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Hooba Dreams of Fly Boarding

Eihab Boraie has long dreamed of flying, so he decided to join Quiksilver and make his way over to Flyboard Egypt where he speaks with founder Wael Abdou and finds all about the exhilarating new sport that's making waves across the world...

From a young age I was obsessed with the idea of flying. It infiltrated my dreams and when I escaped lucidity I released the shackles of gravity and flew all over my dream world. Waking from this world, to face a gravity-governed reality was discouraging, and during the day I would escape into Marvel comics and day dream of being a super hero able to fly. For a period time it felt like it was my destiny to defy gravity, so when I heard that Quiksilver had teamed up with Flyboard Egypt for a photo shoot and wanted me to tag along, I was intrigued. In order to find out if fly boarding could be considered my dream come true, I sat down with Wael Abdou, competitive fly boarder and owner of the only Fly Boarding operation in Egypt to learn more.

Told I can fly, I arrived at Porto Marina to find Wael Abdou and his team doing a variety of mesmerising aerial acrobatics and dolphin mimicry. Propelled above the air with boots of thrusts tethered and powered by a jet ski, Abdou appeared to have the flying capabilities of an Iron Man on a leash. Before sitting and talking about how what I was seeing was actually in Egypt, Abdou insisted that I must experience it for myself first. Let’s be honest: it didn’t really take much convincing as from the moment I laid my eyes on the futuristic rig I instantly reverted back it into little hooba impatiently waiting for his turn to ride the then mind-blowing bumper cars.

Strapping on the boots, the jet-ski dragged me out to the middle of a cordoned off patch of water. With the twist of the jet-ski throttle I could feel the force under my feet wanting me to reach for the sky. The feet were willing but sadly the body was not as I struggled to find my balance. After inclining my feet forward as instructed - and after a few miserable attempts - I achieved balance above water, leaving me now with the much tougher task of harnessing my new powerful limbs to fly around as I wished. Practice made perfect and soon I was in total command of my upgraded body. I felt like my childhood aspirations made me a natural and I was brazen enough to try a trick. I wanted so badly to leap majestically like a dolphin but only managed to look like a big belly-flopping penguin. Thankfully a soft gel vest was provided and serious pain was avoided, but my failure to complete the grand leap dealt my ego a bit of blow.

With my allotted time expired and my mind blown, my interview began with wanting to know: how long have I been missing out? Invented by Frenchmen Franky Zapata in the fall of 2012, it seemed incredible that fly boarding was already in Egypt, let alone developed into a sport hosting World Championships. According to Abdou, “I saw a fly boarding video on social media and was amazed. One week later I was there where fly board was invented in Marseille, France. I met the guys there and with their agent started working on the idea developing fly boarding in Egypt and setting up clubs.”

At the time, Abdou was running a medical insurance company. However, his passion for fly boarding couldn’t be ignored and upon returning from France he decided to launch fly boarding in Porto Marina. Right from the start Abdou’s goal was two-fold: develop a profitable business model, and develop a national team. Creating a business model is usually very difficult when it’s built around a technology that few know exist. However, due to its extreme cool factor, fly boarding has spread virally organically on all social media platforms. “We started a normal page and by only word of mouth and friends sharing videos we reached more than a thousand followers in 2 years and without spending money,” remarks Abdou. Using its extreme shareability as a powerful marketing tool, Abdou began customising packages to attract sponsors to help fly boarding’s growth. “If you are a business selling commodities you will need a booth here, if you are selling services you will need a lot of ushers. If you are looking for brand activation we can offer free tickets and t-shirts of the brand and within 10 minutes after trying fly boarding they make it their profile picture or cover photo on social media. It’s visibility for brands while spreading the word about fly boarding,” Abdou explains. Deploying this strategy, Abdou has managed to gain over a dozen big name sponsors and with their support has been able to expand his operation to multiple locations.

Looking to build more than just profitable business model, Abdou is poised to be the world’s top fly boarder. According to Abdou, “In 2012 we had two places but now have 4 with over 15 sponsors. They move with us everywhere to different events. Their support has helped us build a national team. We compete in the qualifications for world cups and I actually managed to qualify for the world championship twice in a row. The first competition, I placed 56th in the world and number one in Africa. In the second I came 11th and remained number one in Africa,” humbly mentions Abdou. His swift decision to adopt fly boarding before gaining global popularity has given Egyptians a competitive edge. At a cost of 600LE for a 20 minute session, fly boarding is by no means cheap, but proving his determination to see the sport flourish Abdou explains “it’s very expensive to fly board I know that, but like I said I’m trying to do my best to incubate talent. When I see someone who has potential I offer him fly board training free of charge. This is what I can do and if I succeed to get into Sharm El Sheikh/Hurghada I will take fly boarding to a new level.”

Standing in his way is a government decision to ban jet skis on the often shallow Red Sea in fear of coral being damaged. However, all that is really required for fly boarding to succeed safely is to identify deep enough areas that can be cordoned off, free of coral. Considering that this sport is continuing to grow, Egypt is in a unique location for avid water sport athletes from all around the world to train during frigid winters. As the sport is still in its infancy and with Egypt desperately trying to re-attract tourists back to the country, it seems like a golden opportunity to market Egypt as the ultimate nation to train for water sports. Not waiting for the government, Abdou tells me that “we are working with the Kite Loop guys to make one spot together that offers all of these water sports.” The more places to train the better Egyptian athletes will become in these new sports, and as long as they don’t become Olympic sports we as a nation should thrive. That may seem counter intuitive but Abdou believes that “once it’s an Olympic game, other countries will focus on it, increasing competition. In Egypt we have a system of federations and a committee for Olympics that search for credit instead of talent and providing support. If Olympic sports ever get out from under the umbrella of public sector and turn to private sector to control sports I can guarantee you will have like 100 Egyptian medals in the Olympics.” A bold claim to make, but one supported by the fact that we seem to dominate the world in squash, a sport which continues to be excluded from the Olympics.

Fly boarding being an Olympic sport is still a long ways away, but as Abdou develops fly boarding he is also looking for the next crazy rush. “There’s something coming from abroad, but I don’t want to talk about it although when it hits the city people will go crazy.  The only clues I can give you is it involves speed, surf, land, but I never sell anything before I touch it first,” mentions an excited Abdou.

Wael Abdou fly boarding with his baby.

As our interview ends, a wave of excited boarders both young and old began booking their spot. I was told I would get to try it again, but its popularity proved to be too great to fit me in. I wasn’t able to accomplish the dolphin leap but for a brief moment I felt I had duplicated the sensation I once believed only possible in dreams. It wasn’t exactly flying, but it was close, and if flying is made available to the public in the near future, I expect that Wael Abdou will make sure that Egypt is among the first in the world to have access to it.

Shot on location at Flyboard Egypt, Porto Marina by MO4 Productions.

Clothes by Quiksilver & Roxy. Shop the shoot at Quiksilver stores at Citystars, Cairo Festival City or City Centre Maadi.

Photography by Emil Diephius.

 


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