The tenuous watercraft hand-built by the nearly 30 teams at the 2012 Red Bull Candola race on Fort Lauderdale's New River were not burdened with concern for such things as hydrodynamics and seaworthiness. No, in typical Red Bull event fashion, both of those attributes came in second and third behind showmanship.
The beer was already flowing before 10 a.m. Saturday, as costumed captains, team members, and hundreds of spectators milled about the lawn at Huizenga Park beside the river. The reason for the showmanship: many teams lobbied the crowd for their vote in the People's Choice portion of the competition as they showed off their boats, some constructed of mere foam, paper-mache and cardboard lashed together with duct tape, while others, more elaborate and sturdy craft in the shape of tanks, airplanes, Viking longboats and tributes to causes such as breast cancer awareness, genuinely impressed.
What better place for Miami art collective Funner Projects to, uh, make a splash?
Serious this race was not. Still, pairs of teams tried diligently to row or paddle their boats the .33-mile distance up the greenish-brown New River to the finish line at Esplanade Park -- all as ranks of well-wishers and hecklers lined the seawall and nearby Andrews Avenue drawbridge.
The first breakup and failure of the day occurred less than a minute after the Mile High Club team launched from the dock. Their jetliner-shaped boat at first held its own as team members paddled towards the bridge. But the craft eventually succumbed to water intrusion, and the team captain gave the crowd a smirking salute as he slipped beneath surface with his boat. The Mile High Club then remained afloat on a pair of blowup dolls that had adorned their boat while awaiting a tow into shore by rescuers; upon reaching the dock, they brandished them like trophies, drenched but otherwise happy.
Miami based art collective Funner Projects would fare much better in their plywood john boat. But their cut-off overall-wearing, oar-straddling, sun block-squirting, country music-blasting contribution to the pre-race skit competition left the judges from Power 96 and Y100 radio underwhelmed. One of the announcers stated, "I don't know whether that was a skit or just disturbing." Clearly they weren't familiar with Funner's body of work, which is often equal parts super-fun and super-weird. But even if their humor was lost on the straights, Funner Projects made land at Esplanade Park in less than six minutes, well ahead of their competitors, three airline pilots from Deerfield's Got Wings? in a modified life raft. Their efforts were enough to put Funner Projects in third place halfway through the race.
Sadly, Fort Lauderdale's The Oatmeal Effect, with their WWI biplane themed boat, would ultimately take first place, and Funner Projects would be pushed out of third by Tebow's Ark.
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Perhaps it's the allure of the sanctioned use of home-built and relatively unsafe boats on a major waterway that draws so many participants. Maybe it's the builder's desire to get as close the line between artistic form and function as possible in the realm of good natured competition. But whatever the reason, the Red Bull Candola is the sort of unpretentious fun that South Florida needs more of. And hey, Red Bull -- how about bringing it to Miami next year?