The floating net of balloons started emitting a chorus of pops as soon as J.R. climbed on top of it; it was wedged against the sharp barnacles on the river wall. Adam jumped in and rolled ungracefully onboard.

Back to back, the friends lolled and paddled across the river, leaving a trail of balloons in their wake. Two children on the bridge's pedestrian ramp cheered and waved at the two swimmers splashing in the dark. Tourists stopped to smile and shake their heads. When they reached the dock on the other side, J.R. and Adam heaved themselves out of the water, then pulled out what was left of their balloons and came back over the bridge.

They dried off, encrusted with the stick of sweat and brine. With no Walmart nearby, they headed to Target, where they wandered the empty aisles and J.R. addressed the red-shirted employees as "sir" and "ma'am."

Brian Cattelle, Tim Myers, and Matt Emkey of "Team Carpe D'Alien" nabbed second place and People's Choice prizes.
Robert Snow/Red Bull Content Pool
Brian Cattelle, Tim Myers, and Matt Emkey of "Team Carpe D'Alien" nabbed second place and People's Choice prizes.

When they returned an hour later, their friends were still in the park putting the boat together. Driving back along Las Olas Boulevard, J.R. marveled at the lights and people streaming past his windshield. Warner Robins didn't even have a T.G.I. Friday's, and it certainly didn't have these warm spaces of modern elegance, adorned with girls who could be in commercials, tightly wrapped and covered in sequins, just passing on by.

The teams were up early the next morning, still nursing hangovers and a sleep deficit. The Georgia boys had been up late, building and partying, then rehearsing a skit on the beach until 5 a.m. (each team would be expected to put on a two-minute skit before the race). A crew from WPLG-TV (Channel 10) arrived at Huizenga Plaza early on Saturday for a live broadcast, and race day commenced. The guys, who named their team "99 RED BULLoons" in a vague homage to the '80s song by Nena, arrived around 8 o'clock and sized up their competition.

They met Adam Haas and Ameer Malik, two friends from Miami who stood by a long, narrow wooden boat tiled with flattened-out Red Bull cans. "Maybe they'll give us extra points," remarked Ameer. They had a small boom box playing upbeat music, and they handed out cards to early visitors instructing them to vote for their team by text message in the People's Choice contest. They were already incredibly high-strung.

"We've had a few Red Bulls," said Adam. "Red Bull 37," laughed Ameer. "Hey, want to come see my dinghy?" said Adam, to anyone who might hear. "Hey, come check it out! Come look at my 12-foot dinghy! Vote for team 18! Club 18 right here!" Ameer, who had designed and built the boat with his grandfather, squirted a water gun.

When they got tired of shouting, Adam and Ameer went over to flirt with the only all-female team, a group of girls from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Amanda Rypkema, their team leader, explained the premise: "It's like, we just escaped from Gilligan's Island, you know?" Their boat was a piece of wood straddling three inflatable rings, painted brown and decked in leaves and hay. It did not look dependable.

In the adjacent space, the attitude was more serious. Three shirtless young men with minimal body fat posed around a sleek vessel made of duct tape stretched around bent steel tubing. Sam Risberg, Hayden Pollack, and Jordan Berke were engineering students at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and they all had the born-again appearance of incurable nerds who decided to start getting laid.

Hayden, short with rough hair, came forward with an energetic gleam in his eye. "I ran computer models for the whole thing and located the center of gravity," he explained. "I didn't factor in the tensile strength of the duct tape; that's one thing I didn't do..." He trailed off. "But this boat can hold 970 pounds without sinking!"

Brian Cattelle, sober for nearly a year, stood dressed like an alien by his carved-out styrofoam longboat, painted silver. His fidgety teammate, Tim Myers, was filming a public-access television segment for teens: "We didn't need to drink or use drugs. We had a heck of a good time. Don't do drugs, buy some Styrofoam, make a boat!" Their boat included an ad for SoBe Sober, a Miami nonprofit that discourages teen drinking; and another for Red Bull.

The brand was everywhere. The brand sat atop all other brands, daring them to appear. No outside food or drink was allowed. Freelance photographers hired by Red Bull took pictures with a mandate that every shot must include the logo (two bulls crashing heads atop an ever-shining sun). Water bottles bobbed up from coolers with a sticky ring where the label had been torn away. No other brands would compete in this contest.

It was time to start. The national anthem crackled over the speakers, and everyone looked up into the sun.

Once the event was under way, the teams posed by their boats for evaluation by "celebrity judges": Errington, fellow wakeboarder J.D. Robb, and Miami radio personality Ninalicia Osorio from Y100. A sweating MC circulated and joked crudely with the contestants, and the People's Choice text messages flooded in. Then it was time for the "showmanship" competition.

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My Voice Nation Help

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.


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.


the taste of alien candy?


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


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.