St. Thomas Jetriders wants you to fly
Published: January 31, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - Some people choose to swim in the ocean, or surf or kayak.
Others choose to ride several feet above it in a jetpack.
That's the premise behind St. Thomas JetRiders, St. Thomas' first recreational jetpack company, which opens Friday.
Founded by father-and-son duo Mark and Scott McKellar and Evan Mason, and with help from jetpack pilot Landon Jensen, the idea for a jetpack company came when the St. Thomas JetRiders crew came across videos of the technology while surfing the web.
"When we then realized that someone can fly it, how safe it was, we all were very excited about that," said Mark McKellar.
From there, they all headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they were able to enroll in an instructor training program.
The process of even obtaining a jetpack was a slow one; Jetlev, the company that manufactures the jetpacks, goes through an intense interview process with all potential buyers.
"They wanted a proven businessman, someone who's into risk management," explained Mark McKellar.
Water-powered jetpacks have only been operating commercially for about two years, originally as a "toy" for the yacht market.
They quickly caught on, however, and now jetpack tours - such as St. Thomas Jetriders - are starting to pop up all over the world's beaches.
To best relay the physics of a jet pack, Mark McKellar explained: "Essentially it's similar to a jet ski, instead of the water being propelled off the stern of the jet ski, it's pumped up a 30 foot tube, and shooting out, obviously, from the side of the jet pack unit itself. It's designed to always provide forward momentum, and it's extremely powerful, so it allows you that weightless feeling as you're gliding over the water."
The learning curve to operating one apparently is not too bad, either. Mark McKellar said their goal with a first-timer is to get the rider's feet out of the water within the first 15 minutes.
The greatest difficulty that novices encounter usually is getting used to the highly-sensitive jet pack controls, which are dictated by the rider's arm movements.
Like anything else, it gets easier with time.
"It's really about confidence," said Mark McKellar. "I think that's a big part of it."
Safety-wise, jetpackers wear life jackets and helmets, which also have headsets built-in and allow for direct communication with an instructor during flight.
The future of jetpack riding looks promising, as there are preliminary efforts in place to create slalom races for jet packers. Jetlev is hosting a conference with all of its customers to determine ways to increase the visibility of jetpacking to the public and to brainstorm ideas for competitive jetpack competitions.
"Who knows where it'll evolve to," Mark McKellar said.
The owners are the same people behind Clear Discoveries, the see-through kayak tour company. The three partners came to St. Thomas about three years ago with their goal being to develop a water sports business. After the success of their kayak tours, they decided to expand into jet packs.
Introductory classes cost $200 for a 20-minute experience - on par with skydiving prices. The 30-minute "Maverick" experience costs $250. Local residents get $50 off a jetpack tour during February.
The ability to fly over the ocean likely will draw a range of interested customers, regardless of age.
"I had my dad yesterday running on water. He's 64 years old," Mark McKellar marveled.
To find out more about St. Thomas Jetriders, visit the website at www.stthomasjetriders.com or call 626-8500.