NEWPORT BEACH — It’s an unlikely place to find something out of a science-fiction novel.
Next to the Balboa Boat Yard, where hulky trawlers are hauled out for repairs and rusted containers are stacked high above corrugated metal gates, is a yacht brokerage selling a new product: a water-powered jet pack.
Employees of Jetlev Southwest, the company that sells and rents the packs, will take turns dressed as Santa Claus and fly — sans reindeer — alongside boats at the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade this Wednesday through Sunday.
The company first moved to Newport this summer. It attracted gawkers each time its pilots took to the water. Videos and photos popped up online.
Since then, Jetlev has been renting the packs for harbor flights and waiting for shipments from the manufacturer so it can sell some of the pricey toys.
Flights cost $199 to $349 per person, depending on the time of week and the size of group. To buy a pack, it is much more — about $100,000.
That’s even too much for an orthopedic surgeon like Neil Katz, 56, of Irvine. He was on a friend’s boat in Newport on the Fourth of July, saw someone flying and was immediately taken.
“I said, ‘I got to get one of those,’ but then I saw the price and I said forget it,” Katz said.
Instead, he has rented a pack about five times and has brought friends to try it as well.
“It’s just that feeling of flying and being able to control it,” said Katz.
But not everyone has been as excited. In Newport’s conservative boating community, some people have complained about the new device, which can be shocking to see in flight at first.
To smooth tensions in each new body of water, company President Dean O’Malley meets with local authorities. The Coast Guard gave the company an operating permit, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol and the city have signed off as well. Even Mayor Mike Henn tested out the jet pack.
“We probably wouldn’t be here if we had an accident with the mayor,” O’Malley joked.
During the parade, O’Malley and about three other pilots will take turns flying as Santa Claus. They plan to fly toward the front of the boat parade, leading with a small tugboat that will act as an aircraft carrier of sorts — the pilots will land on the open deck, where they’ll switch Santas.
Besides the red suit, they will be strapped into a fiberglass frame wider and longer than the torso of a large Santa. Including a race car seatbelt system, modified bike seat and thrust controls, the pack weighs 26 pounds. A tube with the diameter of a fire hose connects the pack to a pod, which trails in the water sucking seawater through a modified Sea-Doo engine.
The tube is about 30 feet long and acts as a de facto altitude governor.
While pilots usually hover and perform turns, they can also travel forward at a maximum of about 20 mph.
But O’Malley said it’s designed for fun, not travel.
The company has plans to expand to resort destinations around the world, especially in cruise ship ports, where captivated customers may want to upgrade from a jet ski to a jet pack.
“We would love to see the Jetlev right next to the jet skis,” said O’Malley, who said his biggest challenge is building awareness. “This isn’t just a toy some rich guy in town has; it’s something you can do.”