We are super stoked to share with you our interview with Ryan Lorence of FlyDive. H2RO was first introduced to FlyDive back in late 2014 when CEO Christos Nicolaidis visited us in Victoria, BC. Soon after we found ourselves down in San Diego thirty five feet in the air flying around on an early version of what eventually became the X-Board. There was a great energy even back then around the company and their growth and evolution has been exciting to watch.
We also knew of Ryan Lorence but it wasn’t until his incredible competitive debut at Hydro Fest that we and the rest of the Hydroflight world got a look at his unique style of flying.
Before you read our interview watch Ryan’s highlight video from Hydro Fest as it will give you a sense of his take on Jetboard freestyle.
H2RO Interview with Ryan Lorence
H2RO) Ryan please share your background with us and what things you were most interested in growing up?
I was born in Seattle in 1984, the son of a round-the-world sailboat race champion father, and an English teacher mother, who was teaching sailing after meeting my dad. Big surprise, they enrolled me in summer camps where I learned how to sail, and all about the marine environment. At age 11, my parents had a 52 foot sailboat built, and we sold our house and moved aboard, preparing to sail down the west coast to Mexico. In total, we spent about 9 months cruising the west coast, 6 of them in Mexico. Sailing, catching fish, seeing whales, exploring remote Mexican villages. It was an amazing, and eye opening time.
We fell in love with San Diego after returning from Mexico and decided to stay, where my love of watersports blossomed. Surfing, Wakeboarding, Kiteboarding, and of course, racing sailboats kept me busy and active, but my desire to tinker and create things was strong.
H2RO) What education and work experience brought you to your current position with FlyDive?
I loved to build remote control planes and boats, hand shape surfboards, and mod cars. I could intuitively “see” the physics and math involved in the world around me, and loved exploring ways to bend them to my desires. I pursued this passion into College, and worked my way through a mechanical engineering degree.
Collegiate sailboat racing and surfing/kiteboarding were great daily stress reliefs from life when class schedules were favorable, but after graduation everything changed. If you don’t already know this (like I didn’t), many engineering jobs are indoors, at desks, behind computers. This was a pretty new lifestyle for me, and I suffered my way through 2 desk jobs, lasting half a decade. After the 2nd one, I couldn’t take it anymore. The rigid time schedules completely ruined my exercise schedule, and limited my stress relieving activities. I started to get overweight, weak, and my back hurt daily. I was depressed in the winter, because I never got any outdoor time in the sun. This is NOT how my body, or soul were intended to live.
I decided to break off on my own. My 5 years of desk jobs, and my awesome mentors had taught me various talents I could put to work in the field, and my skills could be advertised and completed online. I spent about one year doing consulting engineering work, barely scraping by, but loving my freedom. One day I got a call from a previous co-worker, telling me about an ad he just saw, seeking an engineer to design a watersports product. Excitedly, I gave them a ring, and set up an interview. They grilled me on my experience with design, and 3D modeling, and eventually explained the purpose of this new business to me.
H2RO) Take us through the process when you were evaluating the Hydroflight landscape in the early days and identifying opportunities and beginning to work on a new board.
“Big Boss Man” (as I called him) Mr. Plante had purchased a first generation Flyboard. He loved the sensation of flying, and knew that this sport was on the brink of exploding, however, he was not thrilled with the build quality, or ease of use of the product. He saw a huge opportunity for a lower cost, better built, and most importantly, easy-to-learn product which would be fun and safe for the entire family. He set in motion a project which would eventually lead us to the founding of FlyDive.
When we started working on our board, the hydroflight landscape was nonexistent. The Flyboard was making some waves in the media, and some distributors were popping up, but the market was fairly small, and there was only one data point on the design spectrum for me to look at. We knew to succeed we would need two things. Firstly, we would have to find a way to sell to the consumers who had not yet even heard of hydroflight, and second, sell them a board that any first timer could fly easily. For the first point, we brought in a local expert to help us craft a market strategy, and as for the second, well, I had a lot of experimentation ahead of me.
Since the Flyboard was the only working hydroflight board on the market at the time, I used it as a starting point to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to apply improvements. I like to compare a hydroflight board to a bicycle when I explain this part. When you place a road bike and a beach cruiser next to each other, the untrained eye will probably see more similarities than differences. They’ve both got wheels and handlebars, cranks, pedals, chains and gears. These things allow the bike to be ridden, but don’t necessarily effect how it handles. Some differences are obvious like wide handlebars, but besides barely making it through doorways, this doesn’t really effect how a bike handles either. In actuality, small differences in geometry such as head tube angle, offset, and seat post angle can make one bike handle like it’s floating on a cloud, and the other like it’s riding on a rail. As I’m sure the early bicycle inventors did, we needed to start by understanding what geometric elements of the hydroflight board were important, and what effects were produced by changing them. This was undocumented territory. Not something you could look up on Google.
