For the past two months, Denise Leider’s neighbors have been creeping past her house at a pace that might embarrass even the slowest snail.
She’s not installing new pavers, putting in a pool or hosting dance parties with her roller derby team, the Suncoast Quad Squad. The object of attraction is a life-sized, purple-and-black, human-powered roller skate with bat wings that is parked in the driveway.
It moves forward and backward — but will it fly?
“It will after we take the nuts and bolts off of everyone else’s flying machine,” jokes one member of the Suncoast Quad Squad, which will compete against 40 other homemade flying contraptions this weekend at Red Bull Flugtag, in Tampa. For those who don’t speak German, “flugtag” — pronounced “floog-tog” — means “flying day.”
The first Red Bull Flugtag took place in 1992, in Vienna. Since then, more than 35 flugtags have taken place around the world, drom from Ireland to San Francisco, and attract as many as 250,000 spectators. The homemade flying objects have included everything from a flying purple people eater, Santa and his sleigh, a flying toilet and even an Oscar Meyer weiner, which sail over the edge of a 30-foot deck, ultimately splashing into the water below.
For the competition, the teams build themed flying objects out of any material, with one person from the team who pilots the homemade invention. There are no engines or external energy sources allowed. The goal is to build the contraption that will fly the farthest.
With the roller derby team having just formed in March, the girls thought that entering the competition would be a good way to build team spirit. For the past two months, they’ve had no life outside of derby and Flugtag.
“As fun as skating is, we don’t really get to hang out outside of that,” Jessica McCrae says. “Just doing something not stressful, not organizing a bout or drill, is a fun, creative outlet. It’s made us all a lot tighter.”
Team members went shopping for supplies at Home Depot the second week of August. They grabbed two carts and took off down the aisles, tossing in anything that looked useful. Lucky for them, their referee, Mike Beisinger, works as an electrician and agreed to tag along on the trip and help them build the beast. Every time the girls found what appeared to be the perfect item, Beisinger told them to put it back, instead helping them to find piping, plywood and spray paint.
“We’ve been out here in the dark night, first thing in the morning, mosquitoes eating us and neighbors checking us out,” Leider says. “We spent more than $500 on the project. The toe stopper is a cat bed — Aspen sacrificed her nightly sleeping arrangements for us.”
When it came to designing and building the machine, aerodynamics was not part of the game. The team’s invention is retro-fitted with four bicycle wheels topped with four Styrofoam hubcaps, two gigantic black bat wings, a white furry toe stopper, a rectangular body as the sole of the shoe and a milk-crate bucket seat inside for the pilot.
“We had to redo the wing because we wrapped it up so thick that we couldn’t shrink-wrap it,” Leider said. “Then we blew all of the fuses in the house because we had so many hair dryers on. We blew the power surge strip just like that ‘Christmas Vacation’ movie.”
Teams will be judged by a panel of local and national celebrities based on three criteria — distance, creativity and showmanship. To gain additional points for showmanship, participants often dress in outrageous costumes and create music soundtracks for the flight. The girls plan to fashion themselves in fishnet stockings and personalized Suncoast Squad Quad T-shirts and do a mock bout, blocking and hitting each other to Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer.” As soon as the band sings the lyrics, “One step closer to the edge and I’m about to break,” the girls will push the machine over the edge.
Three weeks ago, the team held a weigh-off to determine who among them was the lightest and would pilot the roller skate.
“I’ve never wanted to weigh more in my life,” says Kristi Gerathy, who will pilot the skate and make the 30-foot drop into the Seddon Channel. “I’m nervous. I’m excited. I fear the unknown.”
IF YOU GO
Red Bull Flugtag Tampa
When: Hangars open at 11 a.m., and event starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S. Franklin St.
Info: Visit www.redbullflugtagusa.com; watch the event live at www.redbullusa.com/flugtagtampa
Voting for the People’s Choice Award opens at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, and closes at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8. To vote for the Suncoast Quad Squad, text “team No. 16” to 72855.