Mona Shield Payne
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 | 2 a.m.
With a quick squeeze of the throttle, Franky Zapata shot out across Lake Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon and began dipping and diving as he floated as high as 20 feet above the water using a specially built piece of equipment he calls a "flyboard."
Zapata was showing off his patented invention to dozens of people who gathered to watch as part of a demonstration near the Montelago Casino at Lake Las Vegas.
The flyboard is powered by jets of water that are generated by a Sea-Doo watercraft and forced through a tube connected to a platform that Zapata straps his feet into. Zapata, a native of France, pilots the board by using his legs to alter the direction of the pressurized water jets, which allow him to perform a variety of aerial maneuvers, including flips, spins and a series of dives where he imitates a dolphin.
"It's very easy, when you move your legs, you move you the water nozzle. It's like snowboarding," he said.
The invention was born earlier this year when Zapata, a professional watercraft racer, was testing new equipment and realized the motor created enough pressure to propel a person into the air.
After a bit of trial and error, and including additional hand jets that help stabilize him as he flies, Zapata's device was complete and he began taking it around the world for demonstrations.
He plans to begin selling them in retail stores sometime this spring, including at the Proshop Motorsports and Marine store in Henderson. The boards are expected to cost about $5,000, watercraft not included, Zapata said, and will allow people to float 10-15 feet above the water.
The device is easy to pilot, he said, and it takes most people less than an hour to figure it out.
"It's an amazing sensation. You can go fast and make a turn and it feels like you're gripping on the air," he said. "Every day I can't believe it's possible."
Smiling the whole time, Zapata braved the chilly waters at Lake Las Vegas while wearing a wetsuit and put on five demonstrations over the course of the day Wednesday. The gathered crowds alternated between gasps and cheers as he zipped around the water.
Lake Las Vegas spokeswoman Michelle Olds said Zapata was invited to perform after a local resident who is friends with Zapata suggested the idea.
"It's a really exciting thing for people to come out and watch," she said. "It's something different. It's something fun to do and bring the kids to.