Saturday’s Laughlin River Regatta was a celebration of floating, fun and friends, complete with birds and unicorns.
More than 10,000 visitors converged on the launch site at Davis Camp on Saturday morning, veterans glad to see the event back on after a year without a regatta and newcomers excited about the prospect of a few hours on the river with good company and adult beverages.
The floats came in all forms, including circular tubes and inflatable canoes to turtles and dinosaurs, but the water belonged to winged creatures, both real and mythical.
Rodrigo Quintero of California’s San Fernando Valley came as part of a group floating on an 8-foot flamingo with a 13-foot-by-13-foot footprint. His friend Andrew Rodriguez said he was inspired to buy the flamingo float after encountering the birds during a zoo trip.
Alyson Hazard toted a similarly sized peacock. It bore a sign on its back reading “you can’t flock with us.”
The four friends who attended with Hazard added a duck, a pelican, a swan and a flamingo to the flock.
The duck captain, Ellen Alexander, said she was happy to see the regatta return.
“I love the river,” she said. “Any reason to get in the water.”
Greg Kormelis, of Bellingham, Wash., was a first-timer. He said he came at the urging of local friends.
“They told me it’s a few relaxing hours on a hot day, drinking beers and floating down the river,” he said. “It’s nice, not too hot. There’s lots of diversity, lots of cool people out.”
Dawn Railey of Orange County, Calif., wore a shirt reading “Killin’ my liver at the river.”
While Railey planned to have a few drinks, the real attraction of regatta for her is the chance to meet people and enjoy the landscape while floating by, she said.
She was one of several to say they were saddened at the Bullhead City Council’s decision to cancel the 2017 regatta and pleased to hear that the event was coming back.
“I think we bought the tickets immediately,” Railey said.
Alexander said she thinks this year’s event was more organized than past regattas. She was particularly impressed by the shuttle buses that took participants from Laughlin casinos to the launch area.
Michael Chafe, of Riverside, Calif., said this was his first regatta, but that he was aware of local opposition to the event.
“It’s not bad so far,” Chafe said. “I hope everyone picks up their trash.”
Quintero said he understood why the regatta was scrapped for 2017.
“I saw the mess they left a couple of years ago,” he said.
Yvette Silva, of Fontana, Calif., fiddled with the three large onion bags she and her husband received at check-in as she talked about participating in the regatta.
“Smartest thing they’ve ever done,” she said, recalling all the trash that accumulated at the end of the 2016 regatta and led to the float’s one-year hiatus. “Hopefully everyone will use these and (trash) won’t be a problem.”
Michael Paul, owner of Tri-State Ace Hardware, said that how the river is treated will go a long way toward changing minds.
“Once people see that we can do this and it’s not a bunch of drunk people, and we can keep it clean,” he said. “I think that will encourage people to be supportive of it coming back.”
Paul said that the regatta’s return was welcome for numerous local businesses, including his own.
“Restaurants do well,” he said. “Walmart always has a big weekend when the regatta comes around. People are being put to work.”
Ace set up three off-site stores to serve the regatta crowd, including one at Davis Camp. Hats, waterproof phone cases and coozie cups were among big sellers, Paul said.
He said that shoppers included guests unaware of certain rules, such as a mandatory oar for each float, and a few people who just happened to be in the area and decided to participate.
Meredith Keller bought some last-minute necessities at the Ace Hardware booth set up inside the Edgewater Resort Casino’s E Center after flying in Friday from San Antonio.
A childhood friend who lives in Bullhead City invited Keller’s family to float with her, she explained. They turned the trip into a family outing.
Many floaters took heed of suggestions for their safety, carrying oars, wearing water shoes and mandated life jackets, and toting plenty of ice and water to balance out the alcoholic beverages. A group from Las Vegas attached a camouflage-printed cover over its flamingo float to lessen the effects of the desert sun.
Derek Dawson, of Huntington Beach, Calif., decided to use music to enhance his group’s float. Kenny Chesney’s “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” blared from an eight-speaker system he custom-built for a previous regatta.
“He hasn’t even cranked it up yet,” another member of Dawson’s party warned.
The system, which boasts a 10-hour battery life and 3,600 watts of power, was to be towed behind the group on its own floating trailer.
Dawson said the group would listen to rock, rap and country on the way down the Colorado River. New for the group is a camera stand, which was to take panoramic video of the journey.
This is their fifth regatta and he and his friends usually make one other trip to the area each year, Dawson said.
Dawson appreciates the contrast between the ocean back home and the river here, particularly on a day when the Colorado River is closed to boat traffic, he said.
Ryan Maahs prepared for his initial regatta by buying a pair of unicorn-emblazoned board shorts to match one of his group’s floats.
His clothing choice was sarcastic, he said, but he was glad to have been invited by friends.
“They said we’d float down the river and drink beer,” Maahs said. “I couldn’t say no.”