H2RO) You are in a very unique position as a designer and rider in that you can ‘feel’ the modifications you’re making first hand. How do the off-the-water and on-the-water experiences inform each other and what tends to take the lead?
As we began brainstorming, and testing our new boards, it became clear that I had a knack for flying, but in addition, I could successfully evaluate and deduce the reasons for a board’s undesirable flight characteristics, and could quickly come up with possible solutions and 3D model them. 3D printed prototypes have been an invaluable tool for quickly validating or disproving an idea as it relates to stability, because it’s almost impossible to say how it’s going to feel until you’ve stood on it. The only thing you can do is guess, and test.
As my riding improved, so did my understanding and intuition with hydroflight in general. I started watching and analyzing my flight videos. One day a close up of my feet sparked a breakthrough, and I discovered a design flaw inherent to our systems. As we continued to refine our testing, we went through several prototypes, but when I first rode the prototype that led to the X-Board final design, I was blown away. It was the first time I had felt so rock solid, as if the board was challenging me to try to fall off it. I attempted, and landed my first backflip that day. My confidence and abilities had skyrocketed in one day thanks to a certain feeling of control, and I was thrilled to move forward and share it with the world.
H2RO) I’d like to educate readers on the components and tech that goes into flying an X-Board. Can you take us through the journey from ski to board and perhaps share some insights on the equipment one of your customers would be working with post purchase?
Of course! The Flydive X-Board full kit comes with everything you need to fly, except for a PWC, and your boots. PWCs from all major manufacturers, later than 2010 or so are compatible. Your PWC needs a slight modification beforehand where the steering system is removed, and a quick-change adapter plate is installed. Afterwards, you can quickly switch between “drive” and “fly” mode. To fly, the owner would quickly remove the steering nozzle, and install a “U-bend” which is a metal tube that u-turns the water after it leaves the PWC pump. This quick change can be done with the PWC in, or out of the water. Attach our patented “TSR” (Tether & Strain Relief) system to your PWC’s towing eye, and the PWC is ready to pump water.
Our 65′ urethane/polyester flight hose is coated to improve durability, and allows for plenty of separation between the PWC and the flyer. The flying end of the hose has a 360-degree hose bearing for endless spins without twisting the hose. Integrated into the bearing is a quick-release adapter to attach your X-Board. The X-Board splits incoming water in two, and u-turns each half through it’s own independently rotating nozzle, allowing for vectored thrust directly underneath each of the rider’s feet. Advanced water path technology allows for a more compact platform, with improved stability and maneuverability.
The X-Board kit is made mostly from aluminum, with a durable, foam filled Polyethylene float. All bearings are self-flushing, with balls made from delrin; one of the hardest, most slippery plastics we know of. All aluminum parts are treated with a premium (class III) hard coat anodize finish to protect them from the elements, and all hardware is marine grade stainless steel, covered with thick anti-seize grease for easy maintenance down the road. Bearings have a 2-year lifespan and can be replaced easily and inexpensively with minimal tools, and metal parts have a lifetime guarantee. The X-Board is built to last.
H2RO) Hydro Fest was an amazing competition and you were certainly capturing people’s imaginations including ours with your unique style. Talk to us about how your flying developed and the challenges you’ve faced breaking away from the standard execution of known tricks?
Hydro-Fest was indeed an amazing competition, first of its kind! It was also my first competition ever, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I had seen some videos of people flying in competitions before, but I knew this was going to be a completely different story with all the different boards in the mix. About three months before Hydro-Fest, FlyDive made the decision to attend. About a month later, our team decided I would be a competitor. At this point, I was proficient at my backflips, but I was struggling with a double. I was excited, but nervous that I wouldn’t be able to perform up to the level of the other athletes. My teammate Nick Enciso and I started practicing furiously. Our Yamaha VXR was not quite up to the task of tossing a 200lb fellow high enough in the air to flip twice and not hit the water, but it was the best we had available. I wasn’t sure what it would be like with nearly double the power, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t disappoint. Turns out it disappointed most, but I was stoked with the thrust. Advantage? Maybe.
