While it fell short of the world record, Saturday’s first ever Paddle Jam is being hailed by participants and organizers as a wonderful and uplifting experience.
“We may not have the world record, but we had world-class volunteers, sponsors, participants and support,” said the Rev. Themo Patriotis, who conceived of and organized the three-day event. “We set a world record for Southern hospitality. For a first time attempt, this was a tremendous success.”
The goal of Paddle Jam was to set the world’s record for the largest kayak raft. To do this, 2,100 kayakers would have had to paddle. Best estimate is that 333 participated in the raft on Saturday afternoon.
Staging area for the event was Battery Park. Paddlers began to arrive in town on Friday night and there was music in the park until about 9 p.m.
The city fenced off the area with the same chain link used during Florida Seafood Festival. Patriotis said this proved to be a wise move since visitors felt secure about leaving their boats at the launch site while they ate, checked in to lodgings and got a good night’s sleep before the paddle.
Hotels reported the jam put some heads on beds. People came from as far away as Montana and Colorado specifically to paddle. A team of 13 from Tennessee and Alabama called themselves the “Yakkin’ Dogs” and another groups identified themselves as Team Jellyfish.
Apalachicola Police Chief Bobby Varnes complimented participants on Friday afternoon. “The crowd is very laid back,” he said. This is the way I like it.”
On Saturday morning, about a dozen vendors had set up in the park offering food, clothing and art.
Sports Authority of Panama City gave away free tickets for a chance to win a fishing kayak donated by the Lifetime Kayaks. The winner was Valerie Jackson, of Apalachicola.
Rental kayaks were available onsite from Journeys of St. George Island; the Apalachicola Maritime Museum had boats available.
Patriotis said 333 paddlers registered but he also said there were late arrivals who may not have registered.
Dayle Flynt, owner of Journey’s of St. George Island, said she rented about 60 kayaks to participants, some of which were tandems seating two people.
“It may not have been a world record but it was definitely an Eastpoint record,” said Wayne Thomas of Eastpoint.
The first paddlers put in the water at about noon. It took an hour to get everyone on the water and form a raft with every boat in contact with at least one other.
While rafting up, paddlers amused themselves by blowing bubbles and tossing a pink beach ball. Two rafters donned realistic horse head masks.
Debbie Hooper of JoeBay Aerial Photography circled overhead in a small plane capturing images of the kayaks traveling from the marina to a spoil Island and rafting up.
Patriotis arrived on the scene in a support boat and waved a blue satin flag for attention. He said all of the kayaks needed to raft up when the Coast Guard vessel sounded a horn as a signal.
Patriotis said there were nine privately-owned support boats and several wave runners on site as well as boats from the Coast Guard, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and St. George Island Water Rescue.
One man had to be towed ashore when he experienced back pain. Two paddlers left their boats and entered the water. In both cases, the water was shallow enough to stand and the two were restored to their kayaks with a helping hand from other paddlers.
The weather was perfect for an event on the water with a light breeze and temperatures in the 70s. After rafting up for an aerial photo, the happy participants made there orderly way back to shore and participating boats were quickly removed and carried to vehicles with the help of volunteers.
On Sunday morning, the event climaxed with Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Day at Regatta Park on St. George Island. After a service before the majestic waters of the bay, there was yoga, racing and SUP demonstrations.
The theme of the sermon was unconditional love. Patriotis said, “Paddle Jam has brought together people from all kinds of philosophical, religious and political backgrounds. This is not an attempt to change anybody. We’re going to be the mass of humanity that God so loved, he sent his only son. Love to paddle, paddle to love.”
Patriotis praised everyone who provided support for the event and said the Coast Guard was on board from day one.
A follow-up meeting is planned to review Paddle Jam and begin planning for next year. Proceeds from the event go towards helping “at risk” children, youth and families in need through the Outreach Ministries of the Apalachicola-St. George Island Cooperative Parish, where Patriotis pastors.