I post this image of some guys working a Banshee Bungee at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach, Florida, not so much because it is a fun photo, but because of what a stranger came up to me on the beach and said after I took it. He joked, “Most folks would think it is pretty crazy to launch yourself in to the air on a skim board with a bungee cord, but I want to shake the guy’s hand who decided it was safe enough to get in their way and take some photos.” Ha! I turned 36 this weekend. Guess I still haven’t learned.
The basic premise of Gasparilla is really quite simple. Close off two adjoining streets, parade a bunch of pirates down one of them, and invite people to come out and party on the other one. Sounds easy enough, but the reality is Gasparilla is a logistical bear that Tampa Bay has been trying to perfect for more than 100 years.
The big invasion can attract upwards of 350,000 people, and they don’t come to sit idly by. Nope, they come to party and parade their own versions of pirate garb to fellow marauding mateys, while collecting as many Mardi Gras beads as possible. Some residents, especially along the parade route, feel that Gasparilla is out of control. Having witnessed 3 such events I can hardly blame them for their concerns. The amount of trash that ends up on the streets and in the waters of Tampa Bay is staggering – the noise is deafening -there are inevitably fights and arrests – and you can be sure it attracts Tampa’s best and brightest. All of this has most self-respecting retirees fleeing for more sheltered pastures. But when I put my branding and marketing hat on I see it as a tradition the city can’t afford to quit.
Many cities struggle to define themselves. You’ll often see destinations go through rebranding exercises every time there is a new head of marketing because no one can truly agree on what best communicates the location. Tampa, on the other hand, is steeped in pirate lore and will always be closely tied to the many bays, rivers, and estuaries that served as hiding places for these buccaneers who now, by the way, can play a mean game of football. People love events that are done well, and it is clear Gasparilla has found the sweet spot.
The annual economic impact of Gasparilla is said to be $46 million annually. In an economy where people are struggling to put food on the table, that’s some much needed change. To alleviate some past transgressions, this year an additional 100 police officers and many more port-o-pottys were added to the parade route. Both were a welcome addition. The strategy of moving people downtown to the music stages was also a wise improvement.
All in all it was a fun time, and I certainly enjoyed capturing a bit of the revelry. The rain kept some people away, but for the most part it went unfelt. A few days later it appears concerned residents have returned to their soft, cozy homes, the streets are clean, parade floats have been put up, and some where a poor turtle is swimming along with a string of beads stuck in its throat, gasping for the next Gasparilla.
If you ever feel like what you’re doing won’t last or be remembered, think about a chalk artist. These folks spent 2 days working on their masterpieces, not for money, but because they love doing it. The key is to blend both. I think the top guy in the picture within the picture is trying to figure that out.
When I moved to Tampa, Florida someone told me there were occasionally waves big enough to surf in the Gulf. I figured I’d believe them when I saw proof. Moving from California and the Left Coast, one gets a slightly different idea of what constitutes a ride-able wave. But lo and behold, one day it puffed and puffed and blew in some slop I squinted real hard at until I convinced myself to paddle out.
Finally, in September of last year Hurricane Ike came through, and I really did get to experience good waves on the Gulf Coast (GC). But other than that, and some more squinting, it has been a lot of trips back and forth to Cocoa Beach and further south to Sebastian Inlet.
The angst builds in GC surfers in the Fall. The promise of hurricanes has every one on edge, hoping for some deviation in the otherwise flat landscape. When Hurricane Ida began to blossom, so did our hopes for good surfing. Unfortunately, it turned out to be overhyped and undersized. But seeing as how I am a GC surfer now, well, it was swell worth riding nonetheless.
While I was waiting for the tide to turn and come back in, I walked out on the beach and captured some footage. I am not endowed with a big video camera, so I no doubt looked rather silly mounting my little Canon DV on a tripod. At one point an older snowbird walked by and stopped, stared, and then pointed and remarked, “look at that little camera.” Hey buddy, I said, it’s not the size of the swell, but the motion of the ocean. He just laughed, stared, and pointed some more at my little camera shooting little waves.
Either way, you’ve got to give it up to these scrappy GC boys making the most of it.
Angst-like music is courtesy of Zeptepi.
A dog is a dog, and a bad one isn’t worth spit; but you get a good one and they’re like a member of the family.
About a year ago I lost one of the best dogs a person could ever have. He died of cancer on my birthday during a trip to the North Carolina mountains. My wife and I had him cremated, and his ashes have sat in Tampa, Florida since that time.
Florida is not a befitting location, however, for he was born and always has been a mountain dog. Last week we returned to the Fall air and decorated mountains of North Carolina to spend time with good friends from Charleston, South Carolina. We brought the ashes with us for the sole purpose of returning him to his proper place.
