Hunter Verlander Photo Credit: X-Jetpacks
After a very exciting 2015 Flyboard World Cup event I come away with some thoughts and feedback that I would like to share. To a few people associated with the organizers of the event it’s being interpreted as complaining but it’s simply what I saw first hand. I also think that open discussion should be allowed, even encouraged, yet demands for all feedback to be via private messages or emails is their preference. If you don’t wish to read this entire post I’ll give you the four bullet points that ruffled some feathers.
- I felt that Hunter Verlander did not get the respect he deserved for his World Cup victory due to industry politics.
- I felt that Cooper Riggs beat Steve Palma in the semi-final run.
- The Flyboard World Cup would receive more positive pre-promotion if details like prize money were finalized and made public.
- From a marketing perspective there were some opportunities during the event that could be considered like a ZR booth or educational handouts for fans in attendance.
FLYBOARD WORLD CHAMPION IS HUNTER VERLANDER!
Some may be surprised but we certainly enjoyed following Hunter’s training and knew going in that he had all the skills to be world champ. I also want to address something immediately. Our new world champion earned the top of the podium with hard work, an unwavering dedication to training, great coaching, inspiring teammates, family support (driving him four hours each way to train on weekends), fearlessness, and the ability to rise to the occasion and deliver when the pressure, cameras and all eyes were on him. NOT simply because his physical make up is ideal for our sport.
Sure we know his height to weight to strength ratio is a perfect combination for hydroflight, but that doesn’t settle nerves, that doesn’t fuel competitive fire, that doesn’t mean shit without the desire to take the hard falls and work extremely hard to achieve a dream. Anyone out there that has uttered the words ‘he won because of his size’ is flat out wrong (and most certainly jealous). It pisses me off to hear some people try and sell our new champion short with those types of comments. It can be argued that if another athlete, much larger in stature, with the exact same desire, work ethic, and circumstances likely still wouldn’t be able to pull off what Hunter showed us last week in Dubai. But you know what, that’s sport. I’m a five foot seven white guy who dreamt about playing in the NBA as captain of my high school basketball team. Turned out a love for the game wouldn’t be enough to see that dream fulfilled. Irregardless of how our sport evolves the fact will remain that hard work, dedication, a willingness to push through fear and handle immense pressure will always be necessary ingredients in a world champion. Hunter has all of those so I suggest everyone show due respect!
Congratulations ‘Poison Dart Frog’ you came out, kicked some, and deserve to be World Champion!
In my opinion, an equally important trait in a great athlete is professionalism and sportsmanship. The second best hydroflight athlete in the world desperately wanted this to be his year. He had put in enough work, had enough skill, and flew as close to perfection over three days as you can and yet his teammate was equal to those tasks and Jake Orel walked out onto that XDubai stage in second place. Disappointed, sure he was but then he showed us he’s an even better teammate than he is Flyboarder. The most consistent flyer in the world since the 2014 North American Flyboard Championship in Toronto has been JSmooth. The cleanest runs belong to Jake and that technical proficiency seems to sometimes go unrewarded in the wake of a single never-before-seen moment.
I know you’re familiar with the term ‘A Pros Pro’. Jake Orel is just that. His fellow, pro flyboarders watch and study him whether on video or in person. I just spoke of body types and our sport, here is a guy who is long (6ft+ tall) and pulls around triples from 25ft. He uses his length to elongate and beautify tricks rather that have it be a burden. Many flyers, both new and soon to be discovered, are better flyers for having studied this 2nd place Flyboard World Cup competitor. Awesome job Jake, have a blast in San Diego.
Sex, Drugs, Rock n’ Roll. Contrary to the clean living, singular dedication to training mentality of his podium peers, Cooper Riggs butts out his cigarette on the dock as he’s booting up..lol. In Qatar in 2013 he finished second having only been flying for four months and this year in Dubai he flies himself to a third place finish having only been on the board four times in the months leading up to the comp (or so we heard). That natural talent is something not many have and likely frustrates the heck out of his fellow riders who work so hard to fly even half as good. Maybe competitors are going about these World Championship events all wrong and need to take a page out of Coops book. Don’t train, enjoy more than your fair share of beverages, get your nicotine on, and enjoy the company of more than a few beautiful ladies before each and every round. Certainly makes him one of the happiest dudes you’ll ever come across and has the ability to inspire new tricks like the ‘Funky Monkey’… oh wait…that’s an off the water move.
(If anyone is seriously thinking we are advocating drug use in order to better your flying, this is not the case. Just poking some fun)
If I can be a little more serious for a second and say that Riggs tore his runs up for real with diversity, speed, triples, great combos and again great use of reverse flight in each round. I had him winning the battle with Steve Palma, though it came down to a judges decision on a missed compulsory move, either way we feel that Cooper was the correct competitor on that podium. Cheers my friend!
