Birdman soars to meet new challenge

By Frances Morton
Skyte the Clown has thrown himself into Tauranga Harbour aboard toilets, couches and homemade warplanes and now he is throwing down the gauntlet to anyone who can challenge his Birdman crown on Sunday.
The reigning champion and seven-year veteran of the annual competition has taken out top prize three times in its 10-year history.
This year Tauranga's professional clown, who also goes by the name Stu Thompson, will be spending Saturday night preparing a new and improved flying machine dubbed the Throw a Party Paddy Wagon. Coincidentally, this is his wife's birthday.
"It's a bit of an addiction for me," he admitted to the Bay of Plenty Times this week.
When entrants in the More FM Birdman leap off Salisbury Wharf at Pilot Bay in awe-inspiring home-invented flying machines at midday on Sunday, there is more than just fame and glory on offer.
They will be vying for thousands of dollars in prize money, a simulator flight package from Flight Experience and a real flight training package for three people from Bay Flight International.
The competition is divided into three categories - most creative winged craft, most creative non-winged craft and longest flight.
Mr Thompson always aims for the category with the biggest prize - the most creative winged craft.
"For me it's always been about being creative because as a clown you have to do something wacky that appeals to someone's sense of humour," he said.
The event is free to watch and free to enter.
Kristin Richards, operations manager at Radioworks, said it was a great chance to "jump off the wharf and do something zany".
More FM have improved the sound system at the beach this year to keep the thousands of spectators expected updated as the competition progresses.
"Every year we improve on the year before and every year we are amazed at the calibre of the entries," said Mrs Richards.
The flight record to beat is a modest 11m.

"We haven't ever had anything take off and not come back," laughed Mrs Richards.
"Hopefully the wind will be good for us because we don't want people flying back and hitting the wharf," she added.
According to Mr Thompson, the perfect conditions for the Birdman are "low to no wind and high tide - otherwise it is a very big drop to the water."
"The odd pig flying around is quite helpful as well and we've got to make sure there are a few idiots," he chuckled.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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