Gwynne English, daughter of Jim and Claire English, is crowned Little Miss Beauty and the Beach by previous winner Emily Schulz. Gwynne, 11, is in the sixth grade at the Center for Gifted Studies at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School. From left are Mayor R.B. Johnson of Indian Rocks Beach, Gwynne English and Joan Johnstone, Indian Rocks Beach event organizer.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – A planned Saturday afternoon on the beach turned out to be much more than a Tampa family expected and they were delighted with the surprise. Little did Queen and Ra Smith know that April 5 the day they had planned also was the time of the annual Beauty and the Beach celebration in Indian Rocks Beach.
The event has been held for more than 20 years and besides the revelry on the beach it also includes an arts and crafts show and sale in Kolb Park and a Pancake Breakfast at Calvary Episcopal Church.
At the beach by mid-afternoon the Smith family had been treated to a sand castle contest and a children’s beauty pageant. They also were kept busy keeping track of their daughters Ana, who liked the water, and Anastasia who loved the music, so much in fact she couldn’t stop smiling.
“This is amazing,” she said. “I especially like the music and the food, and the slushy.”
Her mom and Dad were just as enthusiastic about the event.
“This is our first time here,” said Queen. “We just came over for a day on the beach and encountered all this. The food; everything is very good here. Now that we know about it we’ll be back for sure.”
City Works Supervisor Randy Schwab is the man usually involved in setting up the affair and this year was no exception. He was as pleased as the revelers at what he saw.
“Everything is going great,” he said. “The people, the weather, the music, it all came together. It has been a real good day.”
Schwab said the event, which began at 11 a.m., started slowly, but as the day progressed the crowds got bigger and bigger. By 4 p.m. there was hardly room on that section of beach around 18th Avenue.
“Everything is going great,” he said.
Volunteer Phil Wrobel, who can be seen helping out at every event in the city, was just as happy with what was happening.
“This is a good city event and those of us from various volunteer organizations help out because we all benefit from the proceeds of this,” he said. “This is something I’ve been doing for years and it is a good run-up for the World’s Biggest Beach Party coming up soon.”
Wrobel was referring to the Beach Party sponsored by the IRB Homeowners Association, which will be held on April 26.
Late in the afternoon the Band Sweet Spot was performing and had people up and dancing on the sand. Nearby Dunedin residents Tiana Krah and her little sister, Savannah, were enjoying every minute of it.
“I’m finally getting to hear the band,” she said. “They are the best band around in this area. I’ve seen them play before; but it is difficult to get to see them. This is great.”
Having just as much fun was a group of newfound friends from up north. Sheila Sattler from Minnesota had befriended Marni Volbert of North Dakota and Sue Smrekar, another Minnesota resident. The beach brought them together and long before the end of the day they were behaving like old friends.
“I love this. It is a great place to meet wonderful people,” said Smrekar. “I’ve been coming here for four years and will certainly be back.”
“For me it is all about the weather,” said Volbert. “There is no snow but there is great music, great people and the beach. Back home they are shoveling snow. My parents have been coming here for 7 years and for sure I’ll be back.”
“This beats the frozen tundra,” said Sattler, whose husband Doug was relaxing nearby in a beach chair.
“I like it, I like IRB, there is nowhere better to be,” he said. “This is a great place to winter. It is our 10th year and we’ll keep coming back.”
The Sattlers first came to Indian Rocks Beach 10 years ago when their daughter moved down because her husband got a job working on the I-4 expansion project back then. In fact Sattler said their first granddaughter was born at Bayfront Hospital. That alone he said will keep them coming back.
Stories such as those abound during the event. While there is no way the authorities can tell how many people attend the festival every year it is safe to say hundreds, if not thousands, are crowded on the beach enjoying the sun and the sand and the festive atmosphere.
A year ago organizer Joan Johnston said the planning for next year’s event begins as soon as this one is over. The same holds true this time.