This guest article is by Rachel Powell.
Austin is home to extreme activities that offer players and participants the chance to experience hidden gems that make even the local-est of locals exclaim, “I never knew that was there!”
These activities are more than just satiation for the adrenaline junkie. Almost unanimously, they speak to deeper needs of the soul, showing people they are capable of more than they ever thought.
Go Back to the Future Aboard a Hover Craft
If you’ve been on Lake Austin and seen something that Marty McFly might use to get around in the future, stop rubbing your eyes – you’re not mistaken. The device is called a fly board, and it’s quite literally taking off right here in Austin.
Owner and operator Ed Hughes opened Fly Lake Austin in 2013 after seeing fly boarding on the internet. According to Hughes, “I thought it looked cool and wanted to be the first on Lake Austin doing this.” From that idea, he built an entire business that allows the daring to take flight with the power of jet streams propelling them into the air.
While building a business has been a lot of work, Hughes is quick to note that it’s also an equal amount of fun. An avid flyer himself, he encourages people to get out and try fly boarding for themselves. The experience is one that even Hughes finds hard to express: “A lot of people ask me to describe it and I can’t. It’s just something you have to experience for yourself.”
In terms of safety, Hughes says this is not a dangerous sport. In his words: “everything floats.” While you’re up in the air, an instructor is always in control of the equipment and can gently set you down in the water should the need arise.
For those of us who are a bit more dexterously challenged and worried about being able to take flight, have no fear. While this is definitely extreme, Hughes encourages that it’s a lot easier than it looks. In terms of needing any kind of skill or experience, he says, “As long as you can stand up and listen to me, I can get you in the air.” That process usually only takes between two and ten minutes.
Fly Lake Austin offers flight sessions in 30 minute increments, and groups and individuals are welcome!
Float Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
Sky Candy is an aerial dance studio that offers students the opportunity to take to the air just like the trapeze artists you see in the circus! Sky Candy has been treating Austinites to the high wires since they opened their doors in 2010.
Building a business is no easy task, but Studio Director and instructor Joanna Wright was quick to point out, “It’s been interesting and challenging in so many ways. But honestly, there are so many people in Austin who want to try cool stuff that it’s been really fun to get them into trapeze.”
While Sky Candy focuses more on the circus and performance aspect of the art, many people do use it as a workout. With moves and techniques that employ so many muscle groups, it’s not difficult to see why. Front desk manager and student Colleen Mulvey says, “It does show you where you need to build strength very quickly.”
While building strength is a part of the process, initially having strength is not a requirement. Mulvey recalled her first lesson, “When I came in, I didn’t think I could do much, but the instructor showed me things I could do already.”
Sky Candy offers students three kinds of classes: drop in classes that require no commitment, six-week classes that are part of a series, and private classes that you can schedule with your own personal instructor.
All first timers are encouraged to take the “Intro to Aerial Skills” class, where you get to know the equipment, learn about safety and your own comfort levels and, of course, snap some Facebook-worthy photos. Classes are available for all skill levels, and open to those ages 6 to “physically fit enough to sit on a trapeze.”
Pushing and challenging ourselves can be scary. But Colleen, who still considers herself a beginner, feels that Austinites have much to gain from giving something new like Sky Candy a try. Of those who have overcome their initial qualms and taken flight on the trapeze, she says, “It really does open their eyes to the limitations they’ve been putting on themselves. They are capable of things they weren’t even able to dream of.”
Roll with the Punches
Flat surface roller derby is the fastest growing women’s sport in the world. And the “Godmothers of Derby” are right here in Austin, where the sport was born and continues to gain popularity, and not in any sort of arbitrary way.
Chief Communications Officer of Austin’s own Texas Roller Girls League, Bex Luty (a.k.a. Bexcalibur), explained, “I moved to Austin specifically to play roller derby. I’m certainly not alone in that.”
More than just a spectator sport, Texas Roller Girls combines a competitive league that competes with other teams all around Texas, and a rec league for all ages and skill levels. A built out office space off 35, the “Blood Shed,” as it is affectionately referred to by players, is home to practices and scrimmages for all ages and skill levels.
