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Extreme sports

Learning to fly

New Ipswich: Cooper Riggs is ranked second in the world at the new extreme watersport flyboarding

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs (left) hoists his trophy after placing second at the World Flyboarding Championships in Doha, Qatar.

    Cooper Riggs (left) hoists his trophy after placing second at the World Flyboarding Championships in Doha, Qatar.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

    Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.
  • Cooper Riggs (left) hoists his trophy after placing second at the World Flyboarding Championships in Doha, Qatar.
  • Cooper Riggs, originally of New Ipswich, is ranked second in the world in the relatively new sport of flyboarding.

Off our coasts, on our lakes and over bodies of water around the world, men and women are learning to fly. These airborne daredevils are soaring through the air with only the most tenuous of tethers tying them to earth. They’re taking part in the latest extreme sport, flyboarding, which is so new that most of the tricks have yet to be named.

Imagine a water-powered jetpack attached to the soles of your feet. That, in a nutshell, is a flyboard. Riders strap themselves onto boards about the size of a skateboard. The board is connected by a 60-foot hose to a jetski; tapping into the jetski’s built-in propulsion system, riders harness all that hydro horsepower and redirect water through the hose. When it reaches the board, the water jets out from underneath, propelling riders up to 45 feet in the air, where they can perform any number of flips, spins and acrobatics before returning to the water with a splash.

“It’s a unique sensation that’s hard to describe, because it’s different from any other sport,” said Francois Rigaud, a lifelong extreme sports enthusiast who runs Atlantic Flyboard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Having been snowboarding and surfing, it’s a totally different feeling, because you’re actually flying,” Rigaud said.

Rigaud helped bring flyboarding to the United States last year with the help of French flyboard pioneer and world champion jetskiier Frankie Zapata. It costs about $5,000 to get a complete flyboarding equipment package (riders also need a jetski to power it). Rigaud started renting out the equipment through his surf shop; that’s when New Ipswich native Cooper Riggs got involved. Riggs was working at the shop and went out for a training session so he could instruct prospective flyboard renters. Riggs, an active extreme sportsman who has a background in snowboarding, kitesurfing, wakeboarding and almost everything else (“If it’s got a board, I’m usually on it,” Riggs said), took to it right away.

“It was extremely unique,” Riggs said, “but a lot of the skills transferred over. It was just a blast.”

As Riggs got more and more into the sport, Rigaud, who said he has “an eye for riders,” saw more in his young employee than simply instructing renters how to stay above the water. Rigaud and Riggs started making flyboarding videos and doing photoshoots in the waters off the coast of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. About a month ago, Rigaud sprung some news on Riggs — he was going to be competing in the World Flyboarding Championships. Intially, Riggs was skeptical (“I wasn’t sure I was at the level yet,” Riggs said), but Rigaud insisted, and three short weeks later, Riggs found himself on a flight to Qatar to compete in the tournament.

The championships pitted the world’s top 40 riders against each other; competitors from more than 20 countries descended upon the Pearl, a man-made island off the coast of Doha, Qatar, that has a large, circular cove in the middle perfect for this extreme competition.

“It was a trip, man,” Riggs said. “That city is the most bizarre city in the world. There are all these buildings, and they’re all lit up, but there’s not a soul to be seen. It’s literally a beautiful ghost city.”

VIDEO: Watch Cooper Riggs compete in the Flyboarding World Championships

Riggs and his fellow competitors took to the skies above the Pearl, pirouetting through the air with a backdrop of mammoth skyscrapers framing their ascents toward the heavens. The riders showed off their moves during runs of about 90 seconds; judges considered variety, implementation, style, energy and choreography before assigning points. Riggs, on the strength of his signature switch 720 backflip (riding backward, he jets up into the air while rotating twice, then backflips at the peak), made it all the way to the finals, where he fell to Thailand’s Tongthai Suksan. Quite an auspicious start to a flyboarding career that had started only about four months prior, and one that sets the stage for Americans to embrace a sport that up until now has been dominated by international riders.

“It’s great to have an American on top of the world in this sport,” Rigaud said. “Once the USA catches up with the world, I think there’s gonna be a big boost.”

While the sport may appear intimidating at first, it’s actually fairly easy to learn the basics, according to Riggs.

“Of all the board sports I’ve done, it’s the easiest to just pick up and do the simple stuff,” Riggs said. “Super safe and really easy to have fun in your first 30 minutes. I’m a little bit less nervous at this sport. I can kind of throw it to the wind, because at the end of the day, I’m hitting water.”

Another factor in the sport’s growing popularity is that you can do it all year round.

“Unlike all the other sports, you don’t need the weather to be on your side,” Riggs said.”You don’t have to wait for a wave, you don’t have to wait for snow. Here, living in Florida, 365 days of the year I can go fly.”

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