was to allow athletes to generate a numeric score per trick and in each round all athletes competed against all other athletes with the top half of the scores moving on. In theory this seems like the way to go but upon the first execution of the points system it was far too labor intensive for the judges and due to not creating enough of a difference between trick difficulty and uniqueness the end result was an energizer bunny effect. Throw more scorable tricks (irregardless of what they are) than your competitors and you win.
This system was abandoned at the next XDubai Flyboard World Cup where battle rounds were back and each athlete was evaluated in the following way:
2015 XDubai Flyboard World Cup Scoring System
The competitors will be judged by a panel of judges composed of 5 professionals, and one Head Judge, who will assign points according to the following criteria:
- Technique: (Trick execution, trick difficulty and innovation) : 2 judges
- The variety/diversity of tricks : 1 judge
- Show (coherence and construction of tricks and combos, flow with an escalation in difficulty and a grand finale, attitude of riders)
- Competitors energy (number of scoreable tricks, execution speed, execution rhythm)
Each judge will score on a five point scale, which will result in a total score potential of 100 points. The winner of each battle is the competitor who receives the highest total score.
There are smart people in our industry still looking at this current system and the individual tricks points system and are attempting to solve issues with height multipliers, proper base numeric scores for tricks and the ability for judges to award more points for innovation and creativity in order to reward and incentivize that brand of flying. We’ve also seen Peer Judging tested along with a new scoring app but we’ll get to that later in this article.
Battle Rounds created some interesting head-to-head match ups sometimes between friends and teammates and we don’t know if it will continue to be the format for Pro Flyboarding events but basically you have not seen the last of the points system… to be continued.
Top 8 – Finals | Mandatory Tricks Per Round
This is another interesting conversation that people seem to have strong opinions about. Mandatory tricks. In an attempt to get an ‘apples to apples’ scenario in these important late rounds a set of mandatory tricks was established. At the 2015 XDubai Flyboard World Cup they were:
- 1080 Spin
- Double backflip
- Spin backflip
Two things that people didn’t seem to like about mandatory tricks was that it was very difficult to know how difficult each should be and when the tricks like a Superman were made mandatory you were taking valuable time out of an athletes Quarterfinal, Semi-final and finals run to execute something that they were comboing like crazy in earlier rounds. This brought up the question ‘Well if I can do a Superman – Double Backflip combo can I just throw that and satisfy two of the requirements? The other question that was raised due to the fact that spinning with independent feet versus a fixed board spin are two different tricks, which version of a 1080 Spin is required?
In the end we know why the judges wanted a chance to simplify things and have every athlete do some of the same moves so they could differentiate them more easily but from a fans perspective most of these single 1080 spins and non-combo supermans looked weak and out of place in these later rounds. Perhaps if one or two very difficult combos were made mandatory that would satisfy both the fans desire to see something impressive and the judges desire to see something consistent.
Finals – Freestyle runs of varying lengths choreographed to music
In all of our coverage of competitive Pro Flyboarding we can only recall one actual attempt to satisfy this aspect of the Finals Runs and that was in Toronto at the 2014 North American Flyboard Championship where Damone Rippy’s air guitar to AC/DC battled Jordan Wayments country cowboy moves. It wasn’t choreography like figure skating or synchronized swimming it was simply getting into your tune once or twice during your incredibly long five minute finals run.
This seems like another way to give the top two Pro Flyboarders in any competition an additional weapon to wield at each other but in the end it just hasn’t worked at all. Sure fly to your favorite tune and get yourself and the audience super pumped up but the word ‘choreography’ needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We’ll see if it is given one more shot at the upcoming Flyboard European Championship being held in Cavalaire-sur-Mer, France.
HYDROFLIGHT COMPETITION IDEAS FOR 2016
Beginning back in February at SESSION ONE and continuing on with this event series new ideas around judging, scoring and competitive formats are being tested. A few of the new ideas that are being experimented with are:
New Competitive Formats: Jaxx Round, Draw Round, Best Trick
More than once Shaw at X-Jetpacks has shared his thoughts with us and compared the current Pro Flyboard competition format to the early Skateboard flatland freestyle trick competitions which occurred in parking lots. A flat piece of concrete with athletes simply tricking in a designated space. A major part of that sports evolution has been with the introduction of different environments to interact with. Skateboard vert, park, street, and other disciplines offer skaters unique challenges, creative opportunities and inspiration. Skaters who thrive in one format may struggle in another or even choose to specialize and not compete in some areas.
The first taste of a physical Hydroflight environment was given to the twelve athletes who participated in SESSION ONE. The Jaxx Round involved the interaction between the athlete and a huge inflatable Jaxx (over four meters high). This inflatable object was at the same time an obstacle and enabler allowing the athletes to do some very unique tricks while also making the regular repertoire of tricks more challenging and technical.
The experimentation with the Jaxx was a great first step in further developing our sport similarly to pro skateboarding. Perhaps we’ll see the creation of hydroflight courses that will challenge athletes and excite future X Games audiences.
The Draw Round was also a different format that participants experimented with during SESSION ONE. Four tricks were pulled randomly from a hat and each athlete had to execute that four trick session as many times as they could in the allotted time frame. Depending on the tricks pulled there were very different challenges presented with each round.
The Best Trick Contest was definitely fun for both competitors and fans. We’ll be seeing this again at Hydro Fest and it’s a great way to move our sport forward by having the best hydroflight athletes in the world throw down their biggest and baddest moves in the presence of their peers. A very inspiring format that forces athletes to share what they’ve been secretly working on while giving the audience memorable moment after memorable moment.
SESSION ONE also tested out the idea of Peer Judging. The idea here was as our sport is very new who better to appreciate the difficulty of any given maneuver than the athletes themselves. This, along with new app technology that made inputting their scores very simple, quick and transparent, showed potential. Some athletes may feel it takes them out of their competitive ‘zone’ if they are participating in a judges panel and still in the comp themselves. It remains to be seen if the competitors will embrace Peer Judging or move away from it. We can certainly see a fit with things like a ‘Best Trick’ competition where impressing your peers is really the goal.
In June at Hydro Fest 2016 our sport will welcome the first Pro Jetpack Division and Pro Jetbike Division. This event will also be an Open Board competition meaning that the Jetboard Division will have competitors flying on the product (Flyboard, Jetblade, Jetdeck, Dolphin Board, X-Board, Wataboard…etc) of their choice. With the new product divisions being introduced the obvious challenge is with judging. How familiar will each of the selected judges be with the repertoire of jetpack and jetbike tricks? This however is also where the real excitement lies and we expect to learn a lot over the course of these three days. As far as we know the formats discussed in this article could and will apply to these new divisions.
Battle Rounds with Two Competitors at a time
One format that came out of a conversation we had with Pro Hydroflight Athlete Callon Burns was the ‘rap battle’ rider versus rider scenario. Apparently when out flying together both Callon Burns and Ronnie Feise got into a game of one-upmanship to the delight of the boat traffic that had stopped to watch. It was simply each guy trying to top the others last trick. The reason this has format has potential is the energy and spontaneity that two athletes out on the water at the same time can create. We can see this being fan friendly and also something fans would have fun scoring themselves using the app by X-Jetpacks on their own personal mobile devices.
Hoverboard, Jetpack and Jetbike Racing
During the 2015 XDubai Flyboard World Cup we witnessed the first ever Hoverboard races. This demonstration was a way to test out a timed race format where each participating athlete had to navigate around the colored buoys as fast as possible and at the end of their run throw a single freestyle trick to stop the clock. The vision for Hoverboard racing in the future (and this would work for Jetpacks and possibly Jetbikes as well) is to have two competitors race against each other at the same time on courses set up side by side. This would give the fans instant gratification as you could cheer knowing exactly where each competitor sits in the race and at the finish line immediately who won.
Seeing the speed of the Jetlev Jetpack in person last February really sparked our interest in what Jetpack racing could become. Those things can really move and seeing two ripping side by side would be pretty cool.
Obstacle Course Races
Obstacle courses have come up a few times when discussing the fun you could have with Hydroflight. Even as we watched the Hoverboard races in Dubai last year we had thoughts of capture the flag moments twenty five feet in the air mid race or other challenges that could give athletes a real purpose to pull the various maneuvers the Hoverboard is capable of. Taking things many steps further why not create either a physical obstacle course that challenges athletes in many unique ways or (and we don’t know how this idea would work) but create a laser light course that might interact with the new LED suit technology that is being employed in many hydroflight shows. Imagine an athlete having to dive through six virtual rings and if their suit makes contact with the light a huge visual response fires to show the crowd the deductions in points or addition of time that has occurred.
We can see this idea evolving over time. Just as the inflatable Jaxx were introduced to athletes so could other physical pieces of a course. Eventually you would have a number of things that could be put together into one longer challenge that would make up the first true obstacle course. Big challenge here is money to invest in these ideas and athlete’s accessibility to the courses.
Team Timed Races
This is an idea that we just threw out there during our time at SESSION ONE as both a jetpack and jetboard flew across the water at the same time. We thought it might be cool to see teams of three athletes (one Jetboard, one Jetpack and one Jetbike) participate in a similar timed race as the NBA All Star weekend use to have with the Shooting Stars challenge. The concept is that the clock starts with the first athlete and only when that athlete successfully executes their ‘challenge’ can their teammate begin theirs. The time stops once all three athletes on each of the devices has completed their part of the race. These competitive situations can create a lot of good anxiety as fans pull for athletes that may be struggling to complete their section while those valuable seconds tick away.
Some other positives to an idea like this would be having three different hydroflight experiences out on the water at the same time for the crowd to watch and seeing challenges that allow the athletes to show off the coolest aspects of their particular hydroflight ride. Teammates wouldn’t have to train together for this necessarily as each could work on their respective challenge in isolation and then come together at competition time.
WHAT TYPES OF COMPETITIONS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN HYDROFLIGHT?
Now we want to hear what you’ve been dreaming up! There are so many possibilities and this is a topic that everyone can creatively contribute to. Use the comments section and share your thoughts on this article and any new ideas you may have. We’re just brainstorming here so you don’t have to have all the answers or everything worked out yet… just an idea that might inspire a new sport to take it and fly with it!