Almost everyone at one point in their lives has wished they could fly. This is the fantasy that the Bognor Birdman of England has made an annual event out of. Every year, competitors in their flying costumes with flying contraptions attached go to the coastal resort town of Bognor Regis in West Sussex to attempt flying the longest distance. While it is a competition involving prize money, most participants mainly go for the thrill of the challenge and to entertain thousands of spectators.
The first Birdman event was held in 1971 in neighboring Selsey, based on the idea of a local resident named George Abel. This Birdman Rally, organized by the RAFA Club of Selsey as a fund raising activity, initially offered ?3,000 for the top winner who could fly out to sea 50 yards (around 46 meters) off the Selsey Lifeboat Station walkway. In 1974, a contestant named David Cook almost took the prize with a 44-meter flight, beating other fairly legendary competitors called “Mary Poppins,” “Peter Pan” and the man called “Naked John.”
The Birdman Rally quickly gained popularity and steadily drew larger crowds each year since its inception, but the poor roads and transportation, as well as the insufficient emergency services in Selsey inevitably became a problem for the event that it was discontinued after 1975. No birdman flew for the next two years.
In 1978, the Lions Club of Bognor Regis, after the request of the Commodore of the Bognor Regis Yacht Club, thought of hosting their own Birdman Rally as a special event for their Regatta Week. Since the original Birdman idea belonged to the RAFA Club, it was negotiated that the event would be co-organized with the Bognor Regis chapter of RAFA. The first Bognor Birdman was launched on August 20, 1978 with a £1000 prize for anyone who could successfully glide over 50 meters.
Because of its immediate success, the event became international just the following year with triple the prize money. Aside from attracting participants outside of England, the Bognor Birdman also gets significant media attention and different sponsors. The event raises considerable funds each year for various charities and causes.
The Bognor Birdman is really more of a fun show more than a serious sporting event. Participants come in all sorts of costumes … Batman, Superman, Dracula, aliens, and giant birds. Those who take the competition a little more seriously come equipped with their hang gliders, perhaps for a better shot at the prize money, which is now at a worthwhile £25,000 for the birdman who can fly more than 100 meters. Most attempts usually end up with a crash into the sea, which is really a big part of the entertainment. The record for the longest flight of 89.2 meters currently belongs to Englishman Dave Bradshaw, and is still unbroken since 1992.
In 2008 and 2009 the event was cancelled in Bognor Regis due to the destruction of the pier by fire and the associated safety risks but Worthing took over as the host venue. In 2010 the event returned home to Bognor.
The Bognor Birdman is an annual event usually hosted in the month of July. Anyone can watch the event for free. You can learn more from the official Bognor Birdman website.