Each year, Florida bikers roll south for a little beachside R&R. As our small group rolled toward Panama City Beach for our annual two-wheeled spring break, the devastation we were passing through had us wondering “where the Hell are we and what the Hell did they do to Florida?”
The scenes throughout Panama City and parts north resembled a war zone. All those stories you’ve heard about tornadoes and hurricanes are all true. The trees and most of the buildings were chopped at the knees. Many of the structures left standing were lost under a sea of blue tarps. The closer we got, the worse the damage seemed to be. As we rolled across Hathaway Bridge in concerned anticipation, it was quite a shock to see the pristine scene we remembered from years past. Buildings were intact for the most part, the majority of the trees were still standing, what had fallen had been removed, and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico shimmered brightly before us.
To our amazement, it all seemed pretty normal. In the fall, just six months prior, hurricane Michael blew onshore as a category five storm and decimated a lot of Florida’s panhandle. The monster storm caused enough havoc to force promoters to cancel the Fall Rally last October. An impromptu and temporary rally set up shop a month late in nearby Pensacola. It was mostly a series of benefit concerts with sights set on bringing in some much needed revenue to fund the area’s rebuilding efforts. The storm spared Panama City Beach the extreme damage we saw just a few miles northeast of here and those cleanup/rebuilding efforts, while still ongoing, were making some tremendous improvement. With a couple of beach-side exceptions, the hotels and bars were up and running. It wasn’t long before we heard the familiar echoing roar that inspired the name Thunder Beach.
In stark contrast, the weather for this spring rally was close to perfect offering a full weekend of remarkable riding, great music, good food, the occasional icy brew and lots of good times with fellow scooter jockeys. A rain shower or two was just enough to cool things off occasionally but nothing we all couldn’t handle. Cover band Buck Wild got things started over at Hammerhead Fred’s for the official Kick–Start Party including the first round of three preliminaries for the Miss Thunder Beach contest. At Saturday’s finale Sara Long, a spicy little Bama cutie, took home the honors and the big money for her 2019 Miss Thunder Beach crown. At the opposite end of the beach, rally favorites Big Engine kept the music hoppin’ at the Sandpiper Beacon every night of the rally. Plus damn near every bar between the two had live music pouring into the streets throughout the weekend.
Frank Brown Park is where you’ll find every kind of biker goodie imaginable for you or your bike. While there are pockets of vendors set up all over the 27 miles of beachfront, Frank Brown holds the greatest concentration of them in one place. You can also grab a plate of nachos and a cold beer and saunter over to check out Circus Una’s antics on the motorcycle high wire. The park offered up live music at the Thunder Beach Saloon as well as three free evening headliner concerts. Colt Ford and The Lacs packed them in on Friday and a short-lived thunderstorm looked like it might infringe on Black Stone Cherry’s performance on Saturday. Those that ventured back out of hiding after the cloud burst cleared were rewarded with the Ms. Thunder Beach finals, an awesome show by Black Stone Cherry and as an added bonus, a rainbow to boot.
There were plenty of ride-in bike shows to check out and no matter what your taste, Thunder Beach had something for ya. For those who think the custom bagger craze is over, it is still in full swing in Florida. Big wheel baggers from all over the U.S. competed in not just one but two, ear-busting sound-off competitions. Similar entrants found their way over to Frank Brown for the LED Light Competition. All that sound and light absolutely bombarded the senses.
You would think that my mostly stock Road King couldn’t compete with these big boys of sound, but aided by a Steel Horse Audio ST600 Platinum system with four speakers, I more than held my own. Several riders even asked where I got the system. It seems there is a lot of poor quality sound out there on the market and my American-made, waterproof ST600 stood out in the crowd.
The biggest bike show at Thunder Beach is called The Best of the Beach Custom Show and getting a mini surfboard-styled trophy is the coveted prize at the Crossroads venue this year. And no trip to Thunder Beach would be complete without a stop at Ms. Newby’s for their Old School Show. If panheads, shovelheads and old Triumph motorcycles are your thing, then this is the place you gotta be. Don’t forget to cool down with a Newby’s world famous Hunch Punch while there. A few of those and you’ll be walking back to the hotel.
With PCB’s Spring Thunder Beach Rally in the rear view, most of us will roll out of town and forget about Panama City Beach and the surrounding areas until we get another yearning to feel some sand between our toes. The locals however, will be dealing with Hurricane Michael’s mess for years to come. Anyone wishing to help with the relief efforts can visit The United Way of Northwest Florida where 100% of all donations are distributed locally where they are needed the most. Or you can text “BikersCare” to 41444 to donate.