Damone Rippy wins the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship
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(North American Flyboard Championship photos courtesy of Jack Stone Productions)
I think the Louisiana heat may have melted my brain a bit because as I returned from the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship I was dizzy and unfocused for a few days. Maybe it was because the level of flying that I’d just witnessed was the best our sport had ever produced or maybe it was because that level of flying coupled with the uncertainty of our sports next steps had me anxious and a bit frustrated. The one saying that was in my head during the three flights home was ‘Athletes above all else’.
H2RO OFFICIAL NAFBC VIDEO
See, there are two aspects of Pro Flyboarding that are moving forward at a rapid pace. One is the incredible level of flying from the athletes involved. At the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship they yet again raised the bar significantly throwing never before seen tricks, new massive combinations and delivering the first cleanly landed Flyboard Triple Backflip in competition in the United States.
Hunter ‘Poison Dart Frog’ Verlander lands a Triple
The second area is the Flyboard itself. As we were standing in awe of the insane competitive runs being thrown down by the Pros, Veteran and female athletes in Louisiana, Franky Zapata was flying on his new Flyboard Pro Series board and releasing these first images of it in action.
The speed of this evolution is what excites and fuels a lot of us but there is still so much work to be done to create a solid, professional foundation from which the sport can stabilize and grow. We have associations either formed or attempting to be formed but to date no one association has become the universal hydroflight governing body. Even Pro Flyboarding which has just completed its fifth professional competition has done so without a competition committee or association in place. Here in lies the first and possibly the most difficult step in our next wave of progression. We need a foundation put in place that will allow for our sport to safely and securely evolve and grow. The athletes look more than ready for the world stage but the opportunities to compete remain few and far between. I think I speak for everyone within the Hydroflight community when I say we would all love to see a Pro circuit become a reality.
One of the two questions I asked a number of competitors at the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship was how do we take our sport to the next level. Their answers varied somewhat and I will share them in an upcoming video but it seemed to me that two scenarios are worth exploring immediately. They are sourcing an established sporting event where Pro Flyboarding would make a good fit as the ‘opening act’. Win fans over as they see how incredible our athletes are live and then use that momentum to fuel our own stand-alone competitions. The other idea that will happen, but by whom, are multi-product hydroflight competitions where even if the competitive component of the event is only for underfoot products the other experiences can be highlighted through demonstrations, stunt flying and night shows. We need to see what kind of noise we can make when all the tribes come together and blow the public’s mind. That would warrant a paid ticket and that would likely be a large enough event to garner support from top tier sponsors.
Instead I fear we’ll first have to let the new emerging competitive products experiment with the same formula Zapata Racing has employed to date and that is test the waters with product specific competitions. Perhaps I’ll be surprised and someone out there with the resources, contacts and compelling offering will execute a hugely successful competition based around their own product but I’m not sure the world has the patience to wait for that. The general public is getting a taste each and every day as more great flying comes out online, on TV and on their local lakes and the time is now to really capture their imagination.
With the X Dubai Flyboard World Cup locked into Dubai for the next four years minimum and the 2016 North American Flyboard Championship looking like it will make its way to Cancun Mexico what does that mean for the United States, Canada and the rest of the world? What it means is there is a huge opportunity for a new event to launch and dominate those markets. The USA in particular is not just going to sit around and see if a competition may or may not come back to their soil. Something will fill the void but what.
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So I guess there are more questions than answers right now surrounding our sports future but let’s get back to the most exciting thing to come out of the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship… the athletes and their incredible progression on the board. Competitors were juggling a lot last week as they evaluated and re-evaluated their five trick Qualifying Round card, fought to put up big scores from the Top 34 onwards and tried not to get psyched out as many observed for the first time the best Flyboarders in the world throwing down in person.
NAFBC QUALIFYING ROUND
Where’s the sharpie?
For the first time in the history of our sport our athletes were challenged to do exactly what they said they would do out on the water. Seems simple right? You submit a five trick card and then you go out and do those five tricks. Some competitors had been practicing their five tricks for a while and had them locked in pretty good, others had been practicing their five trick card for a long time and still had difficulties sticking to it when the horn sounded. Many had to resort to writing their five tricks on the inside of their arm to reference as they were flying. It was comical to see some who had to look at their ‘cheat sheet’ after executing only one trick. It was also funny to hear the stories of looking down and seeing nothing but smudges.. yikes. Hunter Verlander, the most consistent flyer throughout the competition in our humble opinion, found himself in first place after Qualifying. The biggest shocker was to see eventual Champion Damone Rippy sitting in 20th after improvising on two of his three tricks and receiving only 71 pts total.
Initial feedback on this trick card format has been interesting. Some who didn’t perform all that well in Shreveport still believe it is a necessary step in creating a legit extreme sport. Seems like the majority of what we’ve heard so far is to predetermine a list of 5 – 7 advanced tricks as a way to separate the competitors who truly can fly at a Pro level from the rest of the pack. Perhaps also evolving to provide intermediate, advanced and Pro categories so a larger group of flyers can participate and feel good about their progression without diluting our Pro division.