I’m not going to recap each and every competitor but before I speak about the overall event itself I do want to acknowledge the fact that our fourth place finisher, back to back North American Flyboard Champion, Damone Rippy threw down his best runs we’ve ever seen during this competition. Maybe it’s as simple as seeing him land a triple combo but I actually believe it’s a little bit more. Pre-competition I had given him the gears a bit about his preparation and whether his confidence would certainly be there but his execution might not. Well, he impressed me and I’ve been watching and interviewing this guy since he was fifteen years old. His runs were dynamic and not just an attempt to throw more tricks than everyone else. He worked high and low, fast and technical and other than the qualifying round kept things quite clean. He took a very hard fall during his run for 3rd/4th place and is now recovering from a hurt shoulder. Apparently a kink in the hose at the nose of the ski caused the water pressure to drop and Rippy to fall. This is an extreme sport. Dangers exist and even the best in the world can find themselves dropping from the sky, pulled down by the weight of the water in the hose, helpless to do anything other than brace for impact. Damone is going to be ok and it remains to be seen what will cause him more pain, his shoulder or his fourth place finish.
Overall, the 2015 XDubai Flyboard World Cup was a success in the fact that it once again brought the best hydroflight athletes in the world together, allowing them the elusive opportunity to showcase their skills, even if the Championship winning run was completed in the dark. (Thanks Hoverboard Race!) The venue was beautiful and much more comfortable than last year with a covered grandstand, and bean bag chairs for all. Teams wore their colors proudly as crowds of onlookers moved back and forth between the World Air Games action and the Flyboarding. Where I saw two missed opportunities were in the educational component for the people in attendance and the secretive prize money. Firstly, Iris Vasconez and myself put together, a few days prior to the event, the only program that was available and we could only distribute about 60 copies. Stephane Denis was very fun on the mic keeping things engaging but some in the audience unfamiliar with our sport commented that some educational information would have helped them better grasp what they were witnessing. Also, I didn’t see a Zapata Racing booth showing off their products/experiences (please let me know if I just missed it) and though the Hoverboard race was interesting, this demo version fell short from the crowds perspective. Lots of potential though for the Hoverboard to be a very cool component of Hydroflight competitions to come. I think demoing the Hoverboard and Jetpack on the other side of the dock when crowds were at their largest would have been a good way to make them familiar with ZR and the various hydroflight options they sell. In addition a booth with the products available for the public to touch and ask questions about would have been a smart way to warm up some new sales leads.
Finally, what is a sponsor like XDubai and a partner like Zapata Racing thinking when they won’t confirm prize money beyond $5000 and a Golden Flyboard for the World Champion in the Pro Division. For months as H2RO attempted to create some hype for the event there was lingering negativity around having the prize money from the previous year suddenly vanish after Frankly publicly stated it would be doubling going forward for the duration of the XDubai sponsorship. It’s fine if doubling becomes financially unrealistic but then to say they will not even be doing what they did in 2014. Really? It left us, and yes I know everyone is flying for the love of the sport, wondering are their any prizes for the second and third place pros, or any ladies and veteran’s prizes at all?
Then, without any public announcement that we saw, cheques begin appearing during the award ceremony. I get really happy to see that but at the same time have questions for the XDubai Marketing Manager who was in attendance because if you’re going to step up with prizes for a World Championship that bears your name why would you not do it early enough to enjoy the positive feelings and hype it would generate for the event. Anyway, details I just don’t understand but then again there are lots of things in this life that make me scratch my head.
So, now what. It may be that this was the last product specific competition H2RO Magazine will ever cover but we just don’t know. We follow the athletes and so if they are motivated to attend future Flyboard competitions we will want to support and share that. However, there will be a shift in 2016. A shift that will benefit the athletes, our sport and the future of the Hydroflight Industry. The desire for this progression to happen right now is strong and the competitors at this year’s XDubai Flyboard World Cup proved they are ready, willing and able to live up to the hype and become a mainstream sport. Do we have a proper feeder system in place for young athletes, no not yet, but ideas are literally flying and more opportunities for youth to engage with our sport are coming. Are we in need of a World Hydroflight Association to guide and govern our sport, most definitely. That is also being openly discussed. The future looks very exciting and it will be very interesting to see what role Zapata Racing chooses to play when high profile Open Board Competitions become a reality.
As I sit here in the Paris airport I can tell you that I’m committing myself to getting the amazing video footage Alex Jeffery shot for H2RO at XDFWC out into the world. I will also be providing similar write ups on the amazing ladies and veteran divisions. Keep your eyes on H2RO Magazine in the near future as we attempt to spark discussions on the following topics:
- Quad backflips, triples on a legend board each made possible by 260 horsepower skis, dual impellers and 23 meter hoses. Up next 300 horsepower, dual impellers and 26 meter hoses. Do we need to think about the danger of tricking 60ft in the air? Are we reaching an optimal limit with regards to equipment?
- Sponsored athletes. What are the expectations and their role with regards to product testing, product safety and product development. The Pro Series has had nozzle issues and boards locking up in dangerous spins. What are the legal obligations of hydroflight manufacturers regarding product defects and customer communication?
- The Evolution of Hydroflight Competitions. Weight categories, compulsory tricks, helmet communication, ski prep and procedures and many more areas in need of evaluation and improvement.
I loved seeing everybody, if I didn’t connect with you I’m sorry, definitely next time.
Safe travels to all and fly safe, fly often.
CHECK OUT HOW THE 2015 XDUBAI FLYBOARD WORLD CUP went down on our official page.