Wednesday 18 September 2019

Up, up and away: French daredevil hoverboards over Channel

Viva Zapata!: Franky Zapata zooms over the white cliffs of Dover as he completes his flight across the English Channel from Sangatte in France. photos: steve parsons/pa wire
Viva Zapata!: Franky Zapata zooms over the white cliffs of Dover as he completes his flight across the English Channel from Sangatte in France. photos: steve parsons/pa wire
Viva Zapata!: Franky Zapata zooms over the white cliffs of Dover as he completes his flight across the English Channel from Sangatte in France. photos: steve parsons/pa wire

Thomas Adamson

Is it a bird? A plane? No, it's a French inventor flying over the English Channel on his hoverboard.

Looking like a superhero, Franky Zapata successfully completed the famed 35km journey in just 22 minutes, reaching speeds of up to 177kmh on the flyboard that has made him a French household name.

Propelled by a power pack full of kerosene, Mr Zapata set off from Sangatte in France's Pas de Calais and landed in St Margaret's Bay, beyond the white cliffs of Dover. He stopped once, on the British side, to refuel his futuristic invention from a boat in the choppy waters.

"I'm feeling happy. It's just an amazing moment in my life," he said in English following his touchdown in Britain. "The last 10pc (of the flight) was easier because I had the time to look at the cliffs."

It was, of course, a record - no one else has tried to cross the channel in this way.

It was also a personal record - the farthest distance the 40-year-old had ever travelled atop his hoverboard.

He drew worldwide attention after whizzing above European leaders in Paris at Bastille Day celebrations on July 14.

The wind in the Channel presented a major challenge, he said, adding he bends into gusts but is destabilised if the wind quickly dies. It was, he acknowledged, no easy feat - especially given the physical endurance it requires. He said his leg muscles were "burning" during the flight.

"Your body resists the wind, and because the board is attached to my feet, all my body has to resist to the wind," he said. "I tried to enjoy it and not think about the pain."

Witness Mark Kerr, a 60-year-old hospital librarian from Dover, said it was quite an unusual sight.

"Spectacular and amazing. Not every day you see a man standing up, flying across the Channel, being chased by three helicopters," he said.

Rosie Day (17) was at the landing site and was impressed by Mr Zapata's flying. "It was really impressive how fast he came in and the agility of his movements," she said. "He was very smooth."

Yesterday was the inventor's second attempt at crossing the Channel. His first - 10 days ago - ended when he collided with a refuelling boat several minutes into his flight, destroying the flyboard that his company sells.

He was "scared to touch down" at the refuelling station on the sea but knew "whatever happened," his team "wouldn't let me fall into the water".

"All week, we worked 16 hours a day - we worked like crazy," he said.

Irish Independent

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