H2RO Magazine is stoked to share with you our exclusive interview with Damian Mothersbaugh. Damian was trained by Franky Zapata himself in the very early days and has been extremely influential in exposing our sport to the world and inspiring people to fly. How many of you have had on the job training in front of 117,000 people?
H2RO Magazine Exclusive Interview
H2RO: Tell me how you got into Flyboarding and how that led to Franky training you in April 2012 for the Expo in Korea?
Well that’s a crazy story of coincidence, I was in St. Louis with a special effects company for an annual convention. While waiting for the elevator in the lobby I struck up a convention with a guy there for the convention for the first time. He was wondering how it all worked and what he could expect. In the elevator he asked what company I was with and about my background. As the doors opened at his floor I got to the part of me doing stunts, live action shows and being from Arizona, he turned back and strained to look through his thick glasses, we both realized there was something familiar about each other. Turns out we had done stunt training together 13 years prior! We kept in touch after that and one day he called to tell me about some water propelled flying contraption and would I be interested in flying it as a backup pilot? He knew I had experience as a commercial diver/advanced scuba diver and also had some fixed wing and rotary wing flight time. Combined with my desire for adrenaline he thought that I would be a good fit. How could I turn that down! The Worlds Fair Expo 2012 was about to begin in a few months and the Flyboard would be showcased there as a major part of one of the main attractions. The other potential pilot hurt himself with something unrelated, therefore I was called and had to fly out to Florida to begin training with the inventor of the Flyboard Franky Zapata himself. He came all the way from France to train me and then I went to South Korea to expose it to the world. My US training was limited to only 3 days due to a time crunch for the opening ceremonies in S. Korea, the rest was basically on the job training.
H2RO: Share with us how the sport has evolved from your first shows at the Expo to the flying events you’re doing now in 2013? I imagine that both the sport, stunts and the crowds have changed quite a bit?
The extreme sport of Flyboarding is growing and changing daily. With thousands of Flyboards sold around the world it’s spreading like wild fire. I think most people would like to fly like a bird or swim like a dolphin at least once in their life, this is a combination of the two and so much more. There are people buying Flyboards everywhere which allows us to get together and fly together, to choreograph and synchronize our flights, it’s almost a ballet in the sky and water. We are always trying something new, throwing the football or frisbee, we even figured out how to lay on a surfboard while jumping waves and doing barrel rolls. This is a rapidly growing sport, I foresee it to being similar to the evolution of snowboarding. It will be in the X Games and possibly the Olympics someday. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger as the exposure increases. However, it will be hard to beat the crowds I performed for in S. Korea at the Expo, 117,000 people for the opening ceremonies. By the time I had finished my 93 day continuous stint of performances the count was over 8 million in attendees.
H2RO: Here are a few related questions all together: How has your own flying evolved with so many hours on the board? How did you find the transition from arms to no arms? What new moves are you working on mastering and were there any tricks that were harder to learn than others?
My flying gets better every time I go due to repetition. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle when you’re young, once you’re familiar with it the training wheels come off. At first it’s low and slow until you get more familiar and confident and then you’re maxing out on power with the entire hose out of the water. The transition from arms to no arms was easy for me because I had already experimented on my own in S. Korea before the new armless models came out. I would just divert all the water by plugging the arm jets, but from a show point of view the arms are a big hit because it’s more Iron Man like. New moves that I’m working on would be the double backflip and a front flip. Some say a front flip is impossible due to physics, but hey we’re flying and you know what they said about that.
H2RO: Now I’ve seen you flying on fire… is your stunt flying separate from the Flyboard Show Team or are you part of that group? Can you share with us the full repertoire of crazy stunts you do and what these stunt shows are like?
I’m not part of the Flyboard Show Team, in fact, I’m not associated with one particular group. The shows and stunt work I have done has all been as an individual and I’m always looking for the next cool thing to participate in! Since I have a stuntman background I am incorporating the two, such as flying on fire and having multiple people on the Flyboard at the same time, even standing on my shoulders. Some of my common moves are 15 plus foot high dolphin dives, with maybe a barrel roll at the apex, I also do this inverted which is a back dolphin dive with a twist. In addition, crazy corkscrews, ascending and descending and back flips. Flying backwards really helps fine tune your movements and control. The stunt shows are really cool because there’s so much going on in addition to trying to keep from falling out of the sky. Multiple people on jet skis and boats whizzing past, acrobats on zip lines, fireworks and pyrotechnics going off. Not to mention the concrete and steel structures in some of the confined spaces I have performed in. (FM – youuuu crazzzyyy … in a rad way!)
H2RO: Shauna mentioned that you were attending the North American Flyboard Family Weekend event in Texas. What did you think of the event and what kind of flying experience was it?
Yes, I did and it was so great to meet other Flyboard enthusiast from all over the US. There were 47 Flyboarders which broke a new world record. I think we all inspired one another to fly higher and try new moves. Franky and his entourage were also there. As Franky was arriving from the airport he had to cross a long bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard and little did he know that we were all lying in wait on our Flyboards. As the signal came we all rose from the water up to the bridge and above causing 4 lanes of traffic to stop in both directions. Franky jumped out of the vehicle with shear joy and amazement at the sight of what he has created with his invention on such a grand scale. He was so excited and pleased that I saw him start to tear up with happiness.
H2RO: Tell us about your company Aqua Flights and what your goals are for it in the future?
Aqua Flights is an Arizona based company that was started earlier this year. As you may know it gets pretty hot in the summers and many people go to the local lakes in Phoenix which was great exposure for us from day one. When we are flying friends or training ourselves boats and jets skis will stop and watch us so before long we are surrounded. The main goals for Aqua Flights is to expose Flyboarding to as many people as possible so they can have the incredible sensations of flying. Not all people are able or willing to get into the water so for them we do the shows which is the next best thing. Right now Maricopa County doesn’t allow anyone to fly on the city lakes as a business. The other five major lakes are in the national forest and they have to give you special permitting but they still need to classify it and are waiting for the county approval first. However you can operate a flyboarding rental/rides business on the Colorado River, Arizona/California boarder because the US Coast Guard regulates those water ways. and allows it there as they would a boat, jet ski, raft or canoe. Many of us have been working together to get the counties approval.
H2RO: For new Flyboarders out there what tip or technique can you share with them that has served you well during your 500+ hours on the Flyboard? We all want to improve our flying so any insights you can share would be great!
Oh I passed 500 hours a while ago, but I think that going backwards helps fine tune things a bit when a person gets to that point. That forces you to feel the board and see your path without actually seeing it. Fly safe and try to check your area for depth and obstacles the best you can.
Thanks very much for this Damian! It’s great to meet you and thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do to grow our sport. I hope the county approvals come in soon and we see safe, happy Flyboarders on lakes all over Arizona.