Standing on the edge of a south Fort Myers pond, Walt Barney watched the first day of the new year pass by at rocking speeds.
Seventy mph. Seventy-five mph. Faster. Much faster.
Whirling in concentric circles, elaborate model boats drew their own track in the water, sending up droplets in a spray of wake that seemed to linger in the air in comparison.
The seasonal Bonita Springs resident ushered in 2006 enjoying a hobby that has fascinated him for more than 30 years, ever since his wife convinced him racing cars — life-sized cars that is — was far too dangerous.
Sunday found him with his grandson and a group of other racers, both men and women, taking turns showing off their boat moves on the water, then tuning and modifying the boats on land.
The pond itself, part of a office complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway just east of U.S. 41, is too small to host an actual race, said fellow hobbyist Tim Amma of Fort Myers.
For local enthusiasts, though, it is a place to meet up, practice and trade tips.
They race with the North American Model Boat Association, in trips that take hobbyists like Barney to states including Iowa and Wisconsin.
David Rigsby of North Fort Myers got involved with the races a year or so back, after driving past the group on Six Mile Cypress Parkway and seeing the boats skipping over the water.
Now he has a model craft of his own, which he put through its paces Sunday.
Others found different ways to enjoy the first day of 2006 in Collier County.
New Year’s Eve partygoers traded their Saturday night noisemakers and champagne flutes for walking shoes, skateboards and cozy theater chairs. While other parts of the country shivered, thousands of people rang in the new year with a casual — and colorful — stroll down Fifth Avenue South at the New Year’s Weekend Art Fair.
Teenage girls bared midriffs. Tourists bared un-tanned feet clad only in sandals or flip-flops. Meanwhile, Gene Rizzo bared his soul through watercolors.
More than 10 years ago, Rizzo, the product of a southern Louisiana fishing family, had lifesaving surgery after doctors discovered his colorectal cancer.
He turned to painting tropical scenes that recalled his youth to support his mental recovery. This was his fifth year on the Naples art circuit.
“Naples is a festive place, man,” said Rizzo, who lives in Tierra Verde near St. Petersburg.
The music of steel drums crooned Andrew Lloyd Webber and world jazz filled the unusually warm air. A woman in her 50s, a self-proclaimed snowbird, bought two paintings to hang in her two summer houses so she would be reminded of Naples’ charms all year.
“Naples is still the prettiest place in Florida,” Joanne Geurrini said.
A very different scene unfolded at Fleischmann Park. Skateboarders, mostly boys, began the year with a few acrobatic kick flips and other moves at the newly remodeled skate park, called the Edge.
At the edge of the Edge, 16-year-old Brandi Walker monitored the action for $7 an hour. Not a bad way to spend a holiday, she said.
“You just get to relax and talk to people,” said Walker.
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Staff writers Jeremy Cox and Jennifer Brannock contributed to this report.