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Lakota Vaughan shows of his skills on a Flyboard at Emigrant Lake. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Sky boarder

ASHLAND — Lakota Vaughan straps his feet onto a small board with a 50-foot hose attached to it and starts playing superhero over the waters of Emigrant Lake.

The other end of the hose is attached to his cousin's personal watercraft, which doesn't fly across the lake surface like it normally does. Instead, the jet motor sends 1,000 psi of water up that hose and out near Vaughan's feet, hurtling him skyward 40 feet above the surface for a series of flips and spins.

"You really do feel like Iron Man, like you're just flying in the sky," says Vaughan, 17, of Medford. "Once you get good at it, you can hang up in the sky and do whatever you want. You feel like you can do anything."

This is hydroflight, a new extreme water sport that is sending thrill-seekers like Vaughan airborne across the across the world in this head-turning take on jet propulsion.

He's began honing this new craft last spring and plans to make a 10-minute instructional video that will do more than give fellow water rats something new to satisfy their desire for speed, flight and a yen to get on the cutting edge of something invented just a few short years ago — it will serve as his senior project at South Medford High School.

"No way could I think of something better than this," he says.

Hydroflight traces its roots to French personal watercraft racer Franky Zapata, who in 2012 started fiddling around with custom personal watercrafts and propulsion. Six years earlier, a Canadian inventor named Raymond Lee had used water propulsion to build a primitive jet pack that fired water out the back and was steered with both hands.

Zapata designed a way to clamp a long hose on a personal watercraft and fire water through a tube toward what amounts to a small wakeboard with jets on the bottom and straps for feet on the top.

"It was much more flexible and much more versatile," says Blaine Jeffery, publisher of the British Columbia-based H2RO, an online magazine that has chronicled hydroflight since 2013.

Zapata and his friends made a few YouTube videos of themselves performing airborne tricks and watched the hits come flying in, along with viewers asking to buy one, Jeffery says.

"That was pretty much their marketing plan, and they ran with it," Jeffery says.

Zapata produces the popular Flyboard, and more companies are joining in with variations on the design, "and all using water pressure to fly," Jeffery says.

The contraptions run about $4,000 or more, not including the price of a personal watercraft with at least 150 horsepower, Jeffery says.

"With 300 horsepower, they're pulling the whole 60 feet of hose out of the water," he says.

Simple shifting of weight allows for steering, and the boards float so riders can rest or even dive underwater.

The gadgets have caught on worldwide, with hydroflight festivals where athletes create elaborate demonstrations that include tricks that end in dives with names such as the Dolphin and the Missile.

H2RO is the official, and only, online monthly magazine dedicated to waterflight sports, offering rankings of professional and amateur competitors, as well as trick glossaries and coverage of some of the larger events worldwide.

"When I first started doing this, nobody knew what I was talking about," Jeffery says from his home in Victoria, B.C. "Then it was, 'Yeah, I've seen a video about that.' Now it's people saying, 'I know a guy who's rented one of those and done that.' "

While rentals cost around $100 for a half-hour of water-flight time, a phone survey of Southern Oregon boating businesses turned up no local rentals here.

That makes Vaughan stand out even more when he and his cousin Logan Vaughan take their Flyboard out about twice a week to local haunts such as Emigrant and Lost Creek lakes and Lake of the Woods.

Lakota moved in with Logan in May after Lakota's father died. Their first trip to Emigrant Lake shortly after that was all it took to get him hooked.

"I saw my cousin do it, and there was no way I wasn't going to do it," Vaughan says. 

The pair use their personal watercraft and attach a 50-foot hose, allowing Vaughan's soaring aerial tricks to max out at about 40 feet.

He hopes to turn pro and join the fledgling world circuit some day.

Until then, he'll keep practicing his watery take on Iron Man and fly the skies above Southern Oregon lakes.

"A thousand psi of water coming out of my feet, and it shoots me into the sky," he says. "It's incredible."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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