Back in the spring of 1977, there was a new restaurant in Naples, Florida that wanted to celebrate the season and its first year anniversary by throwing a canoe race party. The DePasquale’s restaurant is built on a beautiful waterfront view that’s why making a canoe party wasn’t a farfetched idea. Twenty five contestants battled it out in that event and it was attended by some 150 people. Little did these people know that they had been a part of a momentous and historical event in Naples, Florida one that later became a well-loved tradition.
Today, if you go around Naples, Florida and ask what would be the city’s most popular event, most if not all of the replies you get has got to be that the most well celebrated party here is the Great Dock Canoe Race. Thousands of people, young and old, from all walks of life and from different parts of the United States gather round to enjoy this wonderful event of fun and unity.
People lay out their canoes and do a flashy parade of decorated boats all with colorful headgears and costumes to match, doing it for fun mostly. Some are serious contestants who paddle and huff it out through the Gordon River for honor and glory.
The participants compete in different categories: There’s the “Ambitious Amateurs” category for the newbies in the sport. The “Practically Professionals” category is for the more experienced and more competitive participants, then there’s the “Truly Tenacious” for paddlers 65 and above who still have some good fight left in them. There’s also the “Next Generation” category for kids 12-17. And by the end of the event, among all the colorfully designed canoes, one gets chosen to be the “Best Dressed Canoe” of them all.
Last year the original organizer, Vin DePasquale announced that he is no longer able to continue organizing the races, partly due to his advanced age and the time it takes to manage his restaurant. Fortunately, this tradition will live on after all, as the young men from Naples Junior Chamber stepped in and took the helm and said that the this timeless gathering will heave on.
And so The Great Dock Canoe Race will continue and it will launch from the usual Crayton Cove, in front of DePasquale’s restaurant, and go three miles up and down the Gordon River. The race begun on the second Saturday of May as it always had. Proceeds from the event will go to a local charity.
Even though DePascuale cannot devote as much time anymore to organize the competition, people are still out there training, gathering equipment, eager to compete against people they know. The people of Naples, Florida wanted a local competition, that’s why the event was able to endure.
Now, the young ones from the “Next Generation” are numerous and they have fire within them and this gives most of the old organizers and the previous champions hope for the future of this tradition.
Come and visit Naples, Florida, sit by the boardwalk with the other spectators, take pictures by the beach or better yet join in the competition for an awesome vacation here at the Paradise Coast.