The headwaters of the Chattooga River have long been a place of solace for my family, and it was here that we decided to say our final goodbyes. The ashes were released to the river and swirled around in a fast moving eddy until they slowly dissipated and eventually disappeared. I pictured him filling up pot holes and bouncing over pebbles as he flowed swiftly downstream. My hope is that he made it all the way to Section 4 before finally succumbing to a sandbank.
This kind of heady stuff gets one thinking about how they’d like to go. A settled grave or a more mobile mausoleum? Hopefully we have a long while to think about that question. Until then, the picture above was taken as a reminder of that Fall day we poured out his ashes.
Phosphate and the Port of Tampa
Many people do not know that Tampa is the largest port in Florida and the 10th largest in the nation. It has achieved this rank by being the biggest exporter of phosphate and phosphate-related materials in the United States. If you are not an agronomist or geologist, think fertilizers.
Now consider what role fertilizers play in the price of food. The answers may surprise you. Suffice to say, our ability to provide enough food to feed for our growing population is largely dependent upon phosphate production.
Not only is it getting more expensive to mine phosphate in the US, but Florida’s reserves are running out. One only needs to look at the Port of Tampa’s steadily declining tonnage statistics to confirm this fact. Other countries such as Africa, Australia, and China have dramatically stepped up their production of phosphate, but there are two problems with this: one, phosphate is a non-renewable resource and two, it will cost the US more and more to acquire it as the cost of energy continues to rise. The environmental problems also present further risks and costs.
Massive Dead Zones
Another equally important source of food for humans comes from our oceans, and there is little doubt that we are over harvesting sea life in conjunction with the destruction of their fragile habitats. One of those destructive agents is phosphate. The Bread Basket of America, or the Midwestern US, is pumping vast quantities of phosphate in to the massive watershed that eventually makes up the Mississippi River. Every summer, an enormous dead zone roughly the size of New Jersey forms in the Gulf at the mouth of this very river. A similar occurrence to the Gulf happens in Tampa Bay but of smaller size.
Also here in Florida, scientists have confirmed that runoff starting in Orlando steadily makes its way down the river systems running through the heart of the state. It finally reaches reefs near the Keys and slowly destroys them. Work is being done to leach out excess phosphate, nitrogen, and other toxins, but it may be too late. Further degradation to Florida’s fisheries and recreational opportunities can have enormous and negative economic impacts.
I do not want to ignore or discount the economic ramifications of a declining phosphate industry in Florida. It has long created jobs in mining, production, and shipping. But Florida and specifically Tampa Bay has a long history of reinventing itself and discovering new sources of revenue. From Henry Plant’s railroads to farming and ranching to the cigar industry, we’ve seen the ebb and flow of successful enterprises.
What can be done about all of this?
There are alternative local sources of phosphate including, compost, bonemeal, and urine diversion, but we need to tackle the amount of phosphate we waste. The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) needs to work with communities and farmers to control the degradation of land and harmful runoff.
Steps in the right direction have recently been taken. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsak has made $320 million available for conservation projects in a number of key states along the Mississippi River Basin.
Meanwhile, you can seek out food sources that are closer to home and encourage localized organic farming. You can even start your own vegetable gardens. None of this will eradicate our reliance on large scale farming practices, but it will save energy and provide food that is far better for us and our planet.
Are there any interesting steps you take to feed your family?
Any avid surfer would agree there is no such thing as having too many surfboards. Different lengths, widths, rails, tails, fin configurations, and composites are all factors that affect the way we ride and can be adjusted depending on the particular wave conditions. It doesn’t matter how big of a shredder you are, there are days when it is going to be small, mushy, or you simply want to mix it up a bit, and having a longboard in your quiver just makes sense.
But if you are like most surfers who don’t have a bottomless board budget, picking the right longboard can be a daunting decision. To confuse matters, the surf shaping and manufacturing industry is highly competitive with many different options. You’ll find well-established outfits with deep rooted histories backed by brand names who have obtained legendary status, progressive companies with unique business models and environmental practices, and larger corporations that produce a multitude of models in factories overseas. At the end of the day, you want to be stoked with your decision as you look forward to a long relationship with what could be considered to some surfers as another member of the family.
So how do you narrow it down?
To help clarify questions that I had (and I suspect you will as well) when it came to choosing your first longboard, I turned to an individual who undoubtedly has been and continues to be an enormous influence on the evolution and expansion of surfing, Robert August.
I still clearly remember seeing my first surf film, “The Endless Summer.” Even though I was only 12 years of age, I knew what I had witnessed was the embodiment of the stoke, awe, and allure of surfing that hooks us all for life. Watching Robert August and Mike Hynson explore the world in search of waves made my life feel small, but it opened my mind to the endless possibilities.
August has come a long way since then having worked on several other films, established his own line of surfboards, and benefited many important charities. In case you had any doubts, he is still tearing it up.
With over 50 years of surfing experience, let’s just say he knows a few things about buying a longboard.