If you've ever had James Bond-style fantasies of flying around with your own personal jet pack, St. Thomas is the place to fulfill them.
OK, you most likely won't be darting over rooftops while trying to escape enemy agents like 007 did in Thunderball, but St. Thomas JetRiders can show you how to soar up to 30 feet above the glorious Caribbean sea while executing some impressive stealth maneuvers.
Powering above the surf at Frenchman's Bay — Photo courtesy of St. Thomas JetRiders
JetRiders, which is run by the exuberant Mark McKellar (also the proprietor of the St. Thomas Adventure Center), has been offering jet pack rides at the company's location at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef since January 2013. McKellar said the devices were originally created as on-board toys for mega-yachts, but are now a popular thrill ride that can be found in many resorts around the US and Caribbean.
Mark McKellar, co-owner of St. Thomas JetRiders — Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt
Here's how it works: a certified trainer gives you a 10-minute orientation on dry land, covering the basics of safety, ignition, and steering. (All instructors are required to go through a three-day jet pack "pilot training" course in Florida.) Then you are strapped into a life jacket, helmet, and finally the jet pack itself. You jump off the edge of a boat, power up, then take off!
The trainer, who is watching from the boat, controls the power, but the rider controls the direction. Handles that move up and down let you lift and lower, and turning is accomplished simply by shifting your body in the direction you want to go. The helmet is equipped with a built-in speaker, so the trainer can provide guidance.
Evan Mason, co-owner of St. Thomas JetRiders — Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt
It takes a few minutes – and few messy splashdowns – to get the hang of it, but once you do, what a rush! The jet pack unit, which is made by a Florida-based company called JetLev, shoots water out of the dual nozzles at a rate of 1000 gallons per minute and provides a whopping 420 pounds of lift.
My own attempt at jet-riding was wet and clumsy, but fun. I had a little trouble with the handles, which are very sensitive, so there were a lot of jerky ups and downs at first. But eventually I got into a rhythm and was able to practice "walking on water," which involves powering forward just above the ocean surface and moving your legs in a walking motion. By the end of my ride I was able to execute a few rudimentary twists and turns, but they were nothing like the series of 360s the experts are capable of.
Maybe next time...
St. Thomas JetRiders is open seven days a week, and a basic 30-minute session costs about $150. For more information or to contact them, call 340-626-8500, or go to http://www.stthomasjetriders.com/
The author's first attempt at jet riding — Photo courtesy of Mark McKellar