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For 40 magical feet, Portland flugtag team has a shot at Red Bull trophy

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Portlands Muy Guapo Flyers flugtag team, dressed in Mexican wrestling masks, are ready to compete in the Red Bull Long Beach Flugtag event Saturday with their flying contraption - a bull. The team, from left, is Shon Boulden, Steve Santoro, Joshua Svaren and Scott Underwood. This is the third time the Muy Guapo Flyers have competed in a Red Bull Flugtag event. They are four wild and crazy guys, these Portland businessmen who like to dress up and run their crafts into the water while watching their pilot glide into the distance with wings.

Well, off in the distance meaning 30 feet or more in the daredevil sport of flugtag, which really has to be seen to be believed. It's a stunt, of course, sponsored by the energy drink company Red Bull, but it's an event that draws thousands of people to see what the smart and innovative and goofy participants have built to push and fly — sort of.

One of five such events on the same day around the country, the Red Bull Flugtag Long Beach, will be Saturday, Sept. 21, in Long Beach, Calif. (redbullflugtagusa.com). Portland’s team of Stephen Santoro, Scotty Underwood, Shon Boulden and Josh Svaren will be there in their lucha libre outfits — masked Mexican wrestlers.

"The Muy Guapo Flyers," or very handsome flyers, as they call themselves, will push a bull — yes, a craft shaped like a bull — off the Long Beach pier ramp then jump into the water, while 46-year-old pilot Garth Parker flies with a 28-foot wing and a tail rudder — yes, flies — hoping to beat 40 feet in flying distance in Rainbow Harbor.

The foursome and Parker, who lives in Los Angeles, have been flugtag favorites two other times, when Portland hosted events. In 2004, they won the "People's Choice Award," dressed as metalhead rock stars and pushed-and-flew their mullet craft — yes, mullet ("Hair Force One"). In 2008, they returned as tight-shorts-wearing basketball players and with their sneaker craft — yes, shaped like a sneaker ("Free Ballin' ") — and placed third, despite the craft flipping on takeoff, leaving it and Parker upside-down in the water. Both times the craft went nearly 40 feet.

Organizers are building seating for 125,000 spectators in Long Beach. Muy Guapo hopes to be the best-looking team with the best craft, and to be crowned champion.

"You get a chance to get on stage before 100,000 and perform for 60 seconds," says Santoro, 40, co-owner of Dante's and Star Theater. "Not too many people get to do that. It's a pretty good adrenaline rush."

Flopping into the water

Indeed, it's an adrenaline rush as the craft moves on the pier with the ramp within sight, and then the actual flying (gliding) takes place.

"No testing. It's one-and-done," says Boulden, who co-owns two adult clubs in the city, Devil's Point and Lucky Devil Lounge. "We've had a couple crotch slaps on the water; Josh got the wind knocked out of him when he did a front-flip off the ramp. Other than that, we're just slamming into the water.

"Everybody has to jump off the ramp, as we push the pilot into the (air/water). We're all going to be flying into the air like rag dolls. We have to practice rag-dolling ourselves. The more it hurts, the better it looks."

Parker has piloted the team’s crafts during two previous flugtag events. No feeling sorry for him. The four guys in Portland put in the time building the craft. Parker has to fly it.

"It's kind of like his punishment," Santoro says. "He's been banged up. But he's still kickin'."

It takes about 24 hours to construct a flugtag craft.

Says Boulden, 35: "It's such a great process. It starts with a simple idea, and we put in about a month or two of late-night meetings over beers, putting in a lot of thought and innovation and trouble-shooting.

"Once we come up with (the craft) and it's ready to go, it's pretty amazing. So much time and energy we put into it. To watch it crash into the water, from 30 feet in the air, it's kind of a sweet goodbye. But, it's worth it." (And, yes, for the environmentally concerned, organizers retrieve pilots, crafts and debris from water).

Excuse to show off

The guys built the craft at Oregon Blue Print, a billboard-making company in Southeast Portland owned by Underwood and his brother, Chris. It's a third-generation company; in other words, if the owner wants to take up time and space to build a flugtag craft and walk around in lucha libre ensemble, so be it.

Underwood, 42 and the design guy, says Muy Guapo has a good chance to bring home some trophies. Think about it: Long Beach, probably some Mexicans and/or Hispanics in the crowd, possibly some Jack Black (from "Nacho Libre") fans. They could be a fan favorite again.

"Every time we put the mask on, and cape and boots and (homemade) 'Speedos,' we get a positive response from everybody," Boulden says.

"It's not entirely family friendly," Underwood says of the Muy Guapo act, "but it's good enough.

"Being that we've done it before, (Red Bull) props us up, gives us PR. They like us. We're going to build a craft, show up on time, we're going to have a skit. We're going to entertain. The flying part is that extra bonus. I don't think we'd be disappointed if we didn't win."

The Muy Guapo fellows understand they're part of Red Bull's marketing. There were 12 Oregon teams that applied to be part of the Long Beach flugtag, and organizers quickly decided on the foursome as the Portland representative.

"I've come up with the concepts, and it's mostly just been ways for us to have fun and act goofy and entertain people," Santoro says. "We're 3 for 3. We've gotten accepted every time."

"We're all marketers. For Red Bull, it's guerrilla marketing," says Svaren, 34, a real estate agent and business partner in Boulden's adult bars, whose girlfriend made the guys' tights. "They put it on teams to self-promote. 'What are you doing? You're crazy!' And, we're saying, 'Red Bull, Red Bull, Red Bull!' I would guess we're ambassadors of Red Bull. We've done it so many times, been involved with them, we feel like we're family."

Boulden says the four friends enjoy planning and building their costumes and craft and then performing. They have grown closer over the past nine years.

"We ride motorcycles, surf, snowboard, go hiking," he says. "We're all good buddies, since the first flugtag. We do everything together now."

As far as Red Bull Flugtag Long Beach, Svaren adds, "we're expecting to get first place this time. I hope we go 45 or 50 feet."

All the while, their masks and costumes will certainly get attention.

Says Santoro: "We all love Mexican wrestling, and we needed an excuse to show off our amazing bodies."

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