Along for the ride 

Even before the elite runners blitzed the starting line at Market and Beale streets at 8 a.m. Sunday, the after party for the 99th ING Bay to Breakers already started.

Every costume and color imaginable — including the iconic hot-pink ape and the storming Elvises — reveled in the Financial District before noon Sunday. And among them was another component intrinsic to the annual footrace: the floats.

“It’s Bay to Breakers. You just have to do it right. You have to go all out,” said Nick Baross, whose music-thumping pirate ship was first in the line of about 20 floats waiting to join the race at the Civic Center. “We’ve been here since 6 a.m. and we’re ready to roll.”

Frank Winton, 37, was joined by a string of fraternity brothers, mostly alumni from UC Berkeley, who were wearing green “police” shirts, ponchos and fake mustaches, and called each other nicknames such as “Chief Teddy Kelly.”

“One year, we were throwing out flour like it was anthrax, and last year we were swine flu. When I first started, I just had two bikes and a boombox, and now the crew’s grown to like 60 people,” Winton said. “Every year, I say it’s going to be my last, but I always come back.”

But not all the floats stayed upright. Several within the first hour — or first mile — got sidetracked with flat tires or fully collapsed because too any people tried to pile on.

A jungle-themed float was surrounded by about 40 zebras, cheetahs and tigers, and was forced to pull into the San Francisco Fire Department to refill its air. However, immediately after, the tire let out a distinct “pop.”

“Everyone just carry what you can!” said a laughing Mario Ruiz, 31, who was wearing the headdress of a panda. “I can’t believe it. We’re only one-tenth of the way in.”

Just feet ahead was a downed all-American float — with red, white and blue paint and costumes to match — that was flipped sideways while the floaters used a power drill to reassemble the tires.

Winton, however, might have used the opportunity to call a flat tire a rookie mistake. 

“Every year, I use the same set of wheels and it’s never failed me,” Winton said. “I know I already said I wouldn’t, but I’ll probably be back next year.”

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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Kamala Kelkar

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