The weeks leading up to Thunder Beach weekend I listened to and was inadvertently absorbed into spirited debates about the chromed-out 3 day event. Some people love it, waxed their bikes, strapped on the chaps and venue-hopped all weekend. Others loathed it, cursed it from their cars as group rides roared by them and spent the weekend avoiding the outdoors. It is, like Spring Break, a very polarizing event to say the least.
But as I attended a venue at Frank Brown Park, the air smelling of BBQ pork and exhaust pipe, chrome glinting in the sun, I found myself siding with the bikers and the pro-Thunder Beach gang. Yes, the event brings money to Panama City Beach and economically covers a seasonal dip in our tourism, but none of those things swayed me. There were a few things I noticed at Frank Brown. First, I noticed some of the most hardcore bikers, men that looked like they ate meat raw, as giddy as teenagers. Leather clad folks walked the Frank Brown Park grounds in high-spirits; no screaming and no fighting, just bike lovers enjoying bikes. I also noticed an atypical sense of camaraderie. Strangers sat together to discuss engine types, drifters perused vendor stations asking questions and buying merchandise. None of this seemed remotely “spring-break-ish” to me.
But what I found the most astonishing was the cleanliness. There was little trash anywhere; the place was virtually spotless. On our beach this weekend we endured thousands of bikers, hundreds of thousands of cases of beer and water bottles but I challenge you to show me a parking lot that looked anything like the post-Lil Wayne concert landfill. I scratched my head and wondered, other than the noise, what’s makes some Panama City Beach residents loathe thunder beach? The answer didn’t come to me until I ventured over to Pier Park to watch the Harley Davidson Drill Team.
Pier Park was packed with people all over the place; the venue really seemed to have a lot going on. After the drill team’s awesome bike safety show, I walked over to the bike showcase to get a sense of the crowd, which, different than the Frank Brown park crowd, consisted mostly of families. By the dozens, babies in strollers gawked at bikes along with their parents, fathers, with proud arms draped around their sons, used the venue to teach their boys about the artistry behind bike design.
Watching the crowds, I thought, this is what Thunder Beach is supposed to be. But then, while I snapped shots of antique roadsters, a woman walked up wearing a bikini that covered the bare minimum of her triple X parts. Mind you, this all happened 5 steps from a carousel filled with children. Families pulled their kids away and the mood, which had been a mellow excitement, mutated into something far less wholesome. At that moment I realized what all the fuss was about.
Thunder Beach has two very distinct personalities. For the majority of the Thunder Beach crowd it’s all about good clean fun. But for every 25 fun-loving bikers, there’s 1 who will make all the others look bad–real bad. Throughout the week I saw things like the Kevin Kight memorial parade where 1,000 riders paid tribute to one of our city’s fallen heroes. I followed the Thunder Beach tweets which boasted updates about the real fun being had all over the beach. At the same time, I listened to stories from residents whose babies were thrown out of sleep by a bike tearing through a residential street and a mother in a kid-stuffed mini-van being berated with profanities for a simple merging mistake (Sorry Ash). If you don’t believe me you should read some of the comments on my last Thunder Beach post. Both sides have valid arguments, but what’s the solution?
Truly, there is no solution, but perhaps there is a middle ground. Frankly, I thought this year was one of the best the city has experienced. Droves of people and business hit Panama City Beach during a seasonal tourism drought. Most venues were classy, exciting and people really had an awesome time. I wouldn’t change anything about how well Thunder Beach Productions and other private organizers handled a very successful event. Not everyone’s experience with the event was as good as mine and for the people of our city to welcome bikers, compromises have to be made. Here are a few ideas I thought up.
1. Tighten up the venues. There was so much going on so many different places all over the beach that can cause an inconvenience. Acknowledging how important it is to involve business as well as provide bikers a chance to “ride” from place to place, one less venue could mean even better organization.
2. Restrict residential streets. I don’t want to go all “Myrtle” on the bikers because they are welcomed here, but certain residential roads shouldn’t have to endure bikers at 2am. I don’t know how or if this is even possible, but it should be considered.
3.Post safety and warning signs. Sometimes people just don’t know what you stand for or don’t condone if you don’t tell them. Post signs during the weekend to ask bikers to be have fun, be safe and show courtesy. “Be Nice…I’m Local” should do the trick.
In the end, I have to say kudos to everyone involved in a great event. The stunt bikes at Frank Brown Park were amazing and the bands, oh the bands, tore stages up all over the beach. Although, I believe the bickering between residents and Thunder Beach is ongoing, one thing is for sure, whether you love it or hate it, they put on one heck of a show. Huge shout out to Corky over at Thunder Beach Productions, great job and thanks for everything.
I’m curious to hear what ideas other people have come up with. What are your Thunder Beach experiences and would you change anything about it? Post your comments here.
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