Most people who see a Hydroboard for the first time need to do a double-take.
They stare in awe as they watch a rider hover high above the water like a super hero, jets of water thrusting down to the surface to keep him aloft.
As Otto Richter says: “There is nothing like it. The feeling is different than any other sport out there.”
Richter, the owner of the North Okanagan company called Hydroboard, is ready to revolutionize the water sport industry with his creation.
He originally intended to be a distributor for a French company that began production of a similar board a year ago, but didn’t commit to it as he felt the design quality was substandard, and potentially unsafe.
Instead, Richter and his son Brandon developed their own board from scratch, improving both build quality and safety.
“We’ve made it bullet proof,” said Richter, who also owns Pristine Cleaning Services in Vernon.
A Hydroboard is slightly bigger than a skateboard, but has wakeboard bindings attached to the deck. The deck is mounted on a polyurethane frame that houses two outlet pipes that provide the thrust. In total, the unit weighs about 35 pounds.
The board is connected by a coupler to four-inch fire hose (approximately 60 feet) which attaches to manifold at the back of a jetski. The propulsion from the jetski is harnessed, via the hose, to power the Hydroboard.
“All the jetski is is a sitting pump,” said Richter.
Richter said Hydroboard has developed coupling devices that will attach to the majority of jetskis on the market – Kawasaki, Yamaha or Sea-Doo (Bombardier). To adequately support a rider, he said jetskis need to be a minimum 155 horse-power, basically any four-stroke, 2002 or newer.
All that is required to use a Hydroboard is a little balance.
“It’s very easy to learn,” said Richter, who does board rentals at Kin Beach, Kona Rentals in Oyama and Newport Beach on Westside Road.
“It’s lot easier than it looks. A lot of people are intimidated when they first see it. I can teach almost anybody to do it in five to 10 minutes.”
Richter said he has already had both a 380-pound man and a 73-year-old grandmother successfully pilot a board. He noted riders have to be a minimum of 100 pounds and 18 years old.
“You have to have enough weight and ability to move the board a little bit,” he said.
As well as marketing Hydroboards to potential rental outlets such as cruise ships and beach holiday destinations, Richter also plans to retail them. Units will start at $4,999, which includes the board, bindings, hose, manifold and coupling plate for the intended jetski model.
That might seem steep to some, but Richter said the original concept for a device that would allow a rider to hover above water was a jet pack-style design that retailed for $120,000. He added there is a wait list to get one.
Richter believes Hydroboard, which is manufactured in Armstrong, could rejuvenate a sinking personal water craft market. He said there were 60,000 sold in North America last year, which is way down from the 400,000 that were sold annually pre-2005.
“It’s a product that’s going to revolutionize the whole industry,” said Richter. “Personal water craft have been on a downhill for sales for probably the last 10 years.”
When the Richters began researching and developing Hydroboard four months ago, they had concerns over how it would be received by the various regulatory bodies. So far, that hasn’t been an issue.
Compared with other water sports such as wakeboarding and skiing, where vessels are travelling at high speeds, Hydroboarding is quite safe because it is a relatively stationary activity.
The greatest potential danger is falling on water from a height, which is something that can be controlled by the person operating the jetski’s throttle. Additionally, the hose acts as a sort of leash, keeping the rider both near the vessel, and from going too high.
“It’s a low-speed sport because the jetski is literally going one or two miles an hour,” said Richter, adding helmets and life jackets (or impact jackets) increase safety.
“The biggest safety is the operator. We do recommend everybody take a safety course.”