July 2008

Livin’ a Coastal Dream: 2008 Beaufort Water Festival

Author: Natalie Daise | Photographer: Sue Jarrett

It’s time for the annual Beaufort Water Festival. July 11 ushers in ten days of fun, sun, friends and family and, yes, water sports. But it’s not about the water. Even though most of the events take place in the Waterfront Park along the Beaufort River, and even with kayak and raft races (can you really race a raft?) and sailing regattas and Coast Guard cutter tours, the Beaufort Water Festival is not about the water. But come for the water anyway. There are jet and water ski demonstrations and fishing tournaments. There is dancing under the palms along the Intracoastal Waterway with bands ranging from Motown classics like Golden Touch to country headliners like Blake Shelton. From Friday’s opening ceremonies with McBand to the Blessing of the Fleet on the final Sunday, there will be great crafts, good food, cold beer, and plenty of opportunities for sunburn and lounging. But it’s not about the water.

Some folk plan their whole summer around the Water Festival. Relatives from out of town figure this is a great time to visit Beaufort and the spare bedrooms fill up as well as the inns and hotels. Students, just let loose from the classroom, start texting each other about what to wear with their flip-flops to the Sunday night teen dance. Adults are calling each other about what to wear to the Commodore’s Ball on Saturday night. The ice cream parlors start laying in the tubs of lemon custard, and the restaurants check their stocks and hire extra help. Those who can take off from work; those who can’t try to sneak out early. Those lucky enough to call their own shots get to spend long days in the sun and surf. It’s coastal living at its lively best.

And that’s just the surface. Beneath the surface are the people who make this festival the largest all-volunteer run festival on the East Coast. From the bed-race to River Dance, this