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Hannah Wallace takes flight.

Image: Evan Sigmund

Instructor Jonathon Brockhoff, proprietor of Bradenton’s Top Gun Flyboards, had assured me that virtually everyone can achieve flight. But neck-deep in Anna Maria Sound, tethered to Brockhoff’s jet ski by a 50-foot tube that attached to a jetpack strapped to my feet, I began to envision myself as a tale told to future clients: The One Woman Who Couldn’t Fly.

“Just stand up,” he encouraged. So simple.

He turned the throttle on the jet ski, pumping a stream of water through the tube to the flyboard (jetpack), but my body couldn’t stay vertical. I tried to keep my legs straight, hips over my knees, channeling the propulsion coming from the bottoms of my feet. My shoulders, chest, then stomach started to creep upward into the air before I wobbled and dipped and crashed into the water again.

“You’re getting it!” Brockhoff shouted. Right.

The extreme sport of flyboarding is about five years old. Experienced athletes can pull off stunning synchronized stunts, zooming and spinning and diving dolphin-like into the waves. During the Bradenton Area River Regatta, Brockhoff joins a team of professional flyboarders who act as “rodeo clowns,” performing stunts in between races.

Brockhoff first tried flyboarding four years ago, just after a cancer diagnosis—Burkitt lymphoma—derailed his budding welding career. The day before he started chemotherapy, his uncle booked a flyboarding experience in St. Petersburg. He was hooked. When he was healthy again but unemployed, he went into the business for himself.

Brockhoff controls the flyboard’s propulsion with the jet ski’s throttle. He lets you sit idle until you’re ready, and he’ll cut power the moment you lose control. Which I did during my first five or six times—churning up the water, rising from the depths like Swamp Thing before falling back in again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then, miracle of miracles, it happened: I went up...and I kept going up. My feet emerged from the water like a plane’s wheels leaving the tarmac, from noisy thrum to sudden, peaceful flight. We have liftoff.

I looked out across the Palma Sola Causeway, over to Anna Maria Island, and then down at Brockhoff, who whooped and cheered like he was seeing a superhero take flight.

And that’s what I felt like up there: standing strong on a column of water, hands on my hips, eyes to the horizon, feet firmly planted in the air.

Top Gun Flyboards, 9715 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 565-1727, topgunflyboards.comSessions start at $75 for 30 minutes.

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