In a sport where the players are in it for the scars and stories, and most of all the community, flat surface roller derby has seen such exponential growth that there is now an Austin men’s league, as well as a juniors league that hosts skaters ages 8-17.
What makes this sport, oft-perceived as an elbow-throwing, fishnet wearing, fight-on-wheels, so popular? To start, it can be played nearly anywhere that has a flat surface space. But more importantly, from firsthand experience, it’s clear that one of the biggest draws is the community. This inclusive sport is open to all skill levels. Whether you were born wearing skates or have never played a sport in your life, you can choose from four skill levels to find the perfect match to your comfort level: from no contact derby to a competitive team.
For those of you intrigued, still wary of the moment you step into your skates and try to circle the ring for the first time, Olivia Shootin’ John, an all-star player from the Texecutioners, encourages everyone who is even thinking about it to give it a try. She said, “Because it’s a sport, it takes your head out of the skating because you’re focusing on other tasks.”
Keep in mind that while this is a highly physical sport that expends a lot of energy in a short amount of time, it’s not exactly like TV shows and movies portray it. Women aren’t throwing ‘bows or punching people in the face. There are strict rules enforced by referees. In fact, each game has up to eight refs, plus non-skating officials, so there can be around 17 people officiating one game.
Some see the sport as therapy, some as exercise. But for certain, they all see it as family. Shootin’ John has been playing with the Austin league for eight years. Her love of sports started with soccer and, like so many others, she was introduced to derby through a friend. “I had no idea how fun it was going to be,” Shootin’ John recalled. “I went to support my friend during her tryout and ended up joining.”
Shootin’ John went on to say of the league, “It’s a really strong women-run environment. It gives me a huge boost, no matter how tired I am.” Skater Hauss the Boss, also a Texecutioner all-star, joined because her “derby wife” (derby lingo for a bestie) encouraged her to check it out. “There’s definitely a community about it. When you go to other places and you run into someone in the derby community, there’s an instant connection you have.”
The more I spoke with the players, the more I came to understand that the sport was more than just skating or even physical. There is something cathartic, both spiritually and mentally, for those involved. Big Nasty, of the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers, took a moment to explain why derby was such a big part of her life. “People like to say it’s a cliché, but it’s really true: roller derby saved my soul. I’m a bartender, and derby has made me a nicer person. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve gone back to school…derby catapulted me in my life and career.”
Kristen Slade, the Roller Girls Rec Director, tried out with the league in January and soon found herself drawn in like everyone else. “The thing I love about roller derby,” she says, “is that it fulfills so many needs. There’s friendship and family here.”
Be sure to check out the Home Team championships on August 16 at the Austin Convention Center.
Let’s Take Off in the Blue
George Farris discovered his love of flying over 40 years ago. Since then, he has sought to bring the thrill of that experience to others, whether they are passengers or students in the captain’s seat.
As owner and a flight instructor at Above and Beyond Aviation, he has been bringing the gift of flight to Austinites for more than 12 years now. Folks come from all over the city and out of town to get a chance to fly with Farris and his team of instructors.
While his business attracts those who already love flying, Farris also hopes to bring what he calls “the freedom of the air” to those who might not otherwise experience it. Through his “Discovery Flight,” he offers an affordable way for beginners to test their wings and find out what it’s like to soar above the clouds.
For those who don’t want to settle for just a joy ride and want to get behind the throttle, Above and Beyond Aviation offers lessons and plans to help aviator hopefuls earn their pilots license. If you’re considering taking flight, don’t be surprised if once isn’t enough. “When I take people up, they discover they really love it,” George says, “I’ve had people send me letters telling me how much they enjoy it.”
After 12 years and over 10,000 flights with no injuries and plenty of satisfied customers, George sees his flight school and vision of sharing the world above the clouds continuing for many years to come.
On any given evening, you can find Rachel Powell eating delicious food while planning her next meal, whether it’s a cookout with friends or enjoying one of Austin’s amazing eateries. She has a penchant for doing things her body says she shouldn’t, like eating ice cream and letting puppies lick her face, but it’s nothing a few antacids and some allergy medicine can’t cure.
What is the most extreme activity you’ve tried in Austin?