'Phanatic' Flugtag team flies again

The New Kids on the Dock say they're ready to take the 2012 Philadelphia Red Bull Flugtag by storm with their "nautical boy-band swagger." (Handout photo)

**UPDATE (Sep. 15): The New Kids on the Dock have been crowned the winners of the 2012 Philadelphia Red Bull Flugtag, flying 45 feet before hitting the water.**


Adam Denard has a dream (stop me if you’ve heard this one before): a 20-foot lobster soars through the air, only to make a crash landing in the Delaware River.

Meanwhile, on the ground, five sailors pop and lock in perfect timing in front of throngs of screaming, caffeine-crazed fans.

“I’m thinking ‘Run-DMC-meets-Beastie Boys,’ but with a whole lot of  nautical boy-band swagger,” Denard said. “I have a feeling the ladies are going to get hyped.”

The strangest part of this scenario is that it will actually happen Saturday. Denard and four of his friends will assume their alter egos as the “New Kids on the Dock,” one of 35 teams competing in the second Philadelphia Red Bull Flugtag, an event in which contestants launch homemade crafts from a 30-foot pier on the Camden Waterfront, on Saturday from 1- 3:30 p.m.

Contestants seek to fly the farthest before crashing during Flugtag ("flying day" in German), which puts more emphasis on showmanship and style than actual skill. But for Denard—who will be piloting the aforementioned “Dock Lobster” after the team busts out its dance moves on Saturday—there’s a little more on the line: redemption.

“We left last time feeling that we’d had our thunder stolen,” Denard said. “This is a fun event at heart, but we want to make sure that this time around we get the recognition we deserve after putting in so much time.”

Two years ago , Denard and his crew entered the inaugural Philly Flugtag (Red Bull held only European flugtags in 2011) with a craft shaped like the Philly Phanatic, a decision they felt was a fitting tribute to the city.

“We wanted to avoid the obvious, like a cheeseteak,” he said. “We figured that the Phanatic was an icon, but we found out the hard way that it’s more of a logo.”

In the months leading up to the event, Denard and his team created a social media blitz, posting a blog and Facebook page with updates on the craft’s building progress. The marketing campaign earned the team a guest slot on the 93.3 WMMR’s Preston and Steve show, as well as an appearance on the cover of the Philadelphia Metro.

It also earned them a cease and desist letter from Major League Baseball, who threatened the team with litigation if they didn’t remove their references to a copyrighted character.

“An organization can’t go around and use our marks without permission,” said Matt Bourne, a spokesperson for MLB. “We didn’t know anything about the event or its level of safety, and didn’t want the impression that the Phillies were a part of it if, God forbid, someone had gotten hurt.”

So, two days before they were set to fly, the team beheaded their Phanatic and took off in a heavily censored aircraft, their pre-flight skit (a tradition among contestants) improvised and met with a lukewarm crowd reception.

“When you put 250 man hours into something, you can’t let it die,” said Bryan Reese, the team’s de facto captain. “We know what everyone is looking for now, and we’re going to go out there and do it again with more energy.”

Reese said that this year’s effort is all about collaboration, starting with the team’s theme, which was the product of many late-night brainstorming sessions. The workload is spread between the five friends, with each playing to his strengths: Denard, a graphic artist, sketched and designed the craft; handyman Tim Muir built the frame; Reese and teammates Dan White and Jon Notte handled promotions and marketing.

“We’re hitting the social media pretty hard again this year,” Reese said. “We’re just trying to get as many people we can involved in this one-of-a-kind experience.”

Through events like a 100-person water balloon fight, the team has raised funds and gathered big-name sponsors, like I. Goldberg Army & Navy surplus store, which provided costumes, and Loonstyn Roofing & Contracting in Fairmount, which donated warehouse space for the team to build their lobster-shaped craft, a monstrous vehicle made out of PVC piping and cardboard.

But for all of their bluster, their mock-serious, anti-MLB banter, the team admits that the Flugtag is just another way for them to hang out and escape from the doldrums of their daily routines.

“It becomes an obligation, but at the same time, what better obligation is there then putzin’ around with friends and laughing while building a giant, flying lobster?” said Dan White, who works as a computer programmer by day.

“It’s hectic, but it’s definitely really fun,” he said. “It’s not just us five, but all of our friends, and it really brings us all together.  Everyone has a great time with it.”