Surfers from across Florida flock to Anna Maria Island to enjoy waves from Tropical Storm Isaac

wtatangelo@bradenton.comAugust 28, 2012 

ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Despite strong rip currents, tornado warnings and rain, surfers from across the state gathered on Holmes Beach to enjoy waves whipped up by Tropical Storm Isaac.

But it wasn't all fun Monday on Anna Maria Island.

Businesses closed or struggled to attract customers while 50 mph wind gusts slammed a boat into the Bradenton Beach City Pier later in the day.

The action on the area of Holmes Beach near White Avenue, a popular surfing destination, started shortly after sunrise.

"At 7 a.m. there were no waves at all," said surfer/photographer Curtis Hightower. "By 8 a.m., the waves were five feet high."

The 39-year-old said he relocated to Holmes Beach from San Diego, Calif., about a year and a half ago.

"This morning was the best waves I've seen since I moved here," Hightower said. "I saw a couple six footers."

While not surfing, Hightower photographed individuals such as Giorgio Gomez. The 16-year-old drove to Holmes Beach from his home in Jupiter.

"There's size and power out there," he said. "Some real fun barrels."

Due to the choppy waters, most surfers interviewed were opting for short boards.

"I just traded my long board," said Rob Tolley as the sun broke through the clouds around 10 a.m. "It's really hard to get up out there."

The 52-year-old metro director of the Christian youth organization Young Life's Tampa branch drove south Monday morning with his teenage sons and their friends.

The four young men, all students at Wharton High School in Tampa, spent Saturday surfing at Cocoa Beach.

"But this is our favorite beach on the Gulf Coast," said 16-year-old Blake Trolley. "Everyone is nicer and friendlier here (at Holmes Beach)."

Jessica Seaman drove over with a group of friends from Lakewood Ranch. Classes were canceled for The State College of Florida student and she had the day off from her job at Bayside Community Church in Bradenton.

"It's rough, the current is strong and it's windy," the 21-year-old said while seated alone on the sand next to her board. "It's a challenge but fun."

Did the young woman plan on returning to the waters?

"Oh yeah," she said. "We're going to be here all day."

To the south of the island, at the three piers area of Coquina Beach, surfing continued throughout the afternoon while a giant puddle covered a portion of Gulf Drive.

At nearby Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, the fresh seafood purveyor Blue Marlin closed for the day, hanging a handwritten sign on the window that read "Gone Fishin'."

Bridge Street Interiors was closed "due to impending storm."

The Fish Hole Miniature Golf remained open, but as of about 4 p.m. had only five customers, down from a typical 30 or more for this time of year, said Joel Earley, the manager.

Since opening in May of 2008 the popular mini golf course has been open every single day except for when Tropical Storm Debby blew through in June.

"The wind, with so much foliage here, it's a constant battle to keep the place clean if someone does show up," Earley said. "As far as damage, we learned from Debby to take everything down and prepare better."

While the sun illuminated the surf around 5 p.m., a 40-foot boat slammed into the Bradenton Beach City Pier.

The vessel broke loose from its mooring as squall lines with winds of about 45-50 mph from Tropical Storm Isaac hit the area. The city pier was closed as Bradenton Beach police officers evaluated the situation.

"These people who don't know how to anchor their boat are the biggest problem," said 63 year-old Mark Peterson.

The former autoworker from Flint, Mich., pointed to the 33-foot Watkins sailboat built in Clearwater that has been his home for the past four years.

"I rode Debby for three days," Peterson said. "It's too soon to ride another so I got a room at the friendly neighborhood resort."

Peterson had reservations to stay at Smuggler's Cove in Bradenton Beach through Wednesday.

"Anyone who wants to go out in this is not a boater," he said in between drags of his cigarette. "No one in his right mind would want to be out there."

Wade Tatangelo, features writer and columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter@wtatangelo.

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