I’ll show my age and admit that I was at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC when they first demonstrated the Bell Rocketbelt jet pack used in the 1963 James Bond film, “Thunderball”.
When I asked the pilot why Bond landed so hard, he simply said, “He ran out of gas a bit early.” Luckily Bond (or his stunt double) was also wearing specially designed spring-loaded shoes to cushion the landing after an extra 10-foot drop.
Fortunately, as it’s designed specifically to play in the ocean, I didn’t need padded footwear when I finally tried a much newer device that is raising whoops and neck hairs across Asia.
The Jet-Lev Flyer is an amazing backpack that uses pressurized water to blast a rider into the air at about 47 km/h (29 mph) above the water and I had an enervating session off the southeast coast of Koh Samui in Thailand.
A ride on this contraption is, to use a strictly scientific phrase, a real “rush” and it made me feel like a teen again, albeit a bit foolish for looking like an old guy gone mad. I couldn’t stop laughing and screaming at the same time, and Rai, the Samui Sea Sports (SSS) staffer that was overseeing things, said it’s a typical reaction.
Rai was driving the craft attached to the end of the suction hose to ensure safety, and also gave me a ten-minute lesson, including safety gear strap-in, which still allowed for plenty of fun during the 20 minutes of air-and-water time. I even learned how to shoot out of the water once I splashed down, though I never managed perfect 360-degree twists and turns as demonstrated by the hot-shots in the team.
Boot up, blast off
Another cool, fairly new water contraption now being touted around Asia’s beaches is the FlyBoard. Kids are great at this if they’ve skateboarded or wake-boarded, and the fact that I had done a bit of both in my time, plus skied and parasailed, definitely helped.
After a lesson on the beach in Bali, I donned the safety gear and strapped into boots attached to lifting water jets, with my arms straps holding smaller directional jets. The sensation of jetting through the water with the hoses attached got me going – inside and out. Simply moving the toes zips you aloft, and a bend of the leg once airborne turns you sideways. Avoiding diving into the azure seas can be a challenge, however, until you learn to do it properly, then you’ll love it. The jet-ski operator was talented at adjusting power to keep me at a safe learning height, but will take you higher once capable, and drop you gently into the drink if you’re too close to his craft.
Do the Wave
I am not a surfer, so I can’t say I did this, but I really enjoyed watching the talented boarders at Surf House Phuket on Thailand’s western coast at Kata Beach. There, the Flow Rider surf machine pumps out a steady flow for newbies to tame by holding onto a rope, or more artful pros can show off when a dividing wall is removed to allow more movement.
With well-padded vinyl side-walls and pool bottom, falls don’t hurt. And unlike with real waves, you’ll merely be swept up with the current here – bruising your ego, and nothing more. Kids ruled the waves, with several being ‘towed’ on learning ropes, and once they tired out, the adults took their turn too and everyone was happy.
Have a Ball
Want to roll around in a plastic ball with some water for company? Well, you can pass a few hours that way in quite a few Asian holiday hotspots. You zip down a specially carved groove in the side of a hill, strapped inside a giant waterball, which makes for quite an exciting ride, although you should be in decent shape to do it.
If you’re even tougher, you can be strapped into the ball without water, and take a wild ride that involves even more dynamic, jouncing thrills. The people I saw doing this were almost all young, tough men – some of them were even Thai boxing guys, plus one very sturdy young lady.
If you already know how to scuba dive and are at an advanced level, you should definitely try an underwater scooter. Also called an underwater propulsion vehicle (UPV) or diver propulsion vehicle (DPV), one of these devices can extend your diving range quite a bit.
The reason you must be trained and experienced is that you can easily do yourself serious lung damage or even worse if you don’t control depth with one of these machines.
Employing the scuba “buddy diving” technique is also vital with an underwater scooter. If one device fails, a diver can be left far from the boat, dive group or shore, so having a companion close by can be a life saver.
With all the safety measures in place, UPVs provide an incredible thrill. Most of the popular dive destinations around Southeast Asia offer them for an additional fee, but not all dive shops.
James Bond memories come floating back again with this device…you do remember the film, don’t you?
Walk like a Fish
Not exactly new to the world’s seas – but relatively new to Asia – is sea-walking. When I tried this fabulous sport I soon found myself reliving all my Jaques Cousteau and Jules Verne fantasies at once.
Sea walking requires a helmet that receives pumped air from above the surface, and it feels virtually weightless underwater. Walkers don’t even get their faces wet, and can look out of their helmets at the sublime sea life around them as they walk along sandy ocean floor.
Those who are nervous about scuba diving but want to “get down with the fish” will love this experience. It was extremely peaceful for me, strolling along the fish-flecked areas off of a small Thai island. Children as young as seven years of age came along with their parents and grandparents, which was a lovely marine scene to watch. I also met an Indian family who lauded the same kind of tours offered at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
For the epitome of underwater treats, go to Bali, Indonesia and treat yourself to a Submarine Safari trip, for less than a hundred USD you can be one of 36 lucky passengers that cruise along up to 150 feet below the surface.
My heart was pumping as I took this ride in air-conditioned comfort with a sub full of “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” fellow tourists. We took a brightly painted native boat from Amuk Bay out to our 56-foot vessel, with life vests on for the initial ride, but none needed for the sub. Our captain slowly descended after we were all seated below decks, and we began to see brightly colored tropical fish almost immediately, and remained surrounded by a multi-hued blur of them when cruising through gorgeous coral reefs.
The fleet of submarines will soon expand across Asia, and since they are all battery powered, they do not harm the environment. Safety is not a worry, as the subs can surface quickly if any need arises. Dive insurance is also included, along with hotel transfer, drink, a barbeque lunch and your own dive certificate. Mine hangs with my PADI certificates now, though the latter took a bit more time and cost to attain.
Get wet, don’t sweat, enjoy the seas, they’re sure to please.
Where to find the fun
If you want to get into the watersports fun flow when you visit Asia, then Southeast Asian island’s are the best place to go. Places like Phuket, Bali, Koh Samui and Langkawi have long been top choices for watersports, which is why the range of activities offered to visitors is more diverse each year.
- Sea walking is available off the islands in the Gulf of Thailand near Koh Samui (call +66 901 650 411. All participants attending must answer some health questions to ensure they can walk or at least be observed, if needed.
- Surf House Phuket is definitely worth a day to experience the waves and energy, as well as the nice restaurant and onsite facilities. Located right on the beach in Kata, it is a welcome fun spot during the daytime tropical heat, and operates during evening hours as well. Call +66 81979 7737.
- Submarine Safaris Asia are based out of Kuta on Bali ( +62 361 759 777) and with limited places it’s best to book your trip in advance.
- The Jet-Flyer can be experienced at Samui Sea Sports in Thailand (+66 77 418 088) and they also offer 3-hour jet-ski safaris to neighbouring islands.
- Samui Waterball is run by Canopy Adventures also on Thailand’s popular boutique isle and the runway is down the side of a lovely 9-Hole golf course so you can hit a few balls as well as rolling around in one (+66 77 430 811).