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Official Review by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Long Beach is a city that is quickly gaining attention for hosting alternative sporting events. Back on New Year’s Eve of 2009, Travis Pastrana jumped a rally car over the waters of Rainbow Harbor during a nationally televised event. Annually, it hosts the Grand Prix of Long Beach and National Powerboat races. Naturally, the sport of Flugtag, which has drawn crowds of over 100,000 fans in Australia, South Africa, and Europe would be a natural fit in America’s second largest market.
Red Bull Flugtag is not a particularly new sporting event, although many traditional sports fans are yet to embrace it. As Red Bull is an international organization, it uses the German word “Flugtag,” meaning airshow or flight day to describe its event.
Flugtag competitions date back to 1992, with Austria being the first country to host the event. Since then, over 35 international cities have hosted the event, with some (Long Beach) now honored to be a repeat host.
It doesn’t take world-class athletes to participate in the event, as anyone who submits an application with approval from Red Bull can “fly” their contraption. The requirements are simple enough, a five person, human-powered craft with a wingspan limited to 28 feet and weight under 400 pounds.
Even if a team’s contraption is a disaster in terms of flight distance, a team can win in the creativity and showmanship categories.
No overpaid athletes. Corporate sponsorship limited to a small box on each contraption. Free admission. No fans arguing over which is better. Outdoors. Competition and Humor. This is what sporting events should be.
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Not contained in an official "stadium," the food options are a bit subjective. Fans could not turn around without witnessing Red Bull products for sale, but other event-sanctioned stands seemed minimal.
The Dog Pound seemed to be the only non-permanent stand around the harbor. It offered different types of dogs ranging in price from $4 to $7. Ice cream was $3 and chips were offered at $2. Bottled water was $2 and Red Bull products ranged from $2 to $3.
Concessions specific to the event are certainly not necessary as there are well over 100 restaurants within a 10-minute walk of the launch point. Some restaurants offer patio views of the action (recommend fans get there as soon as it opens), others offer only an "audible view," and others still are simply removed from the crowd.
Days like these bring out Long Beach to its finest. As soon as 7am arrives, the parking garages are filling up and fans are eager to immerse themselves in the excitement.
As soon as noon arrives, the roar of the crowd comes alive. Depending on the love of the float, performance, and flight, the crowd will react with different levels of enthusiasm.
Many first time visitors will be surprised to see what the Long Beach harbor area offers. Depending on where a visitor spends their time in Long Beach, he or she can have a starkly different option.
In the downtown area, fans can take in the Aquarium of the Pacific or walk around the Rainbow Harbor and admire the lighthouse in Shoreline Park. One of the world's most famous ocean liners, the Queen Mary, is harbored in Long Beach and offers tours daily.
There is certainly no shortage of restaurants and nightlife near the harbor and on Ocean Avenue. One might say it's rather overwhelming to choose just one. On event day, there will be many peaks and valleys in the restaurants, at times not a seat to be had and plentiful during other periods.
Some of the popular eateries include Café Sevilla, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Beachwood BBQ & Brewery, Famous Dave's BBQ Pit, George's Greek Café, Island's Burgers, Outback Steakhouse, and Rockbottom. If fans are in search of drinks in the evening, some popular choices include Mai Tai Bar, Auld Dubliner, Tequila Jacks, and Congregation Ale House.
If fans are willing to take a short drive or cab ride, the Belmont Shore also offers many options in terms of shopping, restaurants, and bars.
Weeks leading up to the event saw advertising across all channels, showing that there was not a single demographic to enjoy the event.
During the race, fans of all genders, race, and age fill the harbor arena. Some are certainly cheering for friends or a hometown team, but 95% of the fans are just there for the entertainment and uniqueness of the event.
At an event like this, there are no deep-seated rivalries and most fans simply get along. It's a fun spectator sport to see everyone's reactions to the hilarious nature of the flights and all fans trying to get the best photo of the object in flight.
While London filled Hyde Park with a record crowd of 250,000 and Tampa holds the US record of 125,000, the Long Beach crowd was still able to draw 110,000 fans in 2013 on a day that USC and UCLA football were hosting home games.
Long Beach is accessible via the 405, 110, and 710 freeways. Just a short drive south from Los Angeles and less than two hours from many population centers in Southern California.
Throughout the harbor, fans will find a variety of temporary and portable toilets. The craftiest of fans can easily spot a less-busy restaurant and slip in and out of their restrooms quickly. It's best to go with a group of fans and plot out a restroom prior to settling down. This way, some peers can hold onto a spot while another uses the restroom.
Public transportation to the event is plentiful. The city has 38 bus routes that can get fans from Long Beach to the event with relatively inexpensive means. The Metrolink allows fans from Los Angeles and other surrounding areas to get to the event via the Blue Line.
Another interesting item for fans commuting to the event is Bikestation Long Beach. The first such location in the United States, it offers supervision of bikes for those who ride to the event, as well as rentals and repairs.
Parking is scattered throughout the city via lots and parking garages. Fans should expect to pay between $10 and $30 for a spot, depending on timing and proximity. It's likely best to find a spot on Ocean Avenue as it's not an overly long walk and avoids much of the congestion.
The best part of these events is that they are FREE to the public. Fans that get there early can have a front row seat with no admission cost! Even fans that get there late can get a great view with a little innovation.
Not tied to the concessions of a stadium, fans can peruse around and find a restaurant setting that fits their needs.
The free-flowing nature of the event allows the extras to be at the visitor's discretion.
Those who arrive early can see all of the flying contraptions up close and get photos with the team-members. There is also no shortage of local businesses offering freebies with fans putting some of their information on a piece of paper.
Red Bull leverages these events with some of their other athletes. Chuck Aaron may be one of the most world-famous with his aerial acrobatics in a HELICOPTER. For a good 20 minutes prior to the first flight, he entertained fans with maneuvers that seem impossible in a helicopter.
Many celebrities are spotted at these events. Carson Daly, David Hasselhoff, Adam Devine, and Blake Anderson were just a handful of the celebrity judges at the 2013 event.
Throughout the review I've already mentioned the Queen Mary, the Belmont Shore, the aquarium, and Shoreline Park as world-class attractions that visitors can also take in.
While the city of Long Beach will forever love its 49ers and Dirtbags, these other events are becoming part of the city's culture. As Long Beach continues its renaissance, look for more and more of these alternative sporting events to seek out Long Beach as its host.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew
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210 E 3rd St
Long Beach, CA 90802
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