Who was that flying leprechaun?
Loop North News

Chicago River

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava Who was that flying leprechaun?

Meet the guys behind the flyboard stunt at this year’s dyeing-of-the-river.

21-Mar-13 – Chicago’s annual tradition of dyeing the river green was thrown a curve ball this year, as a man on a water craft known as a “flyboard” appeared to soar about 15 feet over the water. While dodging the boats pumping an environmentally-friendly dye into the river, the man on the flyboard flew, hovered, waved to a crowd of thousands, and splashed water in the face of a tradition that had settled into a fun but predicable routine.

Chris Hagstrom is a 30-year-old Chicagoan who has trained to compete and perform professionally on the flyboard. He performed the March 16 stunt with the help of “Captain Hank,” a 52-year-old who is a licensed maritime captain but did not want his last name mentioned. Hank was on the Sea-Doo watercraft that was connected to Chris by a 50-foot hose. It was Hank’s idea to do the stunt with a flyboard he bought last year.

“I just thought it would be the greatest promotional stunt to have a flying leprechaun when they dyed the river green,” said Hank on Thursday. “We just did it because we thought it would be fun.”

“If you know the history…they always talk about the leprechauns coming to dye the river green. Well, this year the leprechauns showed up.”

The 130-horsepower Sea-Doo motor is also the pump that propels water out two nozzles on the flyboard. Explains Hank, “They basically remove the directional nozzle from the Sea-Doo and attach the specially made 180-degree pipe…and then the hose attaches to that.”

The flyboard operator changes direction by moving his feet and bending his knees like a skier. Hand-held nozzles help stabilize the craft. The flyboard’s speed is controlled from the small boat.

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

(Above) Chris Hagstrom performs on a flyboard, a watercraft powered by the small Sea-Doo at left. “Captain Hank” is at the helm of the Sea-Doo. Thousands of people lined both sides of the Chicago River on March 16 for the annual tradition of dyeing the river green. (Click on image to view larger version.)

Hank first had to get permission from the city and Chicago Journeymen Plumbers, Local 130, the AFL-CIO union that has organized the event since 1962. It was a plumber who inspired the annual tradition when he used green dye to locate and disconnect a waste pipe that was emptying into the Chicago River.

“It was a sanctioned flight,” says Hank. “That area where they dye…the Chicago police keeps everybody out of it because those boats are racing back and forth in order to mix the dye. People who are doing it are professionals.”

To protect him from 38-degree water, Chris wore an electric body warmer, wet suit, life jacket, and helmet under his leprechaun costume.

“For the length of time we were in it, if we weren’t properly prepared, it would have been a huge emergency. You can’t stay in that water for any length of time unless you’re equipped.”

Flyboard rides coming soon to the playpen

If you are not racing down a river in late winter like the watercraft version of a BMX racer, Hank says the sport is safe and “not as hard as people think it is.” He plans to offer lessons and time on the flyboard this summer in the area on the north side of Navy Pier that boaters call “the playpen.”

“If you can ride a bicycle, you can ride the ‘board. But it’s just like a bicycle; you don’t start off climbing hills on a bicycle. It’s all core balance and muscle memory and that means you learn by making small mistakes and progress.”

He says within 20 minutes, most people can get up on the flyboard and turn left and right. By their third time, “they’re doing S-turns and 360s.”

“I have flown a 63-year-old man. He had the time of his life. I’ve flown a 300-pound guy.”

Photo by Steven Dahlman

French Jet Ski champion Franky Zapata developed the flyboard in 2011 and sells it for about $6,700. “It’s a lot like being Iron Man,” Chris Hagstrom told Crain’s Chicago Business last year, referring to the fictional flying superhero. “Every kid dreamed of flying and now you’re doing it.”

Captain Hank says he is working on arranging more flyboard performances in Chicago this year.

(Left) Seen from the 16th floor terrace of Trump International Hotel & Tower, three Wendella boats float on a very green Chicago River last Saturday morning. As light rain turned to light snow, the smaller boat at right poured an environmentally-friendly dye into the Chicago River that turned it bright green, a tradition in Chicago since 1962. (Photo by Steven Dahlman.)

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

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