One day, while biking to work, Jessica Findley noticed her jacket flapping in the wind. She was working on a project with inflatables at New York University at the time and conceived the idea of a group of bikers wearing inflatable costumes. She mentioned her idea to a friend, but soon forgot all about it.
Following the September 11th attacks when Findley was “not in a good place,” her friend called and encouraged her to pursue the idea.
“It turned a switch,” Findley said.
She spent her own money to make the 50 inflatable costumes and organized the first Aeolian ride in New York, which began on the Upper West Side and ended in Brooklyn, to “change the chi.”
“People get to show up with their bikes and helmets and become part of an art project,” she said.
She experimented a lot and decided to use big, fun “roundy” shapes, which are visible from a distance. She came up with three main costume shapes — the teardrop, the bunny and the bubble.
A lot of people request the bunny, but the shapes are abstract so that the rider doesn’t have to identify with them, she said. All the costumes are reused, and the children’s costumes are made of recycled parachutes.
“I wanted to create something that needed people to exist,” Findley said. “Inspiring play is the whole idea. We learn a lot from just playing around.”
Each costume inflates while the rider is moving — holding best when the person is riding a bike, but people have also used roller skates, skateboards, or even just slid down banisters.
“It makes people feel like other things are possible, even if they’re silly,” Findley said. “At the rides people are laughing and smiling at each other. The people watching are confused, but happy.”
Since the first ride in 2004, Findley has traveled around the world and hosted 30 rides in 20 different cities, including Lisbon, Tokyo and San Francisco. Findley receives grants and local support for each ride.
“I’m always surprised to see what sort of bicycle community exists in each place,” Findley said.
Her mother led the most recent ride, through Hong Kong. Her father brought up the rear, while her brother photographed the event. Findley was dismayed when she was unable to secure permits to have the ride go through the major streets and iconic neighborhoods, and had to route participants through an area known as the New Territory. However, she ended up discovering a beautiful bike trail and taking the ride through a natural setting.
“It was great; it had the effect of expanding my horizon in a place I’d already spent a lot of time,” Findley said.
The first Rockaway waterfront ride was last summer, before Hurricane Sandy, but the next ride, which will be on May 18, will be different, according to Findley, who has spent time surfing in the Rockaways, volunteered after Sandy and then moved there.
“This is needed more now than the first ride,” Findley said. “That kind of spirit with rebuilding and keeping things interesting and creative is a big part of healing. We want more of that.”
The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is organizing the ride, which will be free to all participants. Anyone can sign up online through EventBrite.
Findley is interested in partnering with nonprofits and finding ways to use the Aeolian rides to support charities.
“In the beginning, my big fear was no one would want to do it,” Findley said. “There are always things out there that you might think no one wants to do, but people do want to do them.”
Findley supports herself through her design work. She founded Sonic Ribbon in 2000, a creative design and illustration service.
Some of her other projects include stereo masks, which are paintings that change when you look through them by putting your face into a mask, as well as a photo booth camera that shoots portraits looking through a prism.
When: Saturday, May 18, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Firehouse 59, 58-03 Rockaway Beach Blvd.
Tickets: Free, aeolianrockawayparade.eventbrite.com