Aquamania seized Gulfport Beach Saturday. The now-annual event started with a local news channel capturing a kitten on a paddleboard. The day progressed from there, and by midday Gulfport’s beach had throngs of people taking a swing on the Goofy Golf course, waiting to dunk local celebrities or watching rubber ducks race. The day ended with the third annual Recycle Regatta, won by sailor Russ Matter.
Now in its third year, the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce’s celebration of Gulfport’s waterfront may finally have found its groove, according to organizer Lori Rosso.
“Since this was the third and the identity has changed all three years,” Rosso said, “this was the year that I hope will stick in people’s minds as we go forward.”
The first year, Tropical Storm Debbie swept into town the same day as Aquamania. By comparison, this year the sun shone throughout the day.
The morning highlight was Saber, the paddleboarding kitten. To help judge kayak races, and to offer beachgoers the rare chance to rent a kayak or standup paddleboard for the race, Kayak Nature Adventures received special permission to spend the day just inside the swim zone. “Driftwood Jay,” a Kayak Nature Adventures employee, brings his kitten to work. For Saber, that means a daily swim. A video at theGabber.com shows Saber making a beeline for the boat, but people onsite saw the kitten taking more leisurely paddles in Boca Ciega Bay.
The dunk tank once again made an appearance, with Mayor Sam Henderson, Gabber publisher Ken Reichart, Gulfport Merchant Association President Lori Rosso and this reporter among those “lucky”enough to claim a seat in the tank. Gulfport Little League came to the dunk tank straight from the season’s closing ceremonies to demonstrate what they’d learned about pitching during the year.
Throughout the day, business-sponsored “goofy golf” holes raised money for the chamber, and at the day’s end, the first-ever rubber duck races, suggested by Vice Mayor Christine Brown, let kids and adults decorate a rubber duck and race them along the beach.
The day ended with the increasingly popular Recycle Regatta. The event grew from two entrants the first year to 11 this year. This year was also the first to see individuals enter alongside businesses.
Gulfportian Don Chapman summarized the event: “Small-town Florida at its best.”