The gray skies threatening rain on Saturday afternoon did little to keep away a crowd of 94,000 spectators at Bayfront Park last Saturday. People of all shapes and sizes gathered in a sweaty mess to see daredevils jump from a 30-foot flight deck in the middle of Biscayne Bay and plummet into the water for the National Red Bull Flugtag event.
"Flugtag," which means "flying day" in German, is a silly tradition started by Red Bull 12 years ago in which creative aspiring aviators build a human-powered "aircraft" in hopes of gliding further than a few feet. (We use the term aircraft lightly; few of them ever do.) This year was the first time that Flugtag competitions took place in five different cities at the same time: Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, DC, and Long Beach. Miami received special honor by kicking off the event nationwide with the first flight, which was a bloomin' sponsor craft by Outback Steakhouse restaurant.
Twenty-seven teams from all over the South competed at Saturday's event and were judged based on distance, creativity, and showmanship.
Some of the competition judges were sectioned off into specific judging categories. Judging the creativity of the craft were DJ Irie; professional wakeboarder Parks Bonifay, who was in charge of showmanship; and Red Bull Air Force team member Amy Chmelecki, focused on distance. Other judges included professional cliff diver Steven LoBue, sports radio host Dan LeBatard, and Telemundo anchor Mirella Grisales.
So why exactly would people willingly jump into the water within a strange contraption they made themselves? For sweet prizes, that's why. Of the 27 competing teams, there can only be three winners and one fan favorite. The first place team, returning champs The Flugtag Flying Dead, won a skydiving day with expert free fliers from the Red Bull Air Force. Second place winners, Hard Rock Flying Legendary Burger, will get to experience a Red Bull sponsored sporting event, VIP style. Third place, Team O'Daly's Mustache Ride, gets to attend a music, culture, or art event also sponsored by the energy drink brand. And lastly, the People's Choice winners, Gator Aviators, will get to attend a New York Red Bull's game.
Crowds really enjoy watching other people make fools of themselves and perform dangerous stunts, as it turns out; they certainly helped raise the morale for competitors as spectators cheered happily (and "ooh-ed" when the air craft splashed nastily into the water). The first flight took off a little after 2 p.m., but the crowd started building way before noon. Spread out in the park, the flugtag teams had their crafts set up for spectators to walk around and get a close-up view before the makeshift planes were demolished. Teams posed next to their creations and alongside smiling fans in hopes of snagging a People's Choice vote.
We Miamians know how to attend events in style. So instead of putting up with masses of people on land, dozens of boats lined up along the bay with a front-row view of the action. People were hanging out in floaters and taking the opportunity to tan, all while feeling like celebrities as land-walkers waved in envy.
Pretty soon, it was time to start the festivities. After the ceremonial first flight, things really started to get wacky as team after team loaded their flying crafts onto the flight deck and one by one dived, oftentimes butt first, into the water. After each crash, a cleanup crew would pass by and clear the wreckage in record time for the next team.
Teams would dress in crazy costumes and perform a brief skit or dance number before sending their pilot off in flight. This bit was factored into the showmanship category in the judging. The most memorable team was ultimately the day's champions, The Flugtag Flying Dead, with their incredible zombie makeup, zombie attack skit, and their rendition of "Thriller." Their 120-foot flight received straight tens from the judges and wild cheers from the bystanders.
Let's take a look-see at some mid-air flights that managed to go down gracefully.
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O'Daly's Magical Mustache Ride proved that anything with mustaches drawn on it is a sure crowd-pleaser.
The team Manatee Grew Wings certainly didn't bring that concept to life as their air craft soon took a tumble after this shot - maybe they shouldn't fuel their plane with Red Bull.
Clemson University flew all the way down from South Carolina to represent at Flugtag; it was a good thing they didn't fly in this orange death-trap.