Manatee's Wallenda gets hero's welcome at Sarasota boat parade

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 5, 2013 

SARASOTA -- When Beverly Carrington of Sarasota saw Manatee County aerialist Nik Wallenda on Friday night sitting on top of a green Ford Mustang convertible in the rain while holding an umbrella and waving at a crowd of 20,000 all she could think of was that he was finally safe.

There was no way he was going to slip and fall out of that Mustang during the 2013 Nik Wallenda Welcome Home and Festival of Boats Parade on Main Street in Sarasota Friday.

It wasn't like that June 23.

Back then Carrington and her mother, Ruth Olson, were at home holding their breath along with 13 million oth

er cable TV viewers as Wallenda began walking on a two-inch steel cable suspended 1,500 feet over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona.

He made it without slipping, but it took 22 grueling minutes.

"I was sweating," Carrington said Friday, moments before the start of the parade that, this year, mixed the daredevil Wallenda, who was named honorary grand marshal, with 60 daredevils and their speedboats of all shapes and sizes.

"My palms were sweaty," Carrington said. "My feet were sweaty. I had to leave the room several times."

Others at the parade, which gave equal billing to Wallenda and Sunday's upcoming annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix at Lido Beach, voiced the same kind of recollections of those 22 minutes.

"I have met Nik and he is an awesome human being," said Judy Moore of Sarasota, who was sitting in a chair on the parade route with Dawn Thornton. "Nik is not only an excellent performer, he is a super person. He's a gentleman. He deserves a crowd like this."

While Wallenda got the bulk of the waves and shouts on a rainy night, there was plenty of admiration for the boats in this 29th edition of Sarasota's classic Super Boat Grand Prix Parade.

One by one they passed along Main Street -- Lucas Oil, Miss Mary Mac, Miss Geico, Phantom. Anyone who loved boats would be in heaven.

"You've got to love the Geico boat," said Scott Gaines with Suncoast Power Boats, a Manatee County yacht brokerage firm that had a float in the parade. "They say that the most money wins. The Geico boat is all new this year with a piston-engine, no more turbines for Geico."

Katie Kurz drove in the truck that pulled the Suncoast Power Boats' float.

"I love to see Sarasota turn out," Kurz said. "It's wonderful to actually be in the parade. It's very loud."

The crowds were five deep at Main Street and Lemon, with music in the air, cold beverages flowing, and the honks and blaring sirens of police and fire boats lending a surreal sound track. There was a feeling of New Orleans' Mardi Gras.

"This is very satisfying," said Robert Stevenson, a 30-year Sarasota resident. "An excellent local event. Sarasota loves these boats. We have the infrastructure for them. I think they will always be here."

Rita Metz of Sarasota was there with Geri, 13 and Matthew, 11.

"Matthew loves speedboats," Metz said. "Tonight are here at the parade. Saturday we will be at the boat ramp to see the boats and Sunday we will be at Lido Beach at 10 a.m. for the races."

It was Metz's first boat parade.

"We go to the DeSoto Heritage Parade every year in Bradenton and love it," Metz said. "When the pirates come out, it's a blast and I could open a bead shop after going."

Sarasota's parade was light on beads, but heavy on boats.

"It's a cool event," said tireless Lakewood Ranch event planner Lori Basilone, who was taking notes in Sarasota Friday along with her niece, Giovanna Coppola, 8, and nephew, Mike Coppola, 13, both of Waterlefe.

"Noise is good, kids like noise, and how can you beat having lots of noise and big boats," Basilone said. "And it's all for Suncoast Charities for Children," the benefit charity for the event.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.

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