About three years ago, I was paddle boarding around Point Loma when suddenly, a man emerged out of the water buzzing up toward the sky like it was 2050. I practically fell over. This was no Jesus walking on water, and my eyes did not deceive me. This was a man in flight.
Fast-forward to now, and jet packing is officially a "thing." You may have seen these jet packers casually cruising over San Diego waters, hovering midair, flipping, twisting and turning.
The recent rise in popularity of the water activity sent this particular dare across my desk, and on a Tuesday afternoon, I found myself anxiously walking into the Jetpack America headquarters, located at Mission Bay Sports Center.
Jetpack America has been in San Diego since April 2013, with additional locations in Newport Beach and Las Vegas. The relatively new invention only became commercially available to the public in 2011. Thousands of flights have since taken place in Mission Bay, especially after busy summers in San Diego.
Now, it was my turn to experience this phenomenon.
After I wiggled into the wetsuit and life vest, instructor Jesse Orlando took me out to the water's edge, but not before he showed off a few tricks of his own. Jetpack America has all fliers watch a training video ahead of time to learn the basics of controlling the pack and what to expect in the 30 minutes of water time.
I strapped on the massive pack, buckled the helmet (which includes a fancy walkie-talkie feature) and slightly panicked. I honestly had no idea what to expect or how my body would react to the experience.
With fear in my eyes, I asked Orlando (who, by the way, happens to be the world champion of a recent jet pack competition) what he would compare the sensation to. "It's kind of like riding a bike," he said with a smile. Somehow, I didn't believe it would be that easy.
First, the instructors have students perform a swim test to make sure they can handle the moments when they will inevitably fall into the water. After proving my swimming ability, we were off.
Orlando rode behind me in the personal watercraft that powers the jets. Through the high-tech helmet, I was able to hear his instructions: "Lean left. Look right. Arms down. Arms up. You got it!"
I began by flying forward in a straight line, legs dragging in the water. Soon enough, Orlando pumped up the throttle, and I began to lift up, up, higher into the sky. I was flying about 10 feet in the air! But not for long ... My nerves got the best of me, and I went down, fast.
Sure, smacking straight into the water isn't ideal, but it wasn't hard enough to keep me from smiling.
The trick with jet packing, I found out very quickly, is to stay relaxed. The second that you want to freak out and squirm is the second that you end up crashing. It only took about 10 minutes for me to get comfortable with the feeling of hovering in the air. It's not natural, and human instinct is to bring yourself back down. Thanks to Orlando's constant "arms up, arms up" chant in my ear, I pushed through that impulse and started to soar.
Now that I was growing slightly more confident, Orlando challenged me to try a few advanced tricks like walking on water ("Easy!" I mentally screamed), trying underwater "submarines" ("Nope! Not for me"), doughnut turns and dips that crashed hard and fast. Not all were successful, but definitely exhilarating. The adrenaline rush was real.
Thirty minutes into feeling weightless, I was exhausted, but so thrilled. The approachable and professional staff make the experience feasible for almost anyone brave enough to face the water and attempt to fly.
Jetpack America - San Diego
Where: 1010 Santa Clara Place, Mission Bay Sports Center
Phone: (888) 553-6471
Cost: $259 for 30 minutes, for the Pilot Basic flight plan with basic tricks
- I dare you to... take a Pure Barre class
- I dare you to... get a HydraFacial MD
- I dare you to... butcher a pig
- I dare you to... go horseback riding
- I dare you to... zipline at the SD Zoo Safari Park
- I dare you to... try aerial yoga
- I dare you to... ride the scariest ride at the SD Fair
- I dare you to... try cryotherapy
- I dare you to... go indoor skydiving
- I dare you to... meditate in a float tank
Do you have a dare for me? Send an email to michelle.dederko@... with subject line "I dare you"
Or dare me in a Tweet! @michelledederko