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The Birdman

Franky Zapata

Flyboard Air inventor FRANKY ZAPATA recently wowed the crowds at the Formula 1 2018 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix. We caught up with the Frenchman in Marina Bay to find out more about his gravity-defying inventon…

Franky Zapata is redefining limits with his jet-powered hoverboard – the Flyboard Air. The 40-year-old Jet Ski racer turned inventor-and-pilot has taken to the skies all over the world flying his hoverboard, which is powered by four turbo-engines putting out 1000bhp for a top speed of more than 150km/h. And for the Frenchman, it’s a childhood dream come true.

“I spent 15 years of my life Jet Ski racing all over the world, but I always had the dream to fly,” Zapata says. “In 2015, I started developing this jet-powered board. I got the experience from my first invention for the Flyboard that you connect to the Jet Ski. Many people have already tried that; you can see that at beaches all over the world. But I always had the dream to fly, so I started [developing it] in 2015 around October-November. At the beginning it was a very crazy project, but step-after-step we started developing this crazy machine.”

Zapata has since toured the globe doing demonstrations with his jet-powered craft, which is how MAXIM caught up with him. We sat down for an ice-cold drink with him at the recent Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, where he did a pre-race flyover – rocketing over the cars on the grid, just ahead of the national anthem.



Incredibly, Zapata was just one part of the event’s massive entertainment line-up, something that F1’s original night race is world-famous for. Away from the track, which featured F1 along with competitive sportscar series Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, fans were treated to incredible live performances from 27 acts this year, featuring headliners Martin Garrix, The Killers, Liam Gallagher, Jay Chou, Dua Lipa, and Simply Red.

Each night, the Padang Stage at the back of the Circuit Park – parallel to the short straight between Turns 9-10 – boomed as almost 60,000 fans danced and sang to some of the world’s biggest artists playing out. The Killers even invited a fan onstage to play the drums and he delivered as the crowd went wild.

“It’s amazing for me to be here,” says Zapata, who also did daily demonstrations at the event. “Every time I can share my passion with people, I always enjoy that, especially when I can see the crowd’s reaction.” Zapata’s enthusiasm for the Flyboard Air, and life, is infectious – and we meet at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix’s all-new VIP party precinct Twenty3, with the facility taking its name from the superfast final turn where it’s located. Before sitting down, we had a walk through the expansive hospitality game-changer, which is housed over 3,000sqm and has three five-star restaurants, four bars, a 10-metre long dessert bar and a two-storey nightclub known as the Apex Lounge – complete with a kinetic light installation imported from Germany.

Back to the hoverboard, though, and what everyone wants to know is how you fly it – but on this, Zapata says a lot is about feel and control. “It’s very hard to describe. You really feel it with your body, you feel like a bird. Like you have the gift to fly,” the Frenchman says. “It’s totally different to flying with an aeroplane or with a helicopter, you touch the wind with your fingers – and you need that to balance your body. You feel more like a superhero. You’re not sitting on anything – you just fly!”


Zapata’s perfect weekend in Singapore was only made better when his favourite driver – four-time F1 World Champion, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, took his fourth win in Singapore, his 69th win overall. “I like the way [Hamilton] drives, and I like the way he thinks, so I hope he will win this World Championship,” says the Frenchman.

Hamilton left Marina Bay 40-points up on title rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with six races to go – and the German on the ropes, following a series of rookie mistakes throughout the season that have destroyed his momentum in what is one of the fastest cars on the grid. “I’m so excited. I came here knowing that Singapore is a hard one for us,” said Hamilton post-race, his Marina Bay victory his seventh for 2018. “Knowing that we would start on pole, I knew that it was a great opportunity for us to capitalise on. I had a great start and from then I was able to manage it.

“When I hit the traffic, I was just mindful not to take any risks. When you start to get closer to another car, you start losing grip and start sliding around more, so there’s a higher chance of mistakes. If you’re lucky you catch the cars at the right point and they let you by so you don’t lose any time, but today I always caught them at an unfortunate point. So when Max was right behind, I had to go on the defensive, and I thought to myself, ‘Bro, you’re not getting by – not today!’ It was physically such a demanding race, so I’m relieved that it’s over now – it felt like such a long night, but I’m super grateful for the result.”

Of course, for the many Australians who had flown over for the weekend for a taste of the Singapore sun, trackside parties and racing action, the result was a bitter pill to swallow, after Perth-born Red Bull racer Daniel Ricciardo started and finished sixth – despite the promise of topping Friday’s first practice. “In the end, the race was a bit as we expected but we hoped for some sort of ultimate strategy,” Ricciardo said. “We tried something different by going long on the Hypersoft and we had good pace but a street circuit is only really great if you’re on pole, otherwise it’s not only hard to overtake but even to follow. Qualifying is so important here and the race was really lost yesterday.”

And while it was down to a wrong setup direction applied before qualifying, it was frustrating given Ricciardo’s preparation pre-event – one that, until 2018, he’d been on the podium at for four-straight times. “I had nine-days pretty much of no distraction since Monza, and it was time for me to put everything into this,” Ricciardo said. “It was just eat, sleep, train, and that was it. A lot of heat training. It’s the hottest race of the year, it’s the longest race of the year, and it’s the toughest one. I wanted to get comfortable in the uncomfortable, so I was in a gym with seven layers of clothing on, the heat was right up and I was on the bike.”

But the Aussies still left Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sunday night happy, following an action-packed weekend at F1’s original night race – with this year’s event celebrating its 11th edition since 2008, and second-highest ever attendance with more than 263,000 people. It’s easy to see why with the event having lots of fun for the whole family, with kids young and old getting their hearts racing with interactive activities such as the Pit Stop Challenge, the support race paddocks or getting behind the wheel of a race simulator, for a few laps of the Marina Bay Street Circuit.


For Zapata, getting strapped into the Flyboard Air was reward enough, despite being at one of the world’s most glamorous sporting events. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever tried, and now it’s very addictive. I can’t stay more than a week without flying!” he says, smiling. It’s understandable. Once you can fly like Superman, you wouldn’t want to stop. And Zapata doesn’t – with the inventor still flying around the world to show off his amazing craft.  

And with that, our chat done, the Frenchman is off to pull on the suit for his next demonstration. Flying over the world’s finest racing cars at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. What a life!



For the full article grab the November 2018 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

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