Monday, July 19, 2010
Perfect beach weather this past Saturday lead to about 1,400 people showing up for what could have been San Diego’s last Floatopia. People float on rafts and drink alcohol at the loosely organized events. Next week the city council will consider closing a loophole in the beach alcohol ban that allows for the gatherings.
SAN DIEGO Perfect beach weather this past Saturday led to about 1,400 people showing up for what could have been San Diego’s last Floatopia. People float on rafts and drink alcohol at the loosely organized events. Next week the city council will consider closing a loophole in the beach alcohol ban that allows for the gatherings.
At around 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Sail Bay in Pacific Beach is still relatively quiet. Kids play on a playground, runners and bikers travel along the boardwalk. On the water, boats drift by. But today there’s also a large number of police and lifeguards. They’re getting ready to staff a Floatopia event. And before too long, people start showing up, rafts and Bud Lights in hand, including Kevin Hoiland, who’s wearing a neon-yellow tank top and cut off jean shorts and carrying a large raft.
“This is a full-on dragon raft with head and tail, bright colors to match my outfit,” he said.
Hoiland and his friend, who’s wearing a pirate hat, begin to blow up their rafts. Around the same time Chelsea Hodge and her friend Abraham Bitton ride up on their beach cruisers. They’re ready to get buzzed without getting busted.
“We’ve got little plastic shot bottles, because we figure no open containers, no glass, we’re not going to break any of their laws,” Hodge said.
Right now the law allows people to drink as long as their feet don’t touch the sand. Hodge and Bitton said they just wanted to try out Floatopia once in case it gets banned. Something Bitton said they support by the way.
“We know they’re going to do it and we’re totally for them banning it on the water because all the crazy yahoo’s that come out here and get drunk and then they sink under water,” he said.
But still, the two felt compelled to float while they could. So did Paul Pridgeon and his group of about 20 friends. They drove down from the University of La Verne, located around two hours north of San Diego. Pridgeon said he made a special trip to San Diego for this.
“Absolutely, it’s Floatopia, it’s probably the last one so we gotta do it big,” he said.
That’s also what Katie Martinez and her friends thought, but they made sure to get to know the police on duty before jumping into the bay.
“Our goal is to have fun and not get in trouble. So if we can just get it cleared up before we get in the water and no one gets arrested then it’s a successful day,” she said.
Her friends fill a small inflatable pool with ice and beer as she talks. Nearby, Ashley McDonald stands near the water’s edge getting ready to go in. She doesn’t see why the city is worried about the Floatopias.
“Really, why do they care? We’re not doing anything, we clean up after ourselves, we all make sure of it we don’t do anything gross on their beach or anything like that. We’re fine,” she said. “I think the reason they’re trying to do it is they’re old and they suck!”
But police and lifeguards wouldn’t say they’re against Floatopia because they’re old. They want to see an end to the events because they generate trash, cost the department’s thousands of dollars in overtime and they’re unsafe. Lifeguard Lieutenant John Everhart says Floatopias may look like a fun way to spend an afternoon to some, but he says they’re dangerous.
“They get so intoxicated we’ve had people literally pass out on their float and fall into the water. And up to this point we haven’t had any drowning at one of these events which is remarkable and partly lucky I would say,” Everhart said.
Some members of the city council agree. The public safety committee has already approved an amendment to the beach alcohol ban that would extend it into the water for three nautical miles. Boats would not be affected. The full council will consider the issue next week. It could opt to classify the amendment as an emergency, meaning the ban on drinking in the water would take effect immediately.