by The Editors | May 27, 2016

The Tide: Road-Trip-Worthy Events Around the State



Paddleboarders descend on Destin, August 20; Photograph by MC Chavez

Paddleboarders descend on Destin, August 20; Photograph by MC Chavez

Paddle at the Porch

August 20

For standup paddleboard aficionados, Destin is paradise. There are ample locations to practice the sport: coastal dune lakes, Choctawhatchee Bay, the Blackwater River and the Gulf of Mexico. Three board manufacturers are headquartered in the area, and each summer, paddleboard maker BOTE, in collaboration with the Destin Chamber of Commerce, hosts this friendly competition for paddlers of all levels. It includes a kids’ fun paddle, 1- and 3-mile recreational races, a 6-mile elite race and, new this year, a relay. Elite paddlers vie for a $6,000 cash purse.

Photograph by Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club, Inc.

Photograph by Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club, Inc. Pensacola Billfish Tournament

Pensacola Billfish Tournament

June 29-July 2

Since 1970, the Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club, a nonprofit group that is passionate about preserving the Gulf of Mexico’s rich billfish population, has hosted this catch-and-release tournament, which draws roughly 175 anglers a year. Unlike other tournaments, “we’re run by volunteers and we give our revenue to organizations that promote conservation and scientific research, as well as local charities,” says club president Keith Johnson.

These pelagic fish exist worldwide, but a canyon in the Gulf near Pensacola makes the Panhandle an especially good fishery, Johnson explains. During the tournament, anglers tag the fish before tossing them back, providing data for the Billfish Foundation, which tracks their growth and travel habits. Thanks to sportsmen’s dedication to returning fish to the Gulf, “this has become a sport enjoyed by many,” he says.

 Rendezvous Film Festival

Amelia Island
June 2-4

Named for Evan’s Rendezvous, a local jazz club that hosted musical heavyweights such as James Brown and Ray Charles before Hurricane Dora destroyed it in 1964, this celebration of film and music draws roughly 40 filmmakers from around the world and 2,500 viewers. The lineup includes a mix of shorts, features, documentaries, television series, music videos and animated programs for children. Among the most anticipated titles this year: Soccer Moms in Peril, part comedy, part horror flick, by Jacksonville’s own Damien Lahey, and Bounty Momma, a television pilot about a feisty bounty hunter and her dimwitted family, created by Wendy Keeling, a Rendezvous veteran. “It’s great to see local talent and to watch artists grow over the years,” says Randy Bowman, president of the Rendezvous Film Festival’s board of directors. Other highlights include lunchtime panel discussions with directors, concerts and after-parties.


The Pittbull of Blues at Cocoa Village BBQ & Blues; Photograph Cocoa Village BBQ & Blues

The Pittbull of Blues at Cocoa Village BBQ & Blues; Photograph Cocoa Village BBQ & Blues

Historic Cocoa Village’s 6th Annual BBQ and Blues

Cocoa Village
June 3-4

This annual event does double duty as the Florida Barbecue Association’s (FBA) 2016 state championship. Assessed by FBA-sanctioned judges, teams compete in four categories (ribs, chicken, pork and brisket) for cash prizes totaling $10,000 and kiln-fired glass trophies created by local artist Roger Elliott. The rivalry is fierce, “both from a monetary standpoint and bragging rights,” says organizer Emma Kirkpatrick. “Most of the participating teams compete somewhere every weekend and are vying for points toward the FBA Team of the Year Competition.” Some of the most anticipated names include Big Papa’s Country Kitchen (from Naples), Swamp Boys and Sweet Smoke Q (both from Winter Haven) and Hot Wachula’s (from Bartow).

The event features ancillary contests judged by the public. On Friday, visitors can vote for their favorite dessert and sauce, while on Saturday, they can weigh in on pulled pork. Half a dozen blues bands from around the state provide the weekend’s soundtrack.

Festivities kick off with a toga-themed pub crawl to acquaint barbecue lovers with local businesses. Costumes are not required, but Kirkpatrick says most people embrace their inner Bluto or Otter from Animal House, “because, really, how often do grownups get to
dress up?”

