Belly Smacker

I'll publish a longer post here in a couple days hitting the highlights from the Xmas Cruise that Nena and I took down in the Bahamas and Florida, but today I'm providing an appetizer devoted entirely to the Belly Flop competition that I entered, on Xmas Day itself.

I wasn't planning on participating in this high-stakes, high-profile event - I didn't even know of it until the day of - but the shore excursion we had scheduled for that day was canceled due to winds or waves or pirates, or something nautical. When I saw "Belly Flop Competition" upon reviewing the schedule, I knew I had to be a part of it.

I have a long history of making ungainly entrances into water, dating far back into my youth where I spent many a summer day at our neighborhood pool finding ways to imperil myself through aerial hijinks that ended in unceremonious collisions with the water's surface. I even invented a game called "Injure Yourself" where the objective was exactly as the title suggested: one would take a big running leap into the water and try to land in the most painful position possible for the amusement of the other players. We also spent considerable time trying to score the flattest, most killer belly- and back-smackers, simply because it's absolutely hilarious to hear that "crack!" of a well-executed smacker and knowing how much it stings the brave fellow who pulled it off. A red torso is a badge of honor for a teenage boy. I still have a vivid memory of a gentleman named Todd hitting what remains, to this day, the best belly smacker I've ever seen. I haven't seen him in many years but I actually just googled him and wrote him an email to say hi and talk about this particular incident.

In short, I felt very well-qualified to participate in this event.

The host, a genial fellow named Mauricio, announced the competition, and he and his scorekeeping colleague went in search of five participants. I was the second to volunteer. I looked on the sheet and saw that a fellow named Kevin had signed up and that in the "From" column the woman had written "Miami." I gave her my name and she asked where I was from, and I answered, "Cleveland." She sort of snottily said, "state?", to which: 1) you should know what state Cleveland is in, and 2) Miami isn't a state.

Anyway, they rounded up two more Americans, one from Wisconsin and another from I forget where, and went in search of a fifth player. What they found was: Norberto. You can see this gentleman at the far right in the photo below. I didn't hear him speak a word, but he had a ton of charisma about him, plus a body shape extremely conducive to what we were about to do. He was an early crowd favorite.

Mauricio gave the competitors the lowdown and then announced the rules of the game to the observers, of which there were really quite a lot, hundreds of them. The first round was not to count officially - it was to give the competitors a chance to work the crowd and "get used to the water," as he put it. The second round was the flop that would actually be scored. The video below shows my work in Round 1.

I didn't have a great strategy for getting the crowd on my side, and I was moderately concerned that they wouldn't take too seriously the skinniest guy in the group, especially with Norberto lurking. The organizers also rigged the order of participants, sticking me with the leadoff spot and giving Norberto the anchor spot. It's almost as if the integrity of this important competition was compromised!

While Mauricio was still delivering his whole spiel to the audience, I jumped off my bench and snuck up on him like I was going to push him in. This got a decent laugh from the crowd - I thought maybe joking around would help my chances. When called, I went with a sumo-style entrance to the strains of MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," complete with some unnecessary self-watering and elaborate stretching. I think I did a pretty solid job with this flop, hitting the water pretty flat. It certainly stung a bit. I also discovered that the ship's pools were salt water and not fresh water, which was a bit of a surprise at the time but seems utterly logical in hindsight. Anyway, not a bad start, I'd say.

After that, Mauricio made the BIG SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT for Round 2, something that the competitors already knew: this time we were jumping off of a wooden platform! Nice. It was maybe 3 feet high, nothing big - the pool itself was only 5 feet deep. This time I got to walk up to "Blurred Lines," a marked improvement in song selection. I thought I'd work in a cartwheel before approaching the podium - despite Mauricio's insistence that I work the crowd more, I thought I had done enough. Here's the big dive:

I popped out of the water feet-first and returned to the bench to learn my fate. Mauricio had explained at length that only a truly great smacker should be granted a "5", and I ended up with a mix of mostly 3's and 4's, with a handful of 2's thrown in there. I would have given myself a 3.5 or 4.0 - not a perfect flop, but pretty good, I thought. I spotted one adolescent girl nearby holding up a "2" as Mauricio tallied them up, and I looked right at her, held up two fingers, and yelled, "a two, are you kidding me?" Yet she held firm with her unspeakably horrible evaluation. Hey honey, I'd like to see you try it sometime. After a very scientific deliberation, I was awarded a 2.399 from the judges. Yes, you read that right. I demanded a recount but was denied. Robbed!

The next fellow was a 200-pounder (red Santa shirt in the above photo, 2nd from right), about my age, from somewhere in the USA. He put his kid on his shoulders to start, winning some crowd support (bah), then tried an ankle-grabbing jump that was good, but that he really didn't land particularly flat (flatly? Is that an adverb?). Much to my disappointment, the crowd rated him a bit higher than me, awarding mostly 4's (including a mind-boggling one from that poor, misguided youth who shafted me with a 2) and the official scorer granted him a 3.106. I maintain to this day that I should have defeated him, but he was a nice guy, and this wasn't exactly the Olympics.

Next up was Wayne, the long-haired 'Sconnie you see in the center of the group. Poor Wayne tried, but his angle was off slightly, and his feet hit well before the rest of his body. There was an audible, horrified, gasp from the crowd, as if he'd done something truly unpardonable. Wayne scored a 1.9999 for his troubles.

Fourth was Kevin, the Miami Florida resident sitting to my left in the original photo. He tried a bit of a gimmick where his son came out and they dramatically turned the wood platform on its side to make it taller. Mauricio was having none of this, and I don't blame him - not just because it wasn't really fair to the rest of us, but because that thing wasn't the most stable jumping surface in the world even in its proper configuration. Chastened, Kevin attempted an ankle grab flop, but pitched himself way too far forward and ended up doing a comical sailor dive. He told me he knew he was angled wrong as soon as he launched himself, but just couldn't stop his rotation. Someone gave him a negative 3. He got a 2.1 or something like that, out to 4 decimal places of course.

And then there was one contestant remaining: the big Argentinian, Norberto. Now, this cat already had a ton of cred with the audience, just with that look he had about him. Dude knew how to play to the crowd. He sauntered up to the platform, dancing and hamming it up, all with this deadpan look on his face. Everyone wanted a great flop out of this guy ... he simply had to execute.

And did he ever. Absolutely perfect. I was out of my seat as soon as he thudded into the water's surface, both hands extended high with 5's showing. Literally every person in the crowd gave him a 5. Just a terrific finish. That one joins Todd's epic water slam in my memory banks, that's for sure. Norberto deserved that Royal Caribbean gold medal to go with his giant gold chain. My bronze RC logo now hangs proudly on my wall o' medals with the other participation medals and 3rd-out-of-three age group placings I display proudly.

Just for fun, here's my iconic still frame shot from mid-air. It's actually quite a cool sports photo, with the three decks of people crowded around, their gazes all frozen in time as I float through mid-air. Frankly, it's amazing how much people actually paid attention to this thing - when I looked up before jumping, everyone was focused in. People don't pay attention to things anymore, so this was kind of impressive.

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