May 8, 2014
By: Katie Egan


Twenty-five contestants and 150 spectators in 1976 may have had no idea they were witnessing the birth of a Naples tradition.

Founded by Vin DePasquale, the Great Dock Canoe Races were formed at The Dock at Crayton Cove to celebrate the end of tourist season, commonly known as simply “season.”

“It’s really an honor for the canoe races to be a Naples tradition,” DePasquale said. “To have the community embrace it is why we do it and to get the support of the city and other sponsors to make it happen.”

Amanda Apholz, 25, plans to attend the latest installment of the canoe races — which are Saturday — with her boyfriend because he and his family compete in them every year.

The Naples resident says she’s most excited about celebrating the event with the community.

And DePasquale agreed, saying his favorite part has been seeing the canoe races evolve throughout the years and take its place in Naples lore.

His other favorite part is raising money for local charities.

A $5,000 grant is awarded to a local children’s charity each year. This year’s beneficiary is Drug Free Collier. Money from the races will support drug and alcohol abuse prevention clubs, known as the CORE Society, at Naples High School and Gulfview Middle School in Naples.

Kathy Wheeler, marketing consultant for The Dock and Riverwalk restaurants, said her favorite part is watching the theme canoe parade.

“It’s always entertaining. The canoes have to float and they have to be able to be paddled,” Wheeler says. “Some of them are quite elaborate and quite awesome to see.”

After DePasquale’s son took him to see a zombie movie (DePasquale can’t remember its name), he saw how popular zombies had become and this year’s Zombies in Paradise theme was born.

The theme serves as inspiration for the decorated canoes in the Theme Canoe Parade starting at 11 a.m. The “best dressed canoe” will receive a $1,000 prize.

(See sidebar for event times.)

The Tippycanoe VIP Sprint is the first of three races on Naples Bay beginning at 11:45 a.m. Canoes paddled by principals of local organizations race through a 700-yard course. Handicaps for the male-female teams (two minutes) and female-female teams (four minutes) are put in place to help increase the excitement.

Then for the first time, all three race segments will set out in time increments — to give the race an increased sense of urgency and make it more thrilling.

This means there will be some “contra-flow” as teams pass each other while racing in opposite directions, hopefully resulting in a tighter race and more interest for spectators.

Paddlers competing for the Practically Professionals overall trophy will set out in at 12:45 p.m. About 10 minutes later, the Ambitious Amateurs, Next Generation (12-to 17-year-olds paddling with a parent or guardian) and Truly Tenacious (canoeists 65 or older) will hit the water.

In addition to The Dock at Crayton Cove, the race is sponsored by Riverwalk at Tin City.

This year’s media sponsor is Renda Broadcasting, including Mix 104.7 and 98.9-FM WGUF. Naples Extreme Family Fun Spot is sponsoring the safety boats, Bleu Provence French Restaurant is the canoe crew sponsor, and Sierra Grande and Childs & Childs Cosmetic Dentistry are the trolley co-sponsors. The city of Naples also is a longtime race sponsor.

In addition to awards for each race heat, the traditional Broken Paddle Award for sportsmanship will be presented. The award honors the deceased Chuck Bruce, first winner of the award and a loyal event contributor throughout the years. Winners’ names are hand-painted onto a broken paddle and added to the permanent collection on display at The Dock.

“I’m going because it’s a Naples tradition,” Naples resident Ashley Gegenwarth, 23, said. “It’s the one event every year in Naples you don’t want to miss.”

Trolley service from parking areas along Eighth Street South at Sixth Avenue South and Eighth Avenue South will be available from 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Spectator boats must stay within the designated area, and safe boating rules will be enforced.

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