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Published: Sunday, 7/13/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

High adventure for thrill seekers getting their extreme water sports fix in northwest Ohio

Gennie Abalos, left, pilots a jet ski as Matt Jackson, right, of Toledo Flyboarding, soars above the water last month in Oregon. Gennie Abalos, left, pilots a jet ski as Matt Jackson, right, of Toledo Flyboarding, soars above the water last month in Oregon.
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Jeff Grashel is no stranger to water sports.

Swimming, boating, jet skiing, wake boarding -- he‘s done it all. It was a quest for something new that led him to the Toledo area in June to try his hand at a sport he’d only seen in YouTube videos: flyboarding.

While Northwest Ohio may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about extreme sports, the region has quite a bit to offer for thrill seekers looking to tackle everything from water sports to sky diving. The area may be short on mountains and cliffs, but it has plenty to offer in the way of water, allowing seekers to choose from lakes and rivers, and even a backyard pond, where Grashel and three friends, who traveled from Columbus, went flyboarding with Flyboard Rentals of Toledo.

Invented in 2011, a flyboard is a water jetpack system that, when powered by a jet ski, allows riders to rocket out of the water and into the air to “fly” over water. Riders wear life jackets, wet suits, and a helmet and are strapped into boots connected to the board. Water is forced under pressure to the boots which have jet nozzles underneath that provide thrust for the rider to fly up to 30 feet in the air.

Jeff Grashel flexes his biceps to show off for his friends as they sit on the shore in Oregon. Jeff Grashel flexes his biceps to show off for his friends as they sit on the shore in Oregon.
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“This is awesome! I‘m going to find someone to help me buy one of these,” said Mr. Grashel, 24, who traveled from Columbus with three friends for the experience, during which he flexed his muscles in an Iron Man like pose. “That was the funnest half hour of my life. I go wakeboarding every weekend, but nothing like this. It’s crazy.”

Matt Jackson, certified flyboard instructor and owner of Flyboard Rentals of Toledo, a mobile company, said anyone comfortable in the water can participate.

“Swimmers, non- swimmers, I can work with anybody,” Jackson said. “Anybody who can walk can do this. Straighten your legs. Plant your feet. Point your toes and let‘s fly.”

Windsurfers and kitersurfers have been riding waves around the country for years, but the activity isn’t something that has been seen much in Northwest Ohio.

“Die hards around here, I‘d say there are about 25 of us,” said Mark Musgrave, a longtime wind and kite surfer, and owner of Red Sky Snow and Surf in West Toledo. “There are a lot more casuals that come out from other areas, from time to time.”

Windsurfing combines elements of surfing and sailing. Windsurfers uses their bodies as a conduit for the natural force of the wind which propels the board. Unlike surfing, where the only power source is the wave, windsurfing can be practiced wherever there is wind and a body of water.

Kitesurfing is one of the fastest growing water sports worldwide. A relatively new sport, taking off in the last 10 years, with its inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, kiteboarding seems set to continue to grow in the coming years.

“You never get good enough. There‘s always something changing. Some new challenge,” Mr. Musgrave said of the sport. He’s been practicing for more than a decade. “It takes a big commitment to become even somewhat good. It‘s not like riding my bike on the same path everyday.”

Ryan Owens kiteboards at Luna Pier. Ryan Owens kiteboards at Luna Pier.

Kite surfers use the wind to sail across the water on a surfboard. The kite is attached to the rider's waist by a harness and controlled by a bar. With kites high in the air, kiteboarders are able to take advantage of greater wind speeds than windsurfers, making the sport extremely fast. Like windsurfing, kitesurfing is heavily dependent on the weather.

Mr. Musgrave and his troop travel between Luna Pier, Maumee Bay and Sterling state parks looking for the perfect riding conditions.

“We’re at the mercy of the the wind direction. We need the wind to cooperate,” Mr. Musgrave said. “The days that are crummy for everyone else, we‘re out in forces. That’s a good day for us.”

There‘s plenty to do out of the water too. The University of Toledo, the YMCA in Temperance and Planet Rock in Ann Arbor, all have indoor climbing walls, where climbers can top rope and boulder across various climbs. Treks range in difficulty, with some easy enough for young children.

Those like for bicycles rides that are less leisure and more thrilling, can get their fix at Toledo Speedway BMX. Men, women and children visit the park to hurdle their bikes over mounds of dirt and perform stunts and trick while airborne. The facility offers riding lessons and clinics and special events that feature notables of the sport.

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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