Third Annual Mount Dora Paddle Fest

Mount Dora
June 4-5

Serious kayak racers and casual paddlers mingle during this weekend of water recreation. The event, which lures over 400 participants, is divided into distance and sprint competitions and features a host of vessels including standup paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. Some of the most exciting moments, though, happen during the dragon races. “A lot of times, the competition comes down to less than a foot,” says event organizer Rod Price. Racers come from all over the state, but the reigning champs train just 30 miles away in The Villages: Team Blackheart, a group consisting of several retired Marines. “They’re real serious guys and definitely the team to beat,” Price says.

For those who prefer to play without the pressure of a stopwatch, Paddle Fest also offers eco-tours by canoe or kayak. Off the water, visitors can spend hours exploring Mount Dora, a historic small town with a variety of locally-owned restaurants, bars and shops.

Silver Spurs Rodeo

June 10-12

The largest rodeo east of the Mississippi River returns this June to Osceola Heritage Park, a state-of-the-art facility with 8,300 seats and 12 luxury skyboxes. The Silver Spurs Rodeo is comprised of eight events, including bull riding (the most dangerous endeavor, which challenges competitors to stay atop a bucking beast for eight seconds, with the assistance of just one hand), barrel racing (an agility test on horseback), bulldogging (in which a horse-mounted rider chases a steer, dismounts in the most dramatic fashion, then wrestles the animal to the ground), and mutton bustin’ (a category for tiny tikes to hold on to a running sheep for eight seconds).


South Florida

Powerboats race in Sarasota; Photograph by Tim Britt

Powerboats race in Sarasota; Photograph by Tim Britt

Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival

June 25-July 4

For 32 summers, Sarasota has hosted some of the sleekest, swiftest powerboats and jet skis ever built. More than 160 teams from around the world compete in vessels that start at $200,000 and travel at speeds ranging from 95 to 200 miles per hour, depending on class, says festival organizer Lucy Nicandri. An estimated 30,000 spectators pack Lido Beach to watch racers dash over the Gulf of Mexico, while another 3,000 watch from their personal boats anchored at a safe distance. The Grand Prix coincides with turtle-nesting season, so spectators may not set up beach blankets until after sunrise, “but they arrive in the parking lot as early as 3 a.m. to stake out the prime viewing area,” Nicandri says. The weeklong festivities include a golf tournament, classic car show, downtown block party, fishing tournament for children and meet-and-greet with racers. It culminates, or powers down, with a fireworks show to celebrate Independence Day.

Spammy Jammy

June 25-26

After Little Bar lost its screened porch about a quarter-century ago “to the moisture-laden evil vortex of a spinning slipstream,” owner Ray Bozicnik and his staff hypothesized ways to prevent any more hurricanes from visiting the southwest Florida restaurant. “After much research and study, we determined that more than atmospheric conditions create storms,” Bozicnik says. Hawaiians have Pele, the Volcano Goddess, who decides when to spew lava and ash. Five thousand miles away, her sister, Laka Ulaulekeaha La’amaoma’a, controls hurricanes, “and she must be appeased.” Each June, Bozicnik and crew host Spammy Jammy, a party in honor of the Hurricane Goddess, in which revelers show up in their pajamas to eat and sculpt Spam. The thinking: hurricanes have a way of creeping up on folks while they sleep (hence, the dress code) and the canned porcine product is versatile, plentiful and practical, should a storm and power outage actually occur. “You can slice it, mash it, fry it, grill it, serve it in gumbo or fondue, string it on kabob sticks or eat it straight from the can,” Bozicnik says. In terms of Spam as an art medium, guests have molded the pink meat into statues depicting Pamela Anderson, Tammy Wynette, a flamingo and more. The affair also involves a whole lot of booze, a prerequisite for any good hurricane party.

