Years ago as a TV news anchor, I cringed when news managers carelessly tossed around the notion that boating was a rich man’s sport and thus rarely made daily broadcasts about the subject. As a boat owner, I knew better. The majority of boats sold were less than 25 feet, and more affordable used boats outsold new models 80:1. When you did come across a yacht owner, they were your “go-to” people for charity events.
As summer season kicks in along the Gulf Coast, in each community from Texas to Florida, you’ll hopefully see news about local fishing tournaments, or as they say in Grand Isle, Louisiana, rodeos. The annual Swollfest Rodeo, staged out of Sand Dollar Marina, will celebrate 19 years of charitable work this June. As their simple website banner says, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Local dentist Dr. Nick Rauber launched the concept as a teenager and nurtured the fishing rodeo’s growth to some impressive numbers: 600 registered anglers, hundreds of sponsors, 75 volunteers and thousands of attendees who descend on Grand Isle the first weekend of June every year.
This year’s charities are Children’s Hospital at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge and the Outdoor Wish Foundation (OWF). OWF finds recipients and, unbeknownst to them, learns of their background and begins developing a unique experience for that individual. There are two recipients chosen each year, and one hundred percent of the cost is borne by the all-volunteer OWF.
When you think of some billfish tournaments, large boats come to mind. However, Swollfest’s variety of categories include kayak anglers, children 12 and younger, a women’s division, and the best boat in shore and best boat off shore. These categories help unite all anglers who have a love for ecological conservation, a passion for the competition and a heart to help those in need.
You don’t have to speak with a Cajun accent to compete, but it does help to explain how the rodeo got the name Swollfest. It’s a whimsical take on swell, competition and catching the biggest fish. The fishing tournament takes place June 7-10 and includes nightly musical talent.
Register and learn more at swollfest.com.
Panama City Marina District redevelopment
Nine months after Panama City selected a developer to revitalize the marina and aging downtown district, the city finally has a plan to review. Some of the most notable changes involve partnerships. Bellingham Marine, one of the world leaders in marina construction, is replacing local favorite Legendary Marine and joining lead designer Sonnenblick Development. Together they envision new environmentally friendly docks, two hotels, a public fishing pier (built with oil spill money), an event lawn, a 10-plex movie theater, two parking garages, restaurants with outdoor dining along the T-dock, residential high-rises, and a lighthouse. Artist renderings also show a boat ramp, but its precise location is expected to be somewhat fluid.
The marina plan includes room for transients with an eye toward tourism. A dedicated water taxi area for transportation to popular nearby St. Andrews Marina will also be included. The plan now goes before several review boards with construction expected to begin after this year’s boating season.