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Polson alumnus wins world flyboarding championship

FLORIDA – TJ Andrews knew one of two things was about to happen: he would make history in the extreme sport of flyboarding or he would crash in front of hundreds of people while doing a trick no one had ever done in competition before.

“I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but I was going to try,” Andrews said.

He decided not to worry and just focus on the ride as he got ready to fly over a lake in Sugden Regional Park in Florida in early October during a world championship flyboarding competition.

Flyboarding is a water sport that involves riding on a small board while it’s attached to a thick hose, and a jet ski is attached to the other end of the hose. The jet ski pushes water into the hose, and the water pressure propels the person attached to the board into the air as high as 70 feet. The sport is only around five years old, but a few people have mastered it enough to develop back flips, spirals, and other tricks. 

TJ Andrews of Polson is among those few.

Andrews moved his way up the flyboarding competition circuit against people from all over the world. He took sixth place in 2016 at the Florida Flyboard World Cup and fourth place at the 2017 Flyboard World Cup in France. In Bermuda, he held onto first place for a while during the Battle of the Rock until dropping down to fifth place.  

He started the 2017 World Hydroflight Championship tour in April of this year with second place in Florida and took third place during a competition in Pennsylvania. Finals for the championship were in Florida in October. 

He continued to get in as much practice time as he could, which wasn’t often due to work and other time commitments, but while visiting his hometown and family in Polson, he took a dip in Flathead Lake near the Kwataqnuk. 

Andrews hooked up his board to the jet ski and worked on a few tricks on the lake. His goal was to try and do a front flip since no one had ever done it before in competition. He said front flips are difficult because a person’s legs don’t bend forward, and the bending force of a back flip and water pressure are what allows a person to flip around while flying on the board.

With a front flip, a person has to reach down and grab the board while in the air and pull as far forward as possible and use a lot of their own force to pull the flip around. While skiing, Andrews says he has done front flips. He started skiing when he was two and soon began flipping around on a trampoline. At the age of 28, he really wanted to be the first person to do a front flip in hydro competition.

“The creator of this sport said the front flip was impossible to do,” he said.

Andrews decided to try it while he was practicing on Flathead Lake. A group of people floated by in an aquatic land and road vehicle called the “Happy Hippo” while he was practicing, and his father was on the dock watching. 

“I knew what he wanted to do,” his father said. “I don’t think anyone else knew what he was doing, but they were watching, too.”

Andrews flipped backwards and spun around and tried a couple other tricks over the lake. He attempted the front flip and said he ended up folding up like a taco and slamming into the water hard enough to leave bruises, but that didn’t stop him from trying again. He eventually made his body roll forward and flip all the way around. His father said he saw it and he was jumping around and cheering on the dock.

“It blew me away,” his father said. “I was so proud of what he had done.”

On the day of the competition, Andrews flew up in the air about 70 feet over another lake in Florida and hovered for a few seconds before rolling into a drop infinity flip. He did a reverse 360 spin and a triple back flip, and then, a 720 spin. A universal flip, a reverse spin, a back flip, a dolphin dive and a side flip were all next. He did a few more tricks all within a few minutes.

He knew his performance was already strong, and the judges weren’t docking people for trying different things. “They wanted to see something new,” he said. So he decided to end with an attempt at a front flip. He flew closer to the water and bent forward. Within seconds, he completed the first ever competition front flip. 

“Everyone went crazy,” he said. “I’d never heard so many people cheering for me. It was amazing.”

The moment was recorded by a drone and can be seen at https://youtu.be/wQv7AoJAg5A. Andrews received a trophy and first place. The title got him an invitation to another world tour in 2018 to compete in places like China and Bermuda, but he is struggling to get enough funding to make the trips. He said he would be thrilled if he could get a couple sponsors because the sport is so new there are not a lot of opportunities for funding. He can be reached at 406-270-1787.

“The biggest, toughest part of this sport is to get sponsors,” he said. “Without my family and companies helping, I can’t afford to do this.”

Until the next competition, he is working in Whitefish as a backcountry ski guide. He also plans to eventually get married to Brie Sellwood. As for the future of the sport, he said it will continue to progress, and it’s already developed in the past few years. When he first started flying, he was only able to work with a 215-horsepower engine. Now, he says the horsepower is around 300. 

“The amount of power changes the sport and makes the tricks more complicated,” he said. “Before it was just one back flip and now it’s a quad back flip, and soon it’ll be a double front flip.”

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