ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Hundreds of surfers from across the state gathered on Holmes Beach near White Avenue to enjoy the waves whipped up by Tropical Storm Isaac on Monday.
“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 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.”
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Despite tropical storm threats hovering the area, including a risk of dangerous rip currents, the conditions for many visitors and permanent residents of Manatee's coastal islands has been milder than expected.
And the drizzle didn't keep them from the beach Monday morning.
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 about 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 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.”
Non-surfers also made the trek to the beach.
"There's no school so we decided to come out and see what the waves look like," said Bradenton resident John Kunz, who was walking the beach with his daughter Cecilia. "Seems like we dodged it again."
Although sunshine was in short supply, the public beaches on Anna Maria were still buzzing Monday.
Some area residents even turned what now appears to be a miss by Isaac into a learning experience.
Area residents Geoff and Jennifer Nichols took their children to the beach to explain the importance of being prepared. The couple was never intimated by the storm's weekend threats.
"We jokingly wanted to put something on Facebook saying the sky was falling," Geoff said. "We have been here too long (to be worried.)"
Most businesses plan on staying open for day, even if scaling down staffing to accommodate what is expected to be slow patronage.
"I believe it will be business as usual," said area restaurateur Ed Chiles. "This is turning out to be a nonevent for us."
Many area tourists left Sunday when reports predicted outer bands from Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to develop into a hurricane in the coming days, would dump torrential rain on the area when it passes along the Gulf.
But that was not the case for sisters Angie and Michele Heibart, who were vacationing on the island since Friday. The duo from Orlando was still on the beach Monday morning.
"We knew it was coming, and we didn't care," Angie said. "Its been beautiful. We have had worse weather than this during a typical rainy day."
Hoteliers said their remaining visitors are taking the opportunity to catch up on shopping, scout other area attractions and just get some rest in their rooms.
Locals and repeat visitors knew what to expect.
"Its not anything like I thought it would be," said David Teitelbaum, who operates four resorts on Anna Maria. "It's rainy, and it's breezy, but it's sort of refreshing."