We sent zogdo senior video correspondent and garden coach Genevieve Schmidt to the 2009 Kinetic Sculpture Race (Humboldt, California) and caught the above footage of the race. Humboldt County hosts this race every Memorial Day weekend, and it draws quite a crowd of bizarrely dressed spectators. Many of them dress like this on daily basis. The star of the show for the second year running is the dragon built by Duane Flatmo out of hubcaps and similar materials. This year it has a fiery new trick, and it’s a real crowd pleaser.
I had the pleasure of helping to make some of these possible, mostly by machining various gears and other parts. This is one of those races where if you are entering to win, you’ve already lost. Corruption and bizarre rules are built into the race so deeply that it seems clear they are there to prove the point that this race is about the journey and the fun, rather than the finish line.
I’ve been to at least a dozen of these races now, and the quality of the entries and the size of the crowd varies wildly. I’d say the best one I went to was about four years ago, back when Yakima was still a leading competitor.They were connected with sculptures like an early variation of the Hippypotamus, which this year came complete with sage smoke billowing out of its nostrils. In the past couple of years, the race has vastly increased in notoriety, making the front page of Digg last year, and the front page of CNN two days before the race began this year.
Some of the new arrivals this year included The Octomom, complete with eight tentacles for grasping her young.
I hadn’t seen this beetle (firefly?) before, but I didn’t catch its name.
The symbol of the race is the Kinetic Chicken, personified in this sculpture that arrived with great fanfare last year. It came into the race at the last minute with a huge entourage of chicken headed cyclists, towering over the crowd in chromed glory.
Also new was this skunk.
Quite a crowd of people follow the race on bicycles and skateboards, and give quite a representation of local color, like this dog, and this protester with a noble message about personal responsibility and smog reduction.
I’ll end here for now with a giant angler fish, a closeup of the dragon head, and a great show of Flatmo helping Twinkle light their star.
Update: Dead Man’s Drop and the dunes
All of the more interesting sculptures managed to make it to the sand dunes this year.
Dead Man’s Drop is a steep section off the back of a sand dune leading to a small trail through the trees. The dragon made it down safely, unlike Big Top (red and white in the right corner of the picture) . A note to anyone considering purchasing a Flip Video Recorder: they have a nasty habit of suddenly dead batteries, which loses the enitre currently recording section of footage, however long it may be. It cost us a great film from right below big top as it rolled down the hill.
The spashdown in the bay:
We arrived at the bay to an icy windy day, spectators shivering in their down coats, while Zog, true to form showed up in a T-shirt.
This guy in the parking lot had his dog jumping through a bicycle tire ad nauseum; why? because he could I suppose. I have a cat that will retrieve thrown asparagus, but you don’t see me bringing him to perform at events.
The bay crossing portion of the race takes place with the racers going down a ramp into the 50°F waters of Humboldt Bay, many of them submerged to the knees in barely seaworthy craft. The most notable difficulty I saw this year was this giant picnic basket. As soon as it hit the water, we could hear loud cracking noises as something went horribly wrong inside. The side panel of the float (using the term loosely) was meant to open up as their escape hatch, but it was obstructed by the dock. Everything turned out ok, but I doubt they made it upwind with such poor aerodynamics and some obvious structural issues.
While it is more mechanically interesting than truly sculptural, I’ve been quite impressed with Twinkle (formerly The Patriot Act). They’ve had some time to perfect things, and what they have ended up with is a machine that made the race over land and sea both look effortless. I didn’t spot them in the dunes, so I don’t know how it fared in sand, but the back wheel is used for steering on land and as a rudder at sea, and those big wheels with the paddles on the sides really worked great.
The Flatmo Dragon took to the water like a swan. A terrible fire breathing swan of DOOM! A great improvemnt over last year making the headlines worldwide after capsizing. This has truly become a remarkable machine that would draw crowds in any event on the planet.
I’ll likely more or less end this post here for the season, but if you were in the race or would like to see more of a particular entry, I do have a lot more photos. Feel free to comment below.