Thunder Beach Still Has Some Lightning

by May 4, 2009 • 16 comments

thunderbeach053The 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.

thunderbeach088Pier 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.

Be sure to check out our Thunder Beach Videos at YouTube.com/pcbdaily

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1 Jason Koertge May 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Great article Cebo, thanks!

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2 Bob May 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

Great weekend at Palazzo and Pier Park. The street noise was as expected. Great looking bikes and interesting people made people watching very amusing. The “longhorn convertable” was a big hit. No noise in our oceanfront bedroom and terrace. We will definitely be back next year!

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3 andy May 5, 2009 at 7:20 am

Thunder Beach was great and I liked your ideas of one less venue and restricting some streets after a certain time. I’m a local and also a Thunder Beacher. The bikes are loud, but it’s only a few days worth. As with every event, it still needs a little tweaking. Maybe the next rally will go even smoother and some of the locals will relax a bit.

Your were also right about the cleanliness factor. Spring Breakers think anywhere is a trash can, but the bikers obviously have a lot more respect.

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4 Daniel May 5, 2009 at 10:02 am

Thunder Beach!!!
This is coming from someone who lives just north of Sandpiper Beacon and offices on Front Beach Rd.
Let’s be honest…
1. It isn’t just 3 days. It started on Tues,
2. Sandpiper has burnouts on Front Beach Rd. until 3 am in the morning. They also have a wind through the gears fest all day and night.
3. Both times my wife, 2 year old son and I tried to cross Front Beach Rd. to go to the beach, we were greeted by one group revving their engines so loudly as we crossed that my son started crying and I cursed, both of which don’t happen any other time. The other time a biker turned off his key and back on again and made a backfire right in our faces. Too much rude and stupid in one place. You expect it from kids, not 40 year old adults.
4. There are more then 1 out of 25. It’s 1 out of 10. Ms Newby’s, Dusty’s and Sandpiper aren’t filled with people drinking lemonade, then driving our streets.

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5 Dave Westerman May 6, 2009 at 9:18 am

Thunder Beach has evolved into a part of PCB’s fame (or infamy). For those who can’t live with it, I understand there is quiet and peaceful property available in Owenville, Ohio………….

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6 Rachael Howard May 6, 2009 at 4:13 pm

This was the best, most organized, and most successful Thunder Beach yet! As a local, and a biker, I understand both sides. You cannot make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. It’s just not possible. For the most part, the TB-goers are quite polite and respectful; but when you get that many people in one place at the same time…guess what…you are going to get some rude ones. It’s called statistics. What’s one week of bikers vs 2.5 months of spring breakers? I didn’t hear of one death or bad event during TB this year. How many drug overdoses and alcohol-induced bad incidents did we have during spring break?…several. Sure, some bikers get a little “creative” with their attire, but have you seen what the kids are wearing during spring break now days? I’m locking my daughter up for good! All in all, I think TB is good for our town and economy. Looking forward to the Fall Rally!! Good article, Cebo!

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7 Paul Ladouceur May 6, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I would have to agree, there are some very rude bikers at TB. But, that would account for about 2% of all the bikers that attended. Most of the people that attend are doctors, lawyers, firefighters, even police officers. Most of the people were career professionals that have used vacation time and saved money (economy) to spend over the weekend. I would venture to say that there was probably as much money spent during the one week at TB, as there was the 2.5 months of spring break. I would also have to agree with Dave Westerman,if you don’t like what goes on at PCB, there is 49 other states that you can move to.

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8 Jellen May 6, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I think Cebo’s question is not being addressed. Telling people who don’t appreciate the noise that they should move to another state is not constructive. Don’t you have any suggestions for modifying the experience so that EVERYBODY can enjoy PCB? Frankly, telling people that they have to put up with rudeness and lose the calm THEY pay for is an argument that a bully would make. This should not be about bullies and victims. This should be about finding solutions so that the bikers can enjoy their Thunder Beach without harming the normal, beach-going experiences of the non-bikers.

Also, I keep reading that the bikers are cleaner than spring breakers — well good! Of course that doesn’t take much and should be expected from every tourist. Why not say bikers are just as clean as snowbirds? Just because bikers are not messy like springbreakers doesn’t mean we should have to put up with the noise. It’s apples and oranges.

Can PCB afford a couple of strategically placed electronic billboards that change to welcome each special event and offer advice specific to that event? For instance:

WELCOME BIKERS! We’re glad you’re here!
Please watch your noise so we will look forward to your return!

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9 Cebo Campbell May 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Jellen, Thanks, for the comment and I think you are spot-on. A simple sign like you stated could do wonders not only for the event, but for the morale of PCB residents.

