Life's a beach: All-day Independence party brings thousands of Marco Islanders, visitors out to celebrate

Avorie Anderson, right, and her friends get their own fireworks show going. Marco Island celebrated our nation's Independence Day Thursday, with an all-day beach party at Residents' Beach capped off by fireworks over the Gulf. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

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Avorie Anderson, right, and her friends get their own fireworks show going. Marco Island celebrated our nation's Independence Day Thursday, with an all-day beach party at Residents' Beach capped off by fireworks over the Gulf. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Marco Island’s community celebration of the Fourth of July is two stories, or one story in two chapters. First, there’s the daytime beach party, Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam at Residents’ Beach, put on by the Marco Island Civic Association, with help from Lola Dial of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Act two comes after dark, when the professional fireworks are fired off from a barge anchored offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, augmented by more than a few amateur pyrotechnic displays launched from the beach itself.

Many Islanders come early, put up a canopy to stake out their space along the beach, partake of the fun, games and picnicking, and then head home to cool off before returning for the fireworks. The canopies, which offer sun protection during the day and by definition block the sky, are struck to allow an unobstructed view of the “rockets’ red glare.”

But there is action of one sort or another all day at the beach blast. With contests including hotdog eating, footraces, Frisbee flinging, tug of war, long jump, and the Patriotic Swimsuit competition. This last, with age categories from three and under up to the “seniors,” 18 and over, draws a lot of competition and spectators, with the only stipulation the contestant must include red, white and blue in their contest, or at least in their look.

Some of the young kids are heart-meltingly cute, too shy to come out in the center of the ring of people around the contestants, and some with the panache and moves of a born showman.

“Do all girls take gymnastics?” asked DJ Dominic, emceeing the proceedings, when yet another young lady came out doing cartwheels, backflips and splits. In the senior category, Juan Cabrales, who looked as though he would be a shoo-in for the hotdog eating contest, instead came out on top, shaking his considerable assets and edging out Tara Hayes. In that hotdog contest, Sean Adams was declared the winner when he finished early, eating his nine tubesteaks in six minutes.

Down at the water’s edge, another contest played out over hours, as teams of sculptors vied in the sandcastle contest. “Team Espy,” the Espy family with a little help from their friends, took Best Overall for their coral reef scene, complete with scuba diver, shark, coral reef and lifelike starfish. There was enough wave action to allow a little body surfing, and kids boogie-boarded along the waveline, while families splashed, relaxed, threw footballs and got to visit with old friends.

After all the rain of the last week, only a brief shower came down mid-afternoon, providing a little natural air conditioning. The layer of clouds and a steady breeze helped keed the temps comfortable, and the sun finally peeked underneath from the west shortly before setting. As the sky darkened, everyone settled in, or hurried back, and the night was lit up by the multi-colored rockets with which we celebrate our national day.

Those fireworks were paid for 50 percent with tax dollars, and 50 percent by contributions. In addition to the usual suspects chipping in, including MICA, Physicians Regional, the hotels and of course Joey’s Pizza, contributions came from generous citizens including Gary and Patty Sheppard, Paul Meyer of Meyer Construction, and Realtor Bill Filbin. Public-spirited individuals including Joe Granda and Bernardo Bezos donated hours of their time, keeping the traffic flowing into and out of the Residents’ Beach parking lot, and Marco’s Fire-Rescue Dept., in the person of Firefighter Nicholas Varro, piloting their all-terrain vehicle, helped keep everyone safe.

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