In reality, this headline captures the failed outing of Florida man, Reza Baluchi, who attempted to “walk” from Florida to New York over the weekend in his flotation bubble, only to wash up a few miles down the coast where the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office found his craft. Walking for charity as well as peace and publicity, this was Baluchi’s third failed attempt.
But just how unrealistic is his goal? While this “Florida man” might’ve failed to cross the water in this latest attempt, history and engineering say this feat is not only possible but has even already been done.
Who is Florida man?
When not at the helm of an inflatable hamster wheel, Baluchi is an ultramarathoner and activist who is on a mission to run over 85,000 miles — across land and water — and raise money for charities supporting causes like children’s hospitals and services for the homeless.
He also told Fox 35 Orlando that he’s raising money for “the Coast Guard ... the police department ... [and] the fire department.”
Apart from these proposed donations, Baluchi also says on his website that he hopes his journey helps inspire unity and peace in the places he visits and that the water leg of his journey, in particular, will show “the world that anything is possible if only you believe.”
This aquatic leg of the trek started off to a rocky for Baluchi, however. The barrel-like craft — which he calls a bubble — dotted with bright-orange flotation buoys was found about 30-miles away from his St. Augustine starting point.
The Guardian reports that Baluchi had technical problems with the bubble but plans to try again when the weather is better. This next attempt would be Baluchi’s fourth attempt, following this most recent outing and two previous attempts in 2014 and 2016.
The history of walking on water — But even though Baluchi has run into problems perfecting his bubble design to walk on water, history has already demonstrated that it can be done.
As New Scientist reported in 2009, there are several historical examples of people crossing the water by foot — a term dubbed “aqua pedestrianism.” Take, for example, “Professor” Charles Oldrieve, who won a bet in 1907 that he couldn’t walk some 1,600 miles from Cincinnati to New Orleans along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Like Baluchi, Oldrieve has several false starts and redesigns of his water shoes as well — which were over 6.5 feet long and designed to mimic a riverboat — and was even believed to have drowned at one point. Nevertheless, he arrived in New Orleans victorious and $5,000 richer.
Attempts at walking on water can also be traced back even before Oldrieve’s time as well, to the 1800s and even to Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1480s who sketched out designs for cork skis and paddle-like poles to traverse Italian waterways.
The science of walking on water — Walking on water may seem like a truly Biblical undertaking to pull off, but it’s actually a matter of simple physics — particularly buoyancy and surface tension.
Take insects, for example, like water striders, that skate on the water's surface without plunging in. For these insects, the weight of their body creates tension at the water surface that competes with gravity to keep them afloat.
Designed like a split paddleboard, Da Vinci’s water shoe design is still be tested today.
While humans are much bigger and heavier than these insects, you can apply this same principle by expanding our surface area to distribute weight more evenly across the water’s surface. This is similar in principle to how the wide base of a snowshoe keeps you from plunging into deep powder when you walk on it.
For a contraption like Baluchi’s bubble, it’s all down to buoyancy. If a craft can displace an amount of water that is equal to its own weight, then the buoyant force (which pushes up) will equal the craft’s gravitational force (which tugs it down), and as a result,,, it will float. This idea is called the Archimedes Principle after the Greek mathematician who discovered the connection between mass and water displacement while sitting in a bathtub with a crown.
Only time will tell just how far Baluchi can travel in his water-walking bubble, but if he is successful, he’ll be in good company.