Miguel Endara nervously stepped on the edge of a boat on Biscayne Bay with a 30-pound machine strapped to his back. The machine had two pipes sticking out and a 33-foot hose that connected it to a water scooter.
The instructor then told him to jump.
“Just jump in?” the 30-year-old asked. “I feel like I’m going to go straight down.”
But soon after he took the plunge, Endara screamed with excitement. Instead of sinking, he was flying. Two powerful streams of water came out of the pipes like bursts of flame from a space shuttle, sending Endara 25 feet in the air.
The water sport, simply known as “jetpack,” has sprung up all over the world since its debut two years ago, and South Florida has established itself as the overall hot spot, with 60 percent of the company’s business coming from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Keys.
The jetpack that Endara recently tried out is the JetLev R200x. It’s the company’s flagship product, but it is set to unveil two new products — a modified version of the jetpack and a hover board — in November.
Matt Rosenblatt, the owner of JetLev, a company based in Dania Beach, said the two new products — the Aquaflier and Aquaboard — will make flying accessible to a lot more people.
When the JetLev R200x launched in 2011, it cost $100,000. It was marketed to yacht owners and operators with enough capital to pay for the machine. But the Aquaflier and Aquaboard will cost less than $10,000 when they hit the market in November. Rosenblatt expects the move to shift the current market, now primarily made up of operators, to individual buyers.
“I’d like to have one in every lake and every beach in the country,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”
Ben Smith, the owner of Rocketman, an operator in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Key Largo, bought one of the $100,000 jetpacks in 2011 and said he is excited to see the new models join the industry. It may open up possibilities for more franchises.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s a great direction they needed to take. Now you can operate in a submarket like Michigan for three months out of the year and make a profit.”
While jetpacks conjure up thrilling images of men and women flying toward the sky at blazing speeds, they don’t exactly scream safety. JetLev and Rosenblatt said they have gone through great lengths to educate clients, regulators and insurance companies on what the product is and how it works.
The jetpack is essentially a hose connected to a floating vacuum machine called a pod. The pod, which can be substituted with a Jet Ski, sucks up a large volume of water, which the jetpack uses to fly. It can fly as high as 30 feet and go as fast as 30 miles per hour. The device flies because of the high amount of water volume — not pressure — so the water streams can’t hurt people, Rosenblatt said.
Even though the product went through years of testing before being sold, Rosenblatt knows that just one injury could have drastic consequences.
“If anything happens, it will ruin my business,” he said.
Regulators and insurance companies had a hard time classifying the jetpack. The U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration went back and forth when determining which agency should oversee the device.