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10 Sharon Ernst May 6, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Jellen, I liked your sign idea also, but my husband and I who brought our bike from Kentucky were really impressed with several signs that told auto drivers to “watch for motorcycles”, and one sign on Hwy. 79 that warned bikers of bumps in the road. Your city is so wonderfully geared toward large events like this it’s amazing coming from someone who lives in a large city that freaks out when someone mentions “cruising” one day of the year–Derby Day. Our city officials would have heart attacks if they had to deal with all the things PCB handles nicely throughout spring break and thunder beach! Kudos to PCB Officials!

I do understand some people who don’t like the LOUD revving of engines. I’m a bike enthusiast, and don’t care for it either, but let’s face it….there are squirrels in every hobby class whether it be cars, jet skies, boats or bikes…you just can’t escape the few that always seem to create problems for the many.

All in all, I still tell friends Thunder Beach in PCB is family friendly, and I just hope you continue to stay that way…..unlike the other beach on a different Florida coast. 🙂

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11 Paul Ladouceur May 6, 2009 at 10:19 pm

I’m afraid a simple sign will not take care of the problem. As I said earlier, the 2% doesn’t care about signs and doesn’t care about the locals. They have the illegally loud pipes. They are from out of town and they think they can come tp P.C. Beach and raise all the hell they want. Thats what needs to be delt with. The other 98% are down to have a good and relaxing time. Perhaps our law enforcement needs to crack down on the 2% so the 98% can enjoy their time on P.C. Beach. One other note: I have loud pipes on my bike. That is primarily for my safety. I can’t count the number of times I have had cars cut in front of me, because they simply did not see me. I have even had one run into me, and trust me, that does not feel good. Loud pipes lets cars know that there is a motorcycle approaching. It is a safety feature for us. So, if you non-bikers understand that, we might all get along better. However, I agree that there are bikes with pipes that are far too loud. That might be a case where our law enforcement might need to crack down. I too would like to find a happy medium.

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12 Sharon Ernst May 7, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I understand about the loud pipes helping to alert cars, and I don’t mind them. My husband has them on his smaller bike.

As you said the problems come from the 2% that like to pull into a complex that is half residential and half vacationers like a lot of condo complexes in PC are, and sit there and “rev” the already loud pipes and wake everybody up. Or, the biker that sees a little kid standing beside the road and revs his engine as he drives by. That’s just rude. But, as we all know there’s one in every crowd. The rest of us just want to have fun.

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13 Mary El May 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm

We are locals with two boys 9 and 13. We all look forward to Thunder Beach. We don’t have a bike anymore but can’t wait until we get another. Its always an exciting week of wonderful things to look at. We live off Hwy 98 in St. Andrews and love to hear the bikes rolling into town all week. The boys get very excited. We try to visit all venues, family and a couple of adult only and by far, its the nicest, most interesting, talkative group of people who come here all year. As far as the scantily dressed- the topless college girls hanging out of the cars and trucks are far more frequently seen. Keep up the good work and please don’t let some other town steal Thunder Beach. If you just hate it and can not tolerate it- it would be a wonder opportunity for you to plan your own vacation- or go visit your family somewhere else for those four or five days!

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14 Paul Ladouceur May 9, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Sharon, I totally agree. I never stay past dark. I come home to Lynn Haven and stay away from the night time craziness. This is definately a complex issue, dealing with politics, economy, and law enforcement. Where do you draw the line, or set the boundries?

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15 Speedoe June 7, 2009 at 6:45 am

I have been to Thunderbeach, but go to Daytona for Bike Week and Biketoberfest evry year. Thunderbeach is OK, but in my opinion kids and motorcycle rallies don’t mix. motorcycle rallies can only be so “friendly / family oriented. There is no reason to try make it something it’s not. I go to Daytona and it is what it is and that’s what draws me. When a bike rally becomes rated G then I won’t be there. I will leave it for those who ride with their shiny new leather. If you want to tame the rally then rename it “Whisperbeach”, or “Wimperbeach”!

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16 Bulldog April 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I have been coming to TB now for 10 years (both Fall and Spring). The Spring Rally is always a little more “wild” as everyone is out hitting the road with springtime. My wife and I are 50 and we have done the Sturgis, Daytona Beach and Laughlin runs. I have been to every major rally in the past 30 years. We just don’t want to ride that hard anymore so we come to PCB. Laid back and friendly time. The town is really good to us bikers. There will always be a few who want to show off their butts. I have been one of those so I know the feeling. Loud pipes do save lives but they also annoy the hell out of people trying to sleep in RESIDENTIAL areas. Hey, it’s your town so I respect it. Also keeps me out of the eyes of the law. If the wife wants to “dress up” in her sexy biker clothes we make sure we go to where it is acceptable and NO FAMILIES! I agree that I have seen some wild outfits or lack of, at restaurants. All in all, this rally is still very family fun compared to some of the others around here. Great place to come to and a nice 4 hour ride to get there. Keep it up.

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