Back to the Beach
30 Apr, 2010By: Juli Anne Patty
If coastal sports are what you're looking for, you've got options, about 84,000 of them. With nearly 90,000 miles of coastline, from east to west coast, all along the Great Lakes in between, from craggy bluffs to soft, sandy beaches, America's coasts offer sports planners the perfect home for any event. All you need to know is where to look.
On America's Pacific border,just about any type of coastal landscape can be found, from the expansive sandy beaches of Southern California, home of skateboarding, drag racing, BMX and some of America's best surfing, to the longest natural beach in the United States along the coast of Washington state.
The West Coast is famously outdoorsy and athletic, resulting in not just a huge variety of coastal sports, but also facilities to host those sports. Lane County, Oregon is one exceptional example.
Typically, when you think of the coast, water is somewhere in the picture. But Oregon has a coastal feature, as unusual as it is striking, that's much more about sand than water: the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (Oregon Dunes NRA). Extending 40 miles from Florence to Coos Bay, the Oregon Dunes are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America.
Water is not totally out of the picture here either, with over 30 lakes and ponds and numerous streams dotting the landscape, making Oregon Dunes NRA a unique and outstanding facility for sailing, canoeing, water-skiing, swimming and scuba diving. The area's large lakes also deliver serious salmon, steelhead, and trout fishing opportunities for serious anglers.
Florence, Ore. makes use of its share of the Oregon dunes with the world's first sandboard park, Sandmaster Park (SMP). Offering beginner to advanced slopes, bowls, cliffs, jumps and rail slides centered on 40 acres of private sand dunes, SMP is home of the annual Sand Master Jam competition, held the third weekend of June. Last year, the park hosted two other major events, the National Sandboard League Rail Jam and Dune Riders International Huckfest.
Open seven days a week from May 15th - October 15th, SMP partners with nearby Driftwood Shores and Resort Center to offer lodging discounts and packages.
Golf is always a popular seaside sport, but rarely does the golf actually incorporate the seaside into the game. Nestled amidst Oregon's wind-swept sand dunes and towering pines, Sandpines Golf Links is a par 72, 7190-yard Rees Jones designed course, honored as the "Best New Public Course in America" in 1993 and rated a 4.5 star course in Golf Digest's list of "Places to Play in the USA."
Oregon offers much more than sand, however. Just ask Lisa Lawton, director of community relations, Travel Lane County, a convention and visitors bureau employee who takes her outdoor recreation just as seriously as she takes her job.
"Sea kayaking is definitely one of the best ways to experience our diverse coast," says Lawton. "The Siltcoos River Trail runs about three miles, a great adventure that leads paddlers through a temperate rain forest into a wide estuary and then opens into the Pacific Ocean. You see eagles, blue heron, osprey, deer, beaver, river otters harbor seals, just a wide range of wildlife, and it's incredible to be able to take in river, lake and ocean all in one trip."
America's Eastern Seaboard offers a different kind of coastal landscape, and along with it, a whole different coastal sport experience. From the historical bays of the Northeast and the barrier islands of the mid-coast to Florida's white sand beaches, America's Atlantic Coast offers a huge range of coastal event possibilities, along with, from Washington, D.C. northward, access to the massive population of the Northeast Corridor.
Despite the perception that a lot of the East Coast's action is happening in the northeast, there's a lot to be discovered below the Mason Dixon line. Just take a look at North Carolina's Wilmington/Cape Fear area.
With Cape Fear's beaches along with some characteristics you might not expect from a town of around 100,000 people-such as a major television studio filming some of the most popular shows on TV-Wilmington is determined to surprise and delight everyone who visits, athletes and fans included.
"We're kind of unique as a coastal destination because we have historic downtown riverfront and beaches, as well as a real working city that connects the two," explains Mikie Wall, vice president of sales, Wilmington/Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Wilmington also has a new convention center opening this fall, enabling the city to bid on new, larger events. Opening in late 2010, the Wilmington Convention Center will boast a 30,000 square-foot, wireless exhibit hall, a ballroom with Cape Fear River porch views, nearly 6,000square feet of additional meeting space and an eco-friendly LEED certified design.
One of the things Wilmington/Cape Fear is known for is its landscape's remarkable beauty, a feature that has turned the area into a hot running and racing destination. The Beach2Battleship full and half distance triathlon began in 2008 with 1000 participants, increased by 50 percent in 2009, and expects to see a major increase this year as well. To underscore the event's success, in February, Triathlon Magazine named Beach2Battleship the 5th best iron distance event in the world.
And while the West Coast certainly has a tight grip on its title of where-it's-at in American surfing, Wilmington is giving the Pacific a run for its money. The East Coast Wahine Surfing Championship, in its 14th year this August, draws professional, competitive and even first-time competitive women surfers from Guppy (10 and Under) to Goddess (40 and Over) to ride the waves at Wrightsville Beach.
