Kevin Riley and his teammates watched as five people plunged into the waters of Tampa Bay, the wind gusting at their backs.
“When we get to the top of the ramp, it’s definitely going to be a little sketchy,” said Riley, who graduated from USF with a degree in fine arts in 1992, just before takeoff. “The wind is really rough.”
Of the 38 human-powered flying machines that attempted to take flight for Red Bull Flugtag on Saturday, Riley’s team – made up of three USF alumni – took home the grand prize.
Flugtag is a not-so-serious competition, where teams try to defy the laws of gravity. Participants attempted to reach the farthest distance by taking off from a deck 30 feet above sea level just offshore of the Tampa Bay Convention Center.
Dressed as Oompa Loompas, Riley and fellow USF alumni teammates Kevin and Keith Humphrey reached a distance of 50 feet and took home the top prize.
“We do it to have fun,” Riley said.
Their craft, “Willy Wonka’s Amazing Flying Flugtag Adventure,” consisted of two pieces. The first rolled the craft to the edge of the ramp, then immediately dropped down, while the second soared to victory.
Riley and his teammates also won the 2008 Red Bull Flugtag in Tampa.
“We are talking about three months of work and every weekend, sometimes also during the week, for a total of 300 hours worth of work at least,” Riley said. “I did all the drawing here, and then we have one of the guys engineer it and (another) does a bunch of marketing – he graduated with a marketing degree – so we used all of our USF expertise.”
Red Bull Flugtag began in Vienna, Austria, in 1991, but it was not until 2002 that it started to be organized in multiple U.S. locations. Saturday’s competition was Tampa’s second year hosting the event.
The event seeks to challenge teams to fly their crafts with or without any sort of aerodynamic component. One of the teams, titled “If You Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough,” portrayed the dog-shaped van from the film, “Dumb and Dumber.”
Other notable crafts included a mock DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” a giant pink bra and a “Super Mario Bros.”-inspired mushroom.
Thirty-eight teams of five people from different parts of the U.S. and international locations, such as the United Kingdom, prepared “crafts” corresponding to different themes.
Undergraduate and graduate students represented USF in the event, as well.
Jennifer Johnson, a junior majoring in mass communications, participated in the event with the “Babes of Brick House” team and put together a stiletto-shaped craft with her teammates.
“We are an all girl-team,” she said. “We are a babe team. The shoe symbolizes classiness, trendiness and overall sophistication.”
Even though it was their first time competing in Flugtag, the Babes of Brick House reached a distance of 22 feet.
The “Free Range Flyers” had two USF alumni and one graduate student from the mechanical engineering program. Their craft was shaped as an airplane, and the teammates were dressed in chicken outfits because they work at an engineering company called Hatch.
In the competition, the chickens demonstrated that they could not fly – only reaching a distance of eight feet and seven inches and nearly losing parts of their craft before takeoff.
A crowd of 125,000 surr- ounded the waterfront to witness the event, with spectators standing on the Harbour Island Boulevard bridge.
Watercrafts of all shapes and sizes, everything from yachts to jet skis to paddleboards, were filled with screaming spectators.
Another viewpoint of the attraction was from the shore of Tampa General Hospital. Nearly every balcony of the Marriott hotel facing the channel had somebody spotting the event.
A panel of celebrity judges, which included Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria, judged teams on distance, creativity and performance.