Fairchild’s mango auction; Photograph by Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Fairchild’s mango auction; Photograph by Fairchild Tropical Gardens

International Mango Festival

Coral Gables
July 9-10

Fairchild Botanical Gardens is home to one of the largest tropical fruit research programs in the world, led by curators Drs. Richard Campbell and Noris Ledesma, who have traveled from the jungles of Borneo to the valleys of Colombia in search of new mango cultivars to grow on Fairchild’s 20-acre farm in Homestead. Since 1993, they have hosted an annual festival to educate visitors on the incredible world of mangoes—where they originate, how they are grown and why they are so prevalent in global cuisine. Events include cooking demonstrations, food vendors selling everything from mango sticky rice to mango wine slushies, a mango tree sale, a mango tasting room and the world’s largest mango auction, featuring more than 200 types. “It’s always fascinating to see how people consume mangoes depending on their origins,” says Brooke LeMaire, Fairchild’s marketing associate. “People have strong memories growing up with their region’s mangoes and it seems like each country has a favorite cultivar.” Colombians, for example, gravitate to Azucar mangoes, which they dip in salt. The weekend concludes with a brunch featuring top Miami chefs’ mango dishes.

Caladium Festival

Lake Placid
July 29-31

Year-round balmy temperatures, moderate rainfall and acidic soil make Highlands County a hot spot for caladiums, the heart-shaped tropical plants known colloquially as elephant ears. The community boasts 12 farms that grow 99 percent of the world’s caladiums. Each summer, growers welcome visitors to tour their facilities (to marvel at row after row of colorful plants in the fields) as well as their homes (for examples of how caladiums are used in residential landscaping).

Tour buses leave from Stuart Park, the festival’s epicenter, where guests find refreshments, live music, arts and crafts booths, classic and antique cars and caladium bulbs and plants for sale. Black thumbs, rejoice! These plants are extremely low maintenance, insists Terri Cantwell, a horticulturist and owner of Bates Sons & Daughters. “They don’t need much or any fertilizer and have no major pest or disease problems,” she says. Just wait for a warm night (higher than 60 degrees), pick a spot, dig a shallow hole, cover the bulb with one inch of soil, sprinkle it with water “and then walk away.”

Jupiter Medical Center Loggerhead Triathlon

August 6

As any endurance athlete will attest, inspiring scenery provides that much-needed mental boost to carry you to the finish line. This triathlon course, which goes into and along the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the most picturesque in the country. “It kicks off right as the sun begins to rise,” says Angelique Allen, of the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the race.

“As a spectator, it’s really so beautiful to see all the swim caps popping up in the ocean,” silhouetted against the swirls of pink, orange, and blue in the sky. Now in its 31st year, this sporting event sucks in approximately 600 racers annually. “It’s

a good race for novice and elite tri-athletes alike,” Allen says. First-timers can look forward to getting helpful pointers and strategies from seasoned experts during a special seminar the night before the big race.

Ernest Hemingway fans celebrate the author’s birthday in Key West; Photograph by Sloppy Joe’s

Ernest Hemingway fans celebrate the author’s birthday in Key West; Photograph by Sloppy Joe’s

Hemingway Days

Key West
July 19-24

“Who’s your Papa?” Since 1981, Sloppy Joe’s bar has sought to answer that question with its Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, a cornerstone event of Key West’s weeklong celebration of the author who wrote, drank and fished his way around the island throughout the 1930s.

The competition attracts at least 125 gentlemen every year, some from as far away as Ireland and Pakistan, and many are repeat entrants in pursuit of the title. Almost all resemble Hemingway “from his more mature days,” says Donna Edwards of Sloppy Joe’s. “But we’ve seen a few young Hemingways, which is cool. One came as Hemingway on safari and brought a girl dressed as a lion.” Once crowned “Papa,” the doppelgänger gets his photo on the bar’s  wall, retires from the competition and joins
the ranks of judges.

Other events include a birthday party (July 21), readings and book signings, a museum exhibition, a short story contest, a three-day marlin-fishing tournament (honoring Hemingway’s devotion to the deep-sea sport) and, for literature fans, a reenactment of the running of the bulls as a nod to The Sun Also Rises. People don their Pamplona best and hop on beer barrels fashioned to look like the animals, Edwards explains. Consider it more a trudge than a stampede.