My flying style is definitely unique, and because of a good reason. I learned how to fly so that I could test my products, not because I wanted to compete in freestyle competitions. I spent a year learning how to backflip, and months upon months never trying more than just a backflip or superman. There was no reason for me to combo things together…yet. After learning about Hydro-Fest, I started watching other flyers videos, picking apart their moves, trying to learn from their experience. Damone Rippy and Jake Orel have the tightest doubles in the business. How do they do it? What makes a double vs a back-to-back? And what looks coolest!? I started to realize that most people’s stunt flying is very “snappy”, and I believe a lot of their technique was developed to take the best advantage of the current rules in the Flyboard World Cup (FBWC). That’s awesome when you weigh 150 lbs, and you can snap off a double backflip like nothing, but when you’re pushing 200lbs, your snaps will never be as snappy, so I saw no point competing in this category, and decided instead to go the other direction. I was going to stand out by NOT being snappy. If you can’t beat-em, join-’em? Nah, that’s not my style
H2RO) If you haven’t already covered this in your previous answer we are going to have your Hydro Fest highlight video on this page so perhaps you can commentate on a few of your favorite moves and expand on where you hope to take them in the coming year?
I think the trick that stood out the most at Hydro-Fest was my big superman to “banzai”. I had no name for this before somebody else congratulated me on it. I like to try to make everyone think I’m committed to a dive, then pull out and land a side flip out of it. I was flying a while back and I had this idea. I call it a Trick-gasm. I pulled off a superman-barrel roll, and had this thought. What if I did a superman, then half a barrel roll, then 3/4 of a flip out? It worked out great in my head, but the first time I tried it, I bobbed up afterwards with my ears ringing and thought, well, I’m not trying THAT again. After trying a couple other experimental moves and having similar success, I came back to this one for another try, and despite the resulting crash, I realized that it might be possible if I did a couple things differently. That’s one commonality between most action sports. You gotta be willing to wreck if you’re gonna learn what you can and can’t do. My advice: add a layer or two of neoprene before you try.
H2RO) Back to your experience at Hydro Fest, what were some of the things you took away from watching the Jetpack and Jetbike athletes?
The Jetpack and Jetbike guys were awesome to watch! I get to see boards all the time, so it’s cool to see all the devices pushed to their limits, and I’m excited to say, I think there’s a lot of room for design improvements still that will endow packs and bikes with more control and maneuverability. Something FlyDive will be keeping in mind for the future.
H2RO) FlyDive has been making significant progress in many areas over the past year, talk to us a little bit about the culture there and perhaps your top three things you hope to achieve in 2017?
Thanks for noticing Blaine, we’ve come a long way since we first met. As I’ve mentioned, FlyDive hit the market with big goals. We want to reach out and spread the joy of hydroflight to the masses. In the last year, we’ve been focusing a lot on how to get the word out to people who would otherwise not know about hydroflight. This involves exploring different sales channels, and approaching different types of people. Speaking of, people is our specialty here at FlyDive. Every one of our employees is passionate about the hydroflight industry, active lifestyles, and sharing fun experiences, and it shows. We all know that for Flydive to succeed, Hydroflight as a whole has to succeed, but our motivation goes farther than that. When we recommend our products to others, we don’t just feel like the representative of somebody’s company. Each one of us is proud of what we’re doing, and we’re all willing to go above and beyond to show our love for the sport, and trust in our product. I think anyone who has experience dealing with the FlyDive crew can attest to that. In 2017 you can expect big things from FlyDive. A few big improvements to the gear and safety systems, a few new product offerings, and an ever-expanding network of knowledgeable and attentive distributors and training centers.
H2RO) Finally, looking at competitive Hydroflight going into 2017 I’m interested to know what you’re excited about, what concerns you have and perhaps the role that you and FlyDive are actively taking in helping stabilize and grow the competitive landscape?
When it comes to competitive hydroflight, I’m very excited for the future, and I certainly have a few concerns. As riders begin to push the sport to new limits, new dangers start to pop up. It was sad to see Gemma Weston hurt herself at the FBWC this year, and it opens a few doors for discussion. One discussion is banned moves. Although the FBWC talked about banning a certain move at their event this year, the catastrophic crash by Gemma happened in a completely different way that I think all of us can imagine happening to us if we fly long enough, and nobody could have prevented with bans. As new moves, and new styles start to develop, new crashes and accidents are bound to happen. It happens in any extreme sport. It’s not abnormal and we can’t stop it, but we do need to be prepared for the worst. At events, there are safety skis and personnel at the ready just in case. However, if an accident were to happen during a solo practice, there may not be such a rapid response. I urge everyone to consider their own safety, and not to count on others to come to the rescue. That being said, I think FlyDive is very interested in seeing the competitive scene grow in 2017. FlyDive would love to host an event here in sunny San Diego in the future, and you can rest assured we will have some creative new competition formats to arouse, and maintain the interest of the viewers.
Thanks for giving me the chance to speak with your viewers and I look forward to seeing you all at the next event!
Great talking with you Ryan and Happy Holidays to you and your family.