By Paul Lebowitz
Mark Watanabe, co-owner of the Kayak Fishing Boondoggle, was holding down the fort. It was the end of a long workday – yes, Watanabe punches a clock like any other working stiff, and hops on a fishing kayak when he can to escape. When I called to hear about the big event coming up on Columbus Day weekend October 10-13, his kids were living it up as kids should. Jackhammers and cymbals crashed in the background and young voices laughed.
"We're going back to KARS Park and going for a block party feel," he told me in an impressively level voice, the very picture of grace under (familial) pressure. It fits. When I think back on the uncharacteristically Arctic February 2013 Boondoggle held at the popular venue, I remember fishing kayaks everywhere, a family-friendly festival atmosphere, some seriously tasty grub and occasional frigid rain that couldn't make a dent on the high spirits. Cold weather won't be a problem this time around.
"There shouldn't be frost on the ground," Mark said with an audible smile. "We'll have a vendor village (open from 2 to 9 p.m.), surrounded by the campsites right by the pavilion. It's relaxed. There's no corporate feeling. We encourage our industry exhibitors to mix in with the crowd," he said. Then Mark sketched out a brutal schedule. Fish in the morning, come in for the afternoon, take in some workshops, drink some beer and hang out with friends new and old. Rough life, but someone has to live it.
"It'll be a great time," he said. It always is, but as usual the Boondoggle crew is working to improve this unique, free event with all the trappings of a tournament but none of the pressure. The only costs are camping fees, meal tickets for the catered BBQ dinner and to join the raffle benefitting local charities. Kayaks, paddling and fishing gear and other prizes are up for grabs.
"We always try to adapt, fix things, make them better," Mark said. Just about then I heard a particularly loud crash in the background. Such is the life of a parent. This call, like all Boondoggle planning and prep, gets squeezed in on weekends and after work. Mark calmly asked his kids to try to keep it down for just a few more minutes. That was his cue to bring up the new family activities coming to KARS Park. "We'll have more activities for kids: face painting, a bounce castle, a kids' casting contest," he said.
"It has turned into such a big thing. We have a huge core following. I don't think we'll beat the 732 who fished Ride the Bull, but coming close would be great," he said. As of mid-August, his team had already issued 350 tickets at the new Boondoggle website. They expect kayak anglers to converge on Merritt Island from all around the country. There's still room, but don't wait too long if you're going. "We encourage people to register early," he said before signing off and turning his attention to his boisterous young family.