Come on, ‘fess up. When a group of high-performance powerboats rockets by you on your local waterway, that last thing you think is, “I’ll bet the guys who own those boats do a lot for people less fortunate than them.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that—between the conjured images of gold chains, silk shirts, and buxom babes a few decades younger than their hosts at the helm stations—that’s the last thing that crosses your mind.
Yet the truth is that high-performance powerboat community consistently reaches out to the world of charity in a big way. It’s been like that for a long time, but when it came to fundraising for those in need or providing joy for individuals—from veterans in the Wounded Warriors Project to mentally and physically challenged children and adults in New Jersey— who find joy hard to come by, 2013 was a banner year in the go-fast world.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
At the Desert Storm Poker Run on Lake Havasu in Arizona in late April, the owners of more than 20 boats in the run took active military services members they’d never met on the run with them. That’s been a Desert Storm tradition for more than 15 years. Said Dan Ellis, who invited two Marines to join him, his wife Lisa, and another guest on board, “For us, having them on board made it really cool. We get to go out all the time and have fun. They don’t. Having them with us made the trip a lot bigger and better for us.”
On Saturday during the inaugural Atlantic City Festival of Speed in June, members of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club gave boat rides to more than 50 veterans from the Wounded Warriors Project. Said Dave Patnaude, president of the NJPPC and one of main organizers for the weekend that included a poker run and an offshore powerboat race, “The guys from Wounded Warriors couldn’t stop thanking the poker run guys, and the poker run guys couldn’t stop thanking the Wounded Warriors.”
Using just 20 powerboats, the annual Shore Dreams for Kids event in July provided rides, a day of carnival fun, and food to more than 700 physically and mentally challenged adults on New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay. That the event even happened was a small miracle, given that Hurricane Sandy devastated the area less than a year earlier. Said new Shore Dreams board president Joe Nasso, “What made it possible were all the volunteers and ambition on the part of the Shore Dreams board. We had hundreds of volunteers cleaning up the field and the docks.”
Setting a new mark for fundraising in the go-fast powerboat world—period—the Pirates of Lanier Poker Run in Georgia raised a reported $250,000 for Camp Sunshine, Boys & Girls Club of Hall County, and Naval Special Warfare Kids. Said John Woodruff, one of the key organizers of the July run event and a well-known performance-boat owner, "All it takes really is that you care about what you're doing and it comes from the heart.”
Breaking its own record, the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in August raised $115,000 for local charities in the rural Missouri area. Since the event moved to its current location at Captain Ron’s Marina and Restaurant six years ago, it has raised more than $430,000 for local groups. Said principal organizer Ron Duggan, “It is such a great feeling to be able to reach this level of donations. Being able to put $115,000 back into this community is what makes the Shootout unlike any other event.”
And those are just a few of the many, many go-fast powerboat events with charitable components that happen every season. The Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Michigan, the Buffalo Poker Run in New York, the Emerald Coast Poker Run in Florida, the Big Cat Poker Run in California—you name the event and it had some kind of charitable fund-raising element to it.
Sure, the go-fast boat crowd runs loud, colorful boats at speeds that probably make anyone outside of the crowd a little nervous. No argument here. But here’s something else you’ll notice quickly if you spend a little time with these folks: Most feel very, very lucky to able to enjoy their time on the water, and they like to give back. The truth is that, as an organizer, if you don’t include some kind of charitable component in your go-fast boat event, your event likely will fail.
Performance boat owner Bob Christie, who commutes from his home in New Jersey to his job in San Diego every Sunday, put it best after his experience during the during the Atlantic City Festival of Speed: “I just got on my plane to San Diego and I am exhausted. But I had a blast yesterday, because I ran five trips for a total of 34 Wounded Warriors and their family members.”
Sure, Christie has a big gold chain around his neck. But he has an even bigger heart in his chest.