'I'm just obsessed': Local FlyBoard athlete to compete in Dubai

Savannah Vasquez
Ben Merrel has been honing his FlyBoard skill since 2012, he competes in the FlyBoard World Cup in December.

Fort Walton Beach local and Destin business owner Ben Merrel is about to embark on his second international FlyBoard competition in December. The competition called the FlyBoard World Cup is held in the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and pits athletes from all over the world against each other to see who can perform the best aerial tricks on the water-propelled foot boards.

So just what is a FlyBoard?

“We call them aerial free-style boards and how it works is we redirect water from the JetSki through a hose and out of two nozzles under the board,” said Merrel. “You are secured to the board by wake-board bindings.”

Merrel explained that water from the JetSki flows through the hose creating hydro-thrust that can propel riders up to 60 feet depending on the length of the hose. This competition will showcase the longest hose Merrel has ever flown.

“The most impressive thing is the height,” he said. “With the new power and new impellors and a 23-meter hose you can be over 60 feet in the air now.”

When asked what defines a FlyBoard athlete, Merrel said the technique is a combination of strength and poise.

“In my opinion, it’s about the trick compilations and your composure on the board,” he said. “If you can keep your poise, the whole run looks more confident.”

Although the FlyBoard resembles a skate-board, snowboard or wake-board, Merrel said the technique is really nothing like other board sports.

“It’s so different,” he said. “Most board sports depend on some sort of forward propulsion; the down-hill pull of the slopes for snowboards, ramps for skateboards, or the forward pull of the boat in wake-boarding; but with FlyBoard this is more of a static motion, you can move forward but you can also hover in the same spot.”

The closest comparisons to the movement needed on the FlyBoard Merrel said are those of gymnastics and dancing.

“This is more like a floor routine in gymnastics,” he said. “You gain momentum, then you go up and throw your big tricks.”

So what type of tricks do FlyBoard athletes perform?

“The sport is still young, so a big part of training is coming up with new moves,” Merrel said. “The biggest known trick is the triple back flip, and then the 720 degree double back flip.”

At the competition, 42 of the top-ranked professional FlyBoard athletes will vie for top spot through several elimination rounds.

“To qualify you have to complete five tricks during a one and a half minute segment and the tricks are graded,” he said. “Then the top 32 move on and it works like the eliminations in the NCAA. After each round the time goes up 30 seconds and then it’s all freestyle.”

So how does a FlyBoard athlete prepare for competition?

“Weight is a big factor in FlyBoard so I’m on a diet right now,” said Merrel. “I’m pretty simple so I try to eat proteins like eggs in the morning, lighter meals in the afternoon and lots of chicken; But my secret to success is Red Bull.”

At 33 years old, Merrel is one of the oldest contenders in this year’s competition, but he said he is not too worried about the outcome.

“I’m ranked fifth in the world right now but the top four are aged 16, 17, 17 and 19 and the top three are on the same team out of Texas,” he said. “My background is in wrestling and Brazilian Jujitsu, that’s where I get my strength and with the more powerful jets this year, it may lean more in my favor with strength and control.”

Merrel noted that honing his skill and developing new techniques are also his keys to success.

“Practice, lots of practice for sure and repetition of tricks,” he said. “I am just obsessed with it, I just stuck with it and got good at it.”

To try out a FlyBoard for yourself check out Merrel’s business PowerUp Watersports at 214 Harbor Blvd., online at www.powerupwatersports.com or call 461-1034. See Ben Merrel in action Oct. 31 at Baytowne Warf at 7 p.m. or follow his world competition on Facebook by searching Ben Merrell-Pro Hydroflight Athlete.

FlyBoard try and see!