Balboa celebrates 17th parade

Daily Pilot

Balboa Island's Marine Avenue was transformed into a wave of sound and color Sunday as the island welcomed summer with the 17th annual Balboa Island Parade. This year's theme was "Family, Friends and FUN," and there was no shortage of the three.

The parade, sponsored by the Balboa Island Home Improvement Assn., consisted of 103 group entries, one of the largest ever. Entries included drill teams, children on all types of two-wheeled locomotion, floats, decorated golf carts, vintage cars, civic groups, clubs, marching bands and local dignitaries.

Organizers estimate more than 5,000 spectators were in attendance.

"It's a wonder the island doesn't sink," said Gail Vasterling, a Patio Drill Team member and parade participant.

She estimated that parade day draws Balboa's biggest single-day tourist crowd of the year.

"It really showcases the uniqueness of Balboa Island," she said.

As the parade kicked off, an Uncle Sam impersonator cruised by a gray-haired man, diverting traffic from the parade route wearing a grass skirt and coconut shells. Folks in banana costumes swayed to the music of an acoustic band on the Surf Fest float. As the parade wound through downtown, kids tooted bike horns and parents threw out buckets of candy to pleased spectators waving American flags.

Americana was an overarching theme with many of the floats, bikes and costumes decorated in red, white and blue. Balboa Island's bridge was festooned with red, white and blue balloons as well as island and American Flags.

"It's a great annual tradition and one of the most fun parades in America," said Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry, who was waving and shaking hands as he passed through the parade route. "It's great how much of the community on the island comes out to show support."

The vintage cars were a huge crowd pleaser. A 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, formerly owned by President Woodrow Wilson was entered by Jack Croul and family. The Official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1994 also coasted by. Herb Fisher drove a restored 1923 Model T for the seventh year in the parade.

"We wanna show it off," said the former Balboa Island resident, smiling.

The crowd gave generous applause for 104-year-old Balboa Island resident Juanita Thurston. The Keystone Kops, who have participated in all 17 years of the parade, also got their share of crowd approval.

Not to be outdone by their human counterparts, an assortment of dogs made their way along the route. The golden retriever group was counting their numbers along the road, hoping to top last year's record of 70.

Wearing a sun visor, lei and hula skirt, Ladies of Hula participant Genni Gordon was all smiles.

"Such a receptive, friendly crowd," she said while playing the Ipu, a Hawaiian instrument.

"It used to be mostly golf carts from the island and dyed poodles," said eight-year parade veteran and fellow group member Ellen Mullin, who notes that the parade has grown considerably over the years.

"It wouldn't be the first Sunday in June without coming to Balboa for the parade," Mullin said.

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