Stretching out on the beach

Changing venues keep party fresh

Panama City Beach, Fla., September 23–27—As the saying goes, there is only one constant and that is change. And Thunder Beach is not one to buck such philosophical thinking. New personnel in the front office and new venues with new sponsor partners combined to make this fall rally a great success. But with 20 successive events under this rally’s belt (11 for the spring rally and the fall celebrating nine years), organizers know they can’t rest on their laurels.

The kick-off party traditionally held on the west end of the beach was moved to one of the newest condotels on the east end of the beach. The Shores of Panama was a first-time host to the welcome party in their pool area complete with outside bars and a large contingent of bikers enjoying the rocking sounds of the band ELI. This was a more spacious locale, and with the large, elevated stage, it provided better line of sight to view the entertainment. One round of the Miss Thunder Beach contest was held after the concert to narrow the choice of beautiful young ladies vying for the title and prizes. This is a beautiful facility and, with a few minor upgrades that are already being considered, it will become a premier party location.

The after-party was held next door at another new venue, Pineapple Willy’s. Unlike the newly opened Shores of Panama, Willy’s has been a beach staple since 1984, serving Jack Daniels ribs and seafood. It not only has the longest deck on the beach but is also located within walking distance of several party spots. In addition to the restaurant and bar, they have a blues bar with live music as well as a few vendors in the parking lot.

The Sandpiper is no longer an official sponsor of Thunder Beach, but still hosts a large number of bikers. Their commitment to high caliber entertainment was epitomized by the female group Mustang Sally. Not only are they good musicians and vocalists, but are very entertaining, as well.

Nick Lee was back at Frank Brown Park with his World Burnout Tour, smoking rear tires on the blacktop on the loop road and adding to his personal carbon footprint. And once again, the Ives Family was showcasing their highflying stunts on the ramps and inside the Globe of Death. Karen Ruel was carrying on the tradition of the late Brad Ruel and making a presence at Thunder Beach.

Even the old-town portion of Panama City proper known as St. Andrews has gotten in on the Thunder Beach ride. Hunt’s Restaurant had a wait for lunch, but the time on the porch was well spent talking with fellow riders. Hunt’s is one of those old-time joints that is noisy and crowded, with a corrugated tin ceiling and good food. It’s a favorite of both “from here’s” and “come here’s” alike.

The Miss Thunder Beach contest at the Boardwalk (a Friday tradition) was the culmination of several preliminary pageants, from Pensacola’s 5 Flags Speedway, to Sharky’s and the Shores of Panama in PC Beach. Nine beautiful young women strutted their lean and lithe bodies on stage for the appreciative fans. Gone this year was the question-and-answer portion of the program. (Most of the audience probably could care less if they can even speak, much less form coherent sentences.)

A 50/50 is usually part of the build-up to the Miss Thunder Beach contest, with the money raised donated to a charitable cause. This tradition was changed on the fly this fall to help JC Crawford, an employee of Harley-Davidson of Atlanta, who lost his 2-year-old grandson in a tragic and personal way during the horrendous floods in Atlanta. A drawing was held to benefit his family in their time of sorrow. The winner netted approx $334 and gave all but $100 back. Fat Dog encouraged the audience awaiting the Miss Thunder Beach contest to contribute and, along with the 50/50 money, close to $2,000 was raised in a matter of minutes with the passing of collection buckets among the crowd.

Another tradition at the Boardwalk prior to the beauty parade is the bucket lift—a strongman competition pitting rivals against heavy buckets of sand. The reigning champ, Tater from Georgia, made the announcement that if he won again this year he would retire, since he had won so many times in the past. Kinda brings a tear to your eye—like when Bill Elliot asked not to be considered for Nascar’s Most Popular Driver after 16 wins in 17 years. And yes, he won again. Hail Tater!

After the contest, Matt Ruthig of Gateway Customs loaned his beautiful trike as the prop of choice for the beauty parade photo shoot. Although the light was poor, professionals and amateurs alike did their best to capture the finalists in all of their glory on the beach boardwalk. The storm of flashes resembled the paparazzi trying to get an up-skirt shot of Paris crawling out of her Bentley.

There were several poker runs during the weekend. The Shriners began theirs at Rock’It Lanes in the Shoppes at Edgewater on Thursday. The Red Knights held registration at Sharky’s for their beneficiary Cops for Kids while the Defenders also donated to Cops for Kids, with their poker run beginning at Crazy Marlins. The Kevin Kight Memorial Bike Parade is a favorite with many. On Saturday morning, Front Beach Road is usually lined with people on tailgates, retaining walls and folding chairs to get a look at the participants.

This year, the Pier Park complex was once again the site of the USRider News Best of the Beach Bike Show. The actual spot of the show moves slightly with each new show due to the changes and additions made on the grounds, but it is not difficult to find. Just look for the glare of chrome. Fifty-three bikes were entered in the various categories and, depending on the class, were rewarded with cash, prizes and trophies.

The Thunder Angels held a ride and Bikini Bike Wash at another of the new venues, Miss Newby’s Too. The Miss Thunder Beach winners washed bikes in high heels and bikinis during the day to help in the fight against breast cancer. They were impressive and generous with their time for a good cause. Several bikers with apparent foot fetishes and too much beer offered their foot massage services. Newby’s Too was also the home of the American Legion Chapter 392, who had a 50/50 drawing. This newly formed chapter is comprised of 90 percent active-duty military personnel.

Local bike dealer Black Jack Customs donated a 2009 H-D Sportster that was raffled on behalf of the children’s charity Sponsors of Hope. Ron had his dealer trailer set up at Willy’s and several young ladies were hawking the tickets. Twenty bucks gave you a chance to win a bike and help the kids.

Being a promoter is no easy feat and often times a thankless task. Rally owner and organizer Joe Biggs has been able to dance, tiptoe, hold hands, and deal with political powers and personalities for almost ten years and is still growing and improving Thunder Beach with each event. His dedication to the people who come to Panama City Beach for his rallies and his quest to be the best is never-ending. (


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