NAFBC TOP 34
After the adventures on Thursday we actually ended up with a Top 34 as we had two competitors added back in after appealing their scores. These 2 minute freestyle rounds were exciting as the riders got back to their aggressive, spontaneous selves and delivered a number of awe inspiring moments. From Andrew Salvador’s 50 ft back dives to Hunter Verlander flying out of the first competitive triple backflip on North American waters the action was intense. I had to comment more than once about the fact that if the level of flying that was going on at Cypress Lake had been going on in front of the Redpath Waterfront Festival crowds we had in 2014 then both athletes and audience member would have be losing their minds with excitement. Instead it was such a chill atmosphere until finally on Saturday when we saw significant boat and beach traffic, that the intense flying on the water lacked that reciprocal energy needed to really make the air electric. We hope that our H2RO videos from the event help convey just how awesome the flyers in all divisions flew over those three hot days.
Day two saw a couple of wrinkles needing addressing. One, was the riders being allowed to have a choice as to which hose they wished to compete on and two, the day ran long and the final five competitors which had achieved the highest qualifying round scores were allowed to fly early the following morning in proper light and with fresh legs. It was this early morning run from the ‘Poison Dart Frog’ that produced the historic triple. Once the freestyle smoke cleared our Top 16 looked like this:
|RANKING||COUNTRY||LAST NAME||FIRST NAME|
Definitely a few interesting names not found in this Top 16 list most notably Cooper Riggs who sat in 17th and Jordan Wayment who found himself in 23rd. Jordan did admit that he had very little practice time coming into the event and felt out of shape.
Our Woman’s division cut right down to a top four and Kristen Smoyer, Nellie Kubalek, Fernanda Villeneuve and Valentine Cambrone really put this division on the map with some amazing runs. They also learned just how long and challenging a 3 1/2 minute competitive run is.
More feedback out of the event was that 2 1/2 minutes is the magic number for length of run when it comes to high intensity Pro Flyboarding. We’ll see if that influences this year’s World Cup.
Let’s not forget the Veterans who also did their best to blur the lines between their division and the Pros. 1080 double backflips from the 40 yrs + group brought more than a few people up out of their lawn chairs. The top eight vets played out like this:
|RANKING||COUNTRY||LAST NAME||FIRST NAME|
TOP EIGHT PROS
When the top eight Pro Flyboarders were announced there were a few gasps as back to back Flyboard World Champion Suksan Tongthai filled the 8th and final spot, meaning he would be flying first in the next round. Followed by Ben Merrell who didn’t have his best run but would come back strong to eventually take 5th place. Ashton Beukers sat in 6th, Chad Bell 5th, Caleb Gavic 4th, and then in the order they would ultimately finish in we went 3, 2, 1 – Verlander, Orel and Rippy.
It was these final runs that exacerbated the critiques regarding the scoring system as the competitors who strung together the most tricks and combos irregardless of difficulty, creativity and height ended up accumulating point totals that proved to be untouchable. This is in no way an issue with the judges who worked extremely hard and successfully delivered exactly what was asked of them but as the Flyboard community watched the finals their mental wheels were a spinnin’ with thoughts on the changes and improvements that could hopefully be implemented for Dubai.
[If you attended or participated in the 2015 NAFBC and have ideas/feedback about the competition please send it to both Zapata Racing and H2RO via our contact form at the bottom of the site]
Have a look at our Top Eight in action…
I have yet to watch back on the final runs from Suksan Tongthai, Chad Bell and Ben Merrell but I look forward to doing so and seeing if that order really feels right upon review. Positions 5 through 7 were extremely close and we know Suksan was disappointed with his final result but he held his head high like a true champion, was gracious and immediately began looking positively forward towards Dubai. That show of class further cemented our World Champion into our collective H2RO hearts and we can’t wait to see him fly again. His new trick is totally rad and though we have no official name for it yet we did like Gretchen Vances’s play on the words ‘Tongue Tied’. Calling the trick ‘Tongthai’d’ because if you did that twist/flip with your tongue you would be…. and we’d also add that when we saw the trick thrown for the first time we were speechless = Tongue Tied.
So, Damone Rippy of soon-to-be America’s Got Talent fame tore up the bayou and successfully defended his North American Flyboard Championship as Aquafly teammates Jake ‘JSmooth’ Orel and Hunter ‘Poison Dart Frog’ Verlander pushed their flying to new heights and completed the podium sweep. Canadian Ashton Beukers did what he thought he might do last year in Dubai and that was shock the world and instantly put his name on the Hydroflight map. H2RO congratulates all the competitors who ripped it up and even though H2RO has been initially focused on the riders who took home the hardware we will be sharing much more from the event in future articles, videos, photo albums, etc.
Athletes Above All Else…
The passion that makes up the DNA of our athletes is now clearly driving our sport forward. As the companies Zapata Racing, Stratospheric Inc, Defy Waterflight, Jetavation Inc and others push to grow market share and secure their positions as product manufacturers there are teens and twenty-somethings bleeding, smashing, breaking, fighting and driving themselves to be in every way ready for an X-Games sized stage. They are innovating and imagining a brand new sport and at the same time punishing their minds and bodies in the process. With every painful fall comes the question… what am I pushing so hard for? Yes, I love to fly. Yes, I never wanna stop flying but what am I training so hard for? Is it really for one moment in early December in the Middle East or is it much, much larger than that.
Damone Rippy winning run at the 2015 North American Flyboard Championship