ST. PETERSBURG — From the grassy peninsula's far north end, Scott Hines surveyed the field of battle.
Hines is 24. Short and sinewy and sharp-jawed. He was shirtless but armored. He wore pink board shorts and a bandana adorned with Marvel comic book characters. His satiny red cape fluttered in the wind.
Bubbles seeped from a muddy pit in front of him. Hines knelt down and dipped his hand into the sludge. He pressed a palm and five fingers onto his face.
"Braveheart," he explained.
Saturday kicked off St. Petersburg's annual Extreme Mud Wars at Spa Beach Park. This year, 96 teams paid about $300 each to compete in eight challenges, including football, jousting and tug-of-war. All in mud.
Each competition had its own arena. These were not mere backyard, water-hosed sandboxes. Event staff took nearly a week to set up, hauling in 5,000 sandbags and 80 tons of soil. Eight firehoses spewing gallons of water converted the dirt into a spectacular mess.
Mud Wars is, in reality, an excuse for adults to behave like 12-year-olds without fear of (much) embarrassment.
Competition is their justification. Light beer is their fuel.
The two-day event, which has more than tripled in size over the last three years, raises money for the Pier Aquarium, Hands4Hope and St. Petersburg's Teen Arts, Sports and Cultural Opportunities program. Organizers expect to bring in nearly $20,000 this year.
Hines was competing for a third time, placing in the top five twice before. His team, Chicks and Sticks 2, comprised about 10 men and women who mostly knew each other through Tampa city-league soccer.
Neither Chicks and Sticks 1 nor Chicks and Sticks 3 were as well dressed as Hines' crew.
Their bandanas were cut from a child's bed sheet. Nicknames were written in marker onto each of their capes, bought at Target for $2 each. Inspired by a pro wrestler friend, Hines was dubbed "the Big Delicious."
In the first event, an obstacle course, the team climbed, crawled and tire-hopped to a respectable time of 2 minutes, 54 seconds. They exchanged messy high fives and butt slaps.
The "Foam Arena" came next. It resembled a giant playpen carpeted in mud and, of course, foam. A net split its two sides. The game was broken into three 30-second rounds. When time expired, the team with the least number of beach balls on its side won.
Chicks and Sticks 2 strategized. Hines noted wind direction. Someone recommended forming a zone. One guy suggested his wife distract the opposition by removing her top.
When the game began, strategy was abandoned. They lost all three rounds. The team trudged to a nearby firehose and washed off the grime of defeat.
After a few re-energizing cups of beer, they faced "the Eliminator," Mud Wars' most arduous challenge. It's the human version of "Hungry Hungry Hippos." Run out, get a ball, bring it back.
Twenty minutes later, Alyssa "Nibbles" Powers grabbed a ball as time expired. Chicks and Sticks 2 tied for first and crept back up the leader board.
"Hope," Matt Adams declared, "is alive."
Time for more beer.
Times photographer Melissa Lyttle contributed to this report. Contact John Woodrow Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.