The New River was named for shifting banks that evaded early cartographers with each revision. Now the banks are fixed, reinforced with concrete and steel. The river's course is guarded by a smug armada of white fiberglass, neatly moored. The formula of luxury, of acceptable fun, that plies the river and its tributary canals through "the Venice of America" is as staid as a folded mainsail, with its attendant rituals, both high and low: champagne or Bud, sundress or sunburn, silver or platinum.

This weekend, that would change. By early afternoon on Friday, teams of three were beginning to arrive with homemade boats, which they set up at marked-off spaces on the lawn in Huizenga Plaza. They drank free Red Bull from coolers and finished putting together their crafts. Most of the contestants were male, in their 20s, and they came from as near as Fort Lauderdale and Miami and as far away as Georgia. Iowa State's Red Bull events team, which travels the country participating in such things, had canceled its trip due to budget issues.

Near the band shell, Adam Errington, a 20-year-old professional Red Bull wakeboarder from Orlando and 2007 Rookie of the Year, was talking shop with two 20-something "Red Bull Wings Team" girls in matching tank tops who stood over a can-shaped cooler.

The "AI Scandinavians," from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, took third place.
Robert Snow/Red Bull Content Pool
The "AI Scandinavians," from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, took third place.
Amanda Rypkema, Kara Schuster, and Jackie Struthwolf take the plunge.
Robert Snow/Red Bull Content Pool
Amanda Rypkema, Kara Schuster, and Jackie Struthwolf take the plunge.

"We're going to send out some girls to Red Bull bars tonight," said one of the girls. "We have a list of all the places in town that serve it." Her modified Red Bull Mini Cooper with refrigerated compartments and a giant replica can on the roof was parked nearby, ready to impress.

They told Errington to keep an eye out for their friend. "She has really thick, dark hair. She'll be over at YOLO. That's right by your hotel."

"Cool," he said.


There's not much to do in Warner Robins, Georgia, except play Xbox with your childhood friends, earn a wage at one of the local fast-casual restaurants, or wander around Walmart at night. The routines of mundane commerce are hard to escape. The town surrounds Robins Air Force Base, near a Y of highways that lead east to Savannah or south to Valdosta and Florida's Turnpike.

J.R. Peeples, Winston Massey, and Adam Goolsby took the southward path early Friday morning. They crammed into J.R.'s white Lexus ES 300, singing and dozing with a can of Pringles and the makings of a crude vessel. They stopped near the college in Valdosta to pick up Kyle Pearce, who would row for the three-man team. Adam had given his place on the team to Kyle after a dispute with Winston over how to build the boat, but he was coming along to watch. Adam and Winston had been friends since they were small, and it was the kind of friendship that's prone to blow up and recover just as fast.

Winston, a tan-skinned 26-year-old with dark, buzzed hair and a quiet demeanor, had drawn up plans for the boat with a ballpoint pen and submitted them to Red Bull headquarters a month before. Winston had lived in Warner Robins all his life, but he dreamed of leaving.

He studied aeronautics in college and earned his pilot's license. He wanted to become a captain for a commercial airline. He loved flying, looking down at the crawling on-ramps and vacuous cul-de-sacs that had formed his world, heading to places he'd never seen.

In the trunk of the Lexus was an inflatable camping mattress and a mess of color-coded PVC pipes and joints that would fit together like a covered wagon to ford the river. A tarp, duct tape, and several bags of red balloons to decorate the outside of the boat rounded out the provisions.

It was late afternoon when they arrived in Fort Lauderdale and saw the first Red Bull Candola banners hanging along the roadway; they parked by the Las Olas River House (the blue condo tower in the heart of the city) and signed their waivers at a card table near the girls and the coolers. It was still hot on the lawn, even after the sun sank behind the City Park garage, and the boys began to wonder where they'd go to drink later. The pieces of pipe were tedious to put together, and they needed more balloons. Also, paddles. And an air pump. "We'll have to go to Walmart," said J.R.

Excitement led Adam and J.R. to take a baptismal swim in the river. Just after night fell, J.R., a compact 27-year-old about to graduate with a communications degree from Macon State; and Adam, a tall, kind-eyed 26-year-old who still had the buzzcut from his Air Force days at Fort Walton Beach, walked barefoot across the grass trailing a net full of inflated red balloons.

Things were dark and quiet at the river; Pablo's temporary dock bobbed, and diners laughed across the water at the Downtowner Saloon. Cars made a hhuuuhhh sound as they passed over the Andrews Avenue drawbridge's metal grate. J.R. and Adam walked along the Riverwalk until they found a ladder under the bridge.

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5 comments
Howie
Howie

You people are mean. The writer is clearly young and trying hard. Leave him alone.

You also forgot to mention this strange string of non-sense: "Now the buildings were more real, and the big, blue tower by the river, shaped like a butterfly, presented its rooftop cooling units and came up to meet him, then pulled on past, near as a train you'd run to catch."

Don't try quite so hard.

Sherry567
Sherry567

One of the most poorly written articles I have ever read. the writer seems extremely bitter and his writing skills are equal to that of a high schooler.

Abc
Abc

the taste of alien candy?

Guest
Guest

"The high-noon sun was a charm, and everybody stared into it, searching for a human form."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Let me guess, undergraduate english major interning for credit? Still, this wasn't a complete waste of time. Good effort, bro.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

I liked "the silver can, the promise"

Stefan: You're a good writer, just tone down the language.

 
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