Partying on the Panama Panhandle

The Redneck Riviera hosts a hoedown

Panama City Beach, Fla., Apr. 28–May 2—It has been a long, wet and windy winter on the Florida Panhandle with few respites. Opportunities to ride and party have been few and far between, so when Thunder Beach kicked off its 12th annual Spring Rally, riders poured onto the beach thicker than love bugs on a windshield. Hibernating bikers were looking for their pot of honey and they found it on the sugar sand beaches of Panama. Appar­ently Mother Nature has been ignoring the calendar that tells the rest of us that it is spring in other parts of the country, too. Dean and Debbie Anderson of the High Seas Rally came to PCBeach from Laughlin via Denver trying to outrun the snow and wind that shadowed them as they traveled east across the Rockies.

Promoter Joe Biggs and his capable crew rolled out the red carpet for the kickoff party Wednesday night for the second year at the Shores of Panama including the first phase of the Miss Thunder Beach contest. The after-party then moved next door to Pineapple Willy’s and continued into the wee hours. Even the massive road construction project on Thomas Drive wasn’t enough to deter the party crowd.

If the traffic was any indication, this spring event was probably the largest in the 12-year history of the rally. Historically, those in the know have been able to bypass the backups and long lines by using back roads and cut-through roads. But not this year. At times some intersections resembled Lazelle Street in Sturgis on Saturday night.

Thursday morning, Frank Brown Park was packed with bikes by 10:00 as the crowds arrived early to take advantage of the cooler temps during the early hours. Jerry Covington was back for his second time at Thunder Beach with him and his crew staying busy all weekend selling and installing parts and wheels. At one point he had the old adjustable wrench out taking a wheel off the display rack for a customer install. Multi-time vendor-attendee Jeff Nicklus with Desperado Motorcycles was on hand displaying not only his custom bikes but also the first bike built by his son Conrad as a newly licensed manufacturer. Look for more work from him in the future. Perennial favorite Vince Doll was also back at the beach once again with his unique brand of Redneck Engineering flavor.

The Cody and Kyle Ives Stunt Show thrilled the crowd at Frank Brown Park several times each day with spectacular jumps and their Globe of Death performances. And the World Burnout champ Nick Lee did his best to tweak the tree huggers with billowing smoke and shredding tires for the dump. During the night he continued his mayhem at Pineapple Willy’s.

The Club LaVela parking lot was once again the home to J&P Cycles, Metzler Tires and other great vendors. Kuryakyn brought down their largest display ever with three big rigs lined up nose to tail. I stopped by to talk with Kuryakyn’s Mark Wolfram and had to stand in a line six deep while promoter Joe Biggs was number five, if that gives you some indication of how busy they were.

LaVela was also the home of free live entertainment for the bikers including Molly Hatchet and The Southern All Stars as well as wet T-shirt and bikini contests, while just down the road, Mustang Sally and Eli were featured at the Sandpiper Beacon for several nights. The crowd was so big that there was literally not a spot to squeeze a bike into to park. I tried, twice.

One of the best bike shows in the Southeast was hosted by USRider News at Pier Park for the third time with $10,000 in prizes going to the winners of 16 categories. The best of show took home a thousand bucks put up by Steel Horse Law with judging being performed by members of the IMBBA. Jay Barbieri was on hand taping for his new show Two Wheel Thunder, co-hosted by Michele Smith. Jay and his cameraman were all over the place so you could be a star and not know it. Nooo, Michele was not present, but she hints there may be a chance to see her on the Strip Club Chopper Pole Bike on the new show. My DVR is already set.

Drive-up daiquiri bars have been a staple on PC Beach for years.And while all but a couple have been replaced with condos, fear not. The Brew Thru is the newest way to upload some liquid libation in package form without leaving the comfort of your chosen mode of transportation. Just drive through the building, place your order and the friendly attendant will secure your purchase in the backseat, pickup bed, trunk or even strap it to your luggage rack. What a country! What a state. What a rally.

All of the beach hot spots were busy this year with Shuckum’s, Dusty’s, Sharky’s, and Miss Newby’s all doing good business. The roadway in front of Newby’s was lined with bikes as early as noon each day. If you intend to take in most of Thunder Beach, its size dictates that you practice moderation and planning. There are so many good hangouts and bars with live bands that it is almost impossible to experience it all in only four days and nights. But then you can always sleep when you get to work on Monday.

Friday afternoon the elements suddenly tested the resolve of riders and passengers as the rain came in heavy, trapping the thirsty and lonely in whatever bar they were sitting for an hour or two. But in true form, the captive customers never slowed up. Thirty or so people from Anderson, South Carolina, passed the time in the Majestic’s parking garage with their own basketball goal and bean bag toss while also working on a couple of the custom bikes they had brought. These guys were traveling with their own party, tools and coolers.

Friday’s stormy midday weather did little to dampen the spirits of those making the trek out to Thunder Beach’s newest venue at the Marriott at Bay Point to view the latest parade of pulchritude known as the Miss Thunder Beach contest. After competing in two preliminary contests on the previous nights, 11 beautiful young and not so young (one contestant was the mother of a 19-year-old) finalists vied for cash and prizes valued at five grand. Judges included Jay Barbieri, Johnny Lange of Strip Club Choppers and Gary Bang Jr. who is building the new Harley-Davidson store in PC Beach. Additional judges included Preston Farrior (also from the PC Beach H-D store) and Tom and Karen Duggan with Oaseas Resorts.

On Saturday morning the bike parade lined up on Middle Beach Road. This event is staged as a memorial to Police Sgt. Kevin Kight who lost his life in the line of duty during a routine traffic stop back in 2005. After the parade moved out, I had the pleasure of meeting his wife Christina and young son Brandon who have attended each parade since its inception.

Jenny Norby, Thunder Beach PR personality and Thunder Press alumni, invited me to a photo shoot on Sunday morning with Jessica, the new Miss Thunder Beach, and her lifelong friend Shelby, who was third runner-up. I discovered two important facts I never knew during this shoot. If these two young ladies are any indication, the well water near Columbia, SC apparently has special qualities. And, if you want to be a model it is probably best if you are a beautiful swimsuit poser. That way you won’t have to worry about those outrageous baggage charges when you fly because, like these girls, you can carry a change of wardrobe in a sandwich bag. God bless America!


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