The Wilmington area is home to water sports of nearly any kind, with facilities and outfitters for kitesurfing, SCUBA diving, fishing, and even standup paddling, a variation of surfing that's gaining momentum in the area. The Intracoastal SUP (standup paddling) Cup will celebrate its second year in May 2010, drawing athletes from all over the nation to compete for the $3,000 Elite Division cash purse and over $6,000 in prizes for the Recreational Division.
Wilmington/Cape Fear delivers some serious fishing as well, with two of the area's biggest fishing tournaments in July: the 38th annual Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament, July 1-4, and the annual Gotemon Classic King Mackerel Tournament, July 9-10. But that's not where the fishing begins or ends in North Carolina.
"If it's fishing season, there's probably a tournament every weekend," says Wall. "They start in the spring and go on through October."
With more than 3,000 miles of coastal and tidal shoreline, Florida is perhaps the East Coast's most well known coastal destination, and with year-round temperate weather and 18 regional sports commissions, it's got sports in spades. Collier County, Fla., with more than 80 percent of its expanse of land preserved as park and nature preserve land by federal, state, county, city and private agencies, is referred to as Florida's last paradise. And while coastal sports are a huge part of the area's activity and identity, the local communities have also invested significantly in facilities for sports like soccer, baseball and softball to meet the huge need for winter play in these sports.
"We do quite a bit of soccer tournaments, mainly youth events, most of which are fairly large events and involve traveling teams and even involve clubs coming from all over the U.S. and the occasional international team," says Ralph Pryor, sports marketing coordinator, Collier County Sports Council. "We do some adult soccer as well and a fair amount of softball, both youth and adult. These kind of events are our bread and butter."
But while you can find team sports on pretty much every one of Collier's fields year-round, the area also exercises its coastal muscle with a diverse range of events, including a wakeboarding event every January, beach tennis, two Extreme Volleyball Professionals (EVP) professional beach volleyball events, and a Formula One PROP tour speedboat race.
"We hosted the Formula One PROP tour in 2008, and have one coming back in November 2010," says Pryor. "They're outstanding exciting spectator events. We drew about 2,400 spectators in the first year at one of our regional parks."
Fishing is also big in paradise, where Collier County works closely with a few marinas who host fishing events, such as the annual Marco Island Kingfish Tournament and the Paradise Saltwater Classic each March.
Florida enjoys coast on both sides, facing the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. Many of the state's coast meccas are located on the picturesque western shoreline, and many of the state's best sports homes are located there as well.
Boasting 320 days of sunshine per year, Panama City Beach is perhaps most famous as a spring break destination, but, particularly in sports, the area offers much more.
Although Panama City is already bustling, the community is looking forward to a boost from its newest development, a new, $330 million international airport. One of the first sustainably designed airports in America, Panama City's newest transportation hub opens this May, bringing, the area's sports enthusiasts and planners hope, even more big-time sports action.
"We're really starting to get into rowing," says Richard Sanders, vice president of sports marketing, Panama City beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Georgia Tech rowing team comes here for spring training, and Clemson holds events here as well."
True to its lively reputation, Panama City also hosts an annual watercross jetski competition each May that brings over 100 competitors to the Gulf. The event is held in conjunction with an EVP professional volleyball event, all of which is part of a spring sports festival that's just beginning to start in the area. In recent years and months, Panama City has been home to an Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tournament as well a Pro Jam Skimboarding tournament and countless fishing tournaments, including the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) international championships.
Fishing events find another home in Pasco County, 35 miles north of Tampa, where most of the shoreline has been completely preserved. "Our beaches haven't been developed for commercial purposes," explains Eric Keaton, tourism director, Pasco County Tourism. "There's an eco-tourism scenic trail along the Suncoast Highway, but other than that, the coast is protected."
All of that focus on preserving the shore has made it an exceptional habitat for fish of all varieties, which means Pasco County might just be the next hot spot for America's major fishing tournaments.
Just a bit north and west, you'll hit Alabama's Gulf Coast: a coastal destination with some serious sports facilities as well as southern charm.
"We've got 32 miles of beaches, including Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, and incredible first-class sportsplexes for everything from soccer to softball," says Beth Gendler, director of sales, Alabama Gulf Coast Sports Commission. "What's more, we've got success: almost every event that's held here increased in participation in the last year."
If a list of events is any indication, Gulf Shores' facilities have a wide reputation for excellence. The area has played host to the SEC NCAA Soccer Championships, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Mens' Soccer Championships, EVP beach volleyball tournaments, ISFA championships, a Redfish national tournament and the Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon.
More than Shore
America's coastal cities have invested serious time and cash into facilities that make the most of the landscapes they enjoy. So, whether it's a soccer event that needs a winter home or a purely coastal sporting event like surfing, look to America's coasts for a sports event home that will attract participants, amaze athletes and deliver success every time.