The Daily Times

OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) — How’d you like to try walking on water — or flying three stories above the surface, if that’s more your speed?

Water-powered jetpacks are the biggest watersports craze to hit Ocean City since the Jet Ski, and one startup company that rents them out can’t get tourists into them fast enough. Relentless Watersports is a brand-new company, about six weeks into the water jetpack rental business. It started when four childhood friends from Carroll County shared YouTube videos of the jetpacks in action, loved the idea of renting them out and found an investor to front them the money for the business.

“All my friends from Baltimore that I showed this to all wanted to do it, so I figured if they want to do it, then everybody else in Ocean City will want to do it,” said Matt Fram, 29, one of the owners. “This is definitely going to take off. I think this is going to be like Jet Skis. They’re going to be everywhere.”

The four co-owners, all in their 20s, are working to establish a year-round Relentless Watersports rental location in Puerto Rico. They’re also considering opening in other locations where the jetpack rental businesses hasn’t yet taken hold, including Tennessee and the island of Barbados.

For now, they’re headquartered in Fenwick Island, in the parking lot of Harpoon Hanna’s. Some evenings, they hold sunset demonstrations in the canal beside the restaurant. That inevitably backs up traffic on Route 54 over the canal bridge, as rubbernecking drivers slow to catch a glimpse of a jetpack doing flips and spins.

In mid-August, the guys took a jetpack out over the open ocean, putting their product –and an attached placard with the company name — in the sights of thousands of beachgoers.

Afterwards, “the phone was ringing off the hook. It’s been our best marketing strategy by far,” said Ricky Amend, another co-owner.

Each jetpack from manufacturer JetLev costs $75,000, and Relentless bought two of them. The price includes the 150-horsepower jetpack motor, which is what makes the flight possible. It attaches to the jetpack by a 35-foot, Kevlar-lined fire hose that pumps water out at 65 pounds of pressure. The motor pushes 1,000 gallons of water per minute through the nozzles, lifting the rider as high as 30 feet above the surface of the water. With a full tank of gas in its 21-gallon tank, the motor can power the jetpack for up to three hours straight. The throttle that controls that power is built into one of the handlebars used by riders for steering and stability. However, new riders with Relentless don’t get to control that power. Instead, the instructor uses a hand-held, radio-controlled device to open or close the throttle. If a rider gets skilled enough with practice, the instructor can disable his throttle override with the flip of a switch. The RC device still has a motor override to cut the power in case of trouble.

Relentless charges $199 for a 20-minute ride, or $299 for 40 minutes. A pontoon boat shuttles riders out to a spot in the bay, where they get strapped into the jetpack — which, up close, looks more like a stool with shoulder pads than a backpack — and are given a helmet to wear.

The helmet contains a one-way waterproof radio that allows the instructor to speak to the riders, guiding them through maneuvers. One of the riders on a recent trip was John Santini of Lorton, Va., who was vacationing in Ocean City with his family. Climbing back into the boat after his ride, he let out a full-throated “Wow!” as he toweled off, wearing a wide grin.

“It’s small movements,” he said. “Once you get it, it’s just unbelievable. He’s throttling perfectly just to see that you don’t crash. I didn’t have any fear of crashing. The instructions were great; you can hear him really well. You just listen and do what he says.”

So was that really worth $200?

“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “Every time we visit, we try to do one funky, adventurous thing. I don’t mind spending the money to get the experience.”

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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