Promoter Dave Horning said this week he happened on the Mississippi Coast while looking at Mobile Bay for a possible Sharkfest swim.
The first Sharkfest, in 1993, was arranged for people who wanted the challenge and notoriety of saying they swam ashore from Alcatraz Island, a former federal prison in San Francisco Bay famous for being hard to escape. There were sharks in the water there.
In the years since, Horning has arranged Sharkfest swims around the country and elsewhere.
Why the Mississippi Coast? He said a woman in Mobile suggested in 2015 he look at Dauphin Island for a Sharkfest.
“That was too long a swim,” he told the Sun Herald. “So I just went to Google Earth and looked down the coast and found Ocean Springs and Biloxi and said, ‘Hey, there’s a beach at both ends.’ ”
Earlier this year, he began setting up a Sharkfest swim from the Ocean Springs Yacht Club to Point Cadet Beach. The swim would follow the Biloxi Bay Bridge, so it’s great for spectators and it would take only a morning to complete. His company, Enviro-Sports Productions, handles the swims as well as staging triathlons and biathlons.
The goal for all Sharkfest swims is bragging rights.
It’s an amateur swim race, a commercial event for a fee — no alcohol, no vendors, no concessions, no services sold, no loud music, little cost incurred by city departments. What he did need was strong support from law enforcement on land and water, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and DMR.
And he got that, he said, along with a mid-October date for Sharkfest Ocean Springs–Biloxi.
But three weeks ago, he said one small but important piece fell through — the flotilla of private volunteer boats that follow and support the swimmers. He felt it was “too late in the game to find someone else.”
“Even though I had both city governments behind me, I decided I didn’t want to scramble to make this event happen,” he said. “Better to wait a year and do it right.”
Sharkfest in 2017
Ocean Springs aldermen learned Tuesday night Horning had decided to delay a year.
He was on the agenda to approve a special-event permit. Mayor Connie Moran said she is sold on the project.
“We said we’d help organize it,” she said. “We’d have 200 to 400 people coming into Ocean Springs. Hopefully, they would enjoy our town, dine and shop. There would be the same impact on Biloxi.”
F. Cliff Kirkland, with Biloxi economic development, said he met with Horning and checked out the concept.
“We’re certainly interested,” he said.
He said Biloxi has even worked out with the state Department of Marine Resources to clear post-Katrina bridge debris from the swim route.
The DMR is preparing to award the contract for that work, he said. Even with the delay, the DMR work will make Point Cadet Beach useable again for swimming and boating.
“We’re disappointed in the postponement, but that gives us more time to make the first one a significant one,” Kirkland said.
“Think about it,” he said. “A swim from Ocean Springs to Biloxi. That sounds pretty neat. Not something we’ve done in modern times.”
Putting it together
The Alcatraz swim that started it all attracts 1,000 swimmers each year.
The swims Horning hosts around the count attract local swimmers, he said. The cost is $60 for an adult and $20 for a child. Yes, a child.
Two weeks ago, a 14-year-old won a 1 1/2 miles Sharkfest swim from the Statue of Liberty to Jersey City, he said.
“On our radar for 2017, besides Biloxi, is Tampa, Boca Raton, Cincinnati, the Potomac River south of Washington and Waco, Texas,” Horning said. He keeps a list online.
Making it a self-supporting annual event is the goal, he said. It is a money-making proposition but it relies on dedicated volunteers.
And he said, as always, “our objective is to have swimmers go from point to point for a sense of accomplishment, so as you drive across the Ocean Springs Bridge, you can say, ‘Yeah, I swam that.’ ”