Bradenton Area River Regatta attracts huge crowds, impresses newcomers in fifth year

The secret is out about one of Manatee County’s biggest events of the year — it’s a blast of entertainment that’s too good to pass up.

Saturday’s 5th annual Bradenton Area River Regatta was a hit with newcomers and repeat guests alike. The free event spanned from the Palmetto Pier to the Bradenton Riverwalk, with so much to do that visitors could hardly keep up.

“It’s my first time here,” said Bradenton resident Kaitlynn Grear. “So I’m not sure what to expect.”

Grear was called on stage to participate in the Distinguished Daredevil variety show at the Mosaic Amphitheater. She stood between stunt performers Noah Royak and Bill Berry as they juggled swords.

Other newcomers were impressed by the sheer scale of the production. Mark Sigler moved to St. Petersburg just four months ago but decided to come see what the regatta was all about with his wife.

“From the eyes of someone who’s never been, this is very well organized and the cities have really put a lot of thought into security,” Sigler said. “The last thing we want to do is be in a crowd where someone does something crazy, and the amount of officers here really lowers that risk.”

Bradenton Area River Regatta newcomer Kaitlynn Grear stands between performers at the Distinguished Daredevil variety show as they juggle swords back and forth. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Another reassuring factor for Sigler was the number of workers stationed all throughout the event.

“There’s workers everywhere to pick up all the trash and everything. It’s just run so well,” he said.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the goal of the regatta isn’t just to host a good time for local residents, but to create an event big enough to give outsiders a taste of what the area has to offer. If Sigler’s testimony is indicative of other newcomers, that plan is working.

“This is just incredible,” he said. “We’ll definitely be back next year.”

Sigler wasn’t alone in being blown away by all there was to do Saturday. Zach Bergstron, of Palmetto, made his first visit to the regatta, as well, with his dog Diesel.

Thousands watched Saturday’s powerboat races from the Green Bridge during the fifth annual Bradenton Area River Regatta. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Bergstron said he knew the event was going to have something for everyone but the closure of the Green Bridge caught him off guard.

“I heard about it through a friend and figured it’d be a good way to enjoy the weekend,” Bergstron said. “I just wasn’t expecting it to be this big with the bridge shut down and everything.”

Organizers say the annual event is bigger than ever. New additions included performances from Seabreachers and twice as many powerboat races as last year. That news was music to Antonio Rodriguez’s ears. The Clearwater resident said he came down to the area specifically to see powerboat races, which are a favorite pastime of his.

“It’s really the only thing I came for,” Rodriguez said. “It’s very cool to get to watch it from the top of the bridge like this.”

The regatta’s only snag was a slight delay of the powerboat races due to a lower-than-expected tide at Bolley’s Creek.

Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

“Low tide prevented us from getting the boats in the water when we wanted to,” said event manager Michael Dongilli. “We thought it’d be higher by the time we were ready, but that didn’t happen.”

Racers made up for the one-hour delay by taking shorter breaks in between races throughout the afternoon. World flyboard champion Kristen Smoyer entertained guests watching along the Green Bridge and along the Riverwalk between races with an aerial display that boosted her 50 feet in the air thanks to jets of water.

Musical performances from We The Kings, Sam Woolf and Brandi Sparks rocked the stage on both sides of the river throughout the afternoon. Around 7 p.m., a day jam-packed with entertainment ended with a bang following the Zambelli Fireworks Spectacular show.

Other attractions at the regatta included helicopter tours, a Bradenton Marauders fun zone and stunt dog shows.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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