The world may never know if a 10-foot high-heeled shoe can fly after all.
The Red Bull Flugtag scheduled for Saturday at North Avenue Beach was canceled because of "unsafe marine conditions," event organizers said.
The 11th-hour grounding of the 28 handcrafted flying machines meant that Team Hell on Heels, made up of a group of bartenders from Boystown pub Roscoe's, drowned their sorrows in drinks at their bar rather than glide their giant heel into Lake Michigan.
"Obviously it was very sad," said Brenden Chrisman, 31, of Boystown. "We really wanted to be out there. But it was a bad situation, and safety obviously is the most important thing."
Meanwhile, the team captain of the Chicago-based Carp E Diem squad saw irony in the idea that their 18-foot-long Asian carp craft, based on an fish deemed damaging to the local ecosystem, didn't make it into the lake.
"I guess it was kind of poetic justice that our fish never got to swim," said Brittyn Vollmar, 27, of the West Loop.
After the cancellation, Red Bull gave teams the choice of $1,000 or automatic entry into the next Red Bull Flugtag Chicago event, which has not yet been announced. Both Carp E Diem and Hell Over Heels opted for the money.
"We just decided to take it to recuperate our losses from the money we spent on the materials and everything," said Vollmar, who said the team would "likely" come up with a new idea for the next Chicago Flugtag.
A spate of inclement weather hit a large portion of the northeastern U.S. early Saturday morning, and Chicago's share of the mess was a storm that created abnormally large waves in Lake Michigan (some were measured between 4 to 6 feet high). Between the riptide currents and a low lake depth due to the drought, conditions were deemed unsafe for Flugtag participants and the water recovery team, according to Red Bull spokesperson Jennifer Belongia-Barak. Event organizers informed the teams early Saturday of the cancellation as they prepared for the scheduled 1 p.m. first flight.
"We weren't that surprised," Chrisman said. "When we got there at 6 a.m. (our glider) had got some wind damage, and we were literally holding her down because of the wind. She really wanted to fly."
For Carp E Diem, the cancellation was just the cap on a weekend full of mishaps.
Vollmer and fellow team member Matt Czarny, 26, of the West Loop had been busy putting the finishing touches on their project Friday when the flying fish's head fell off and crashed to the ground, smashing the bottom lip.
"We were like 'Oh my god!' and had to work until like 2 or 3 in the morning fixing it and spray-painting it," Vollmar said.
Then, after managing to transport it safely to the event's site on the beach, Vollmar said she "almost had a heart attack" when she got a phone call that the storm had completely flipped the craft onto its back.
"Everyone thought it was destroyed and that we were done," Vollmar said. "But it turns out the only thing was damaged was the right eye. We were still going to be OK to deliver a Flugtag no matter what."
While many teams opted to scrap their crafts, Hell Over Heels team opted to dissemble theirs and display the high heel at Roscoe's as "a memorial to the flying machine," Chrisman said.
Now the team members are busy brainstorming their next competition.
"We had so much fun in the process of this, we've been texting each other asking 'what's next?'" Chrisman said. "It was a real bonding experience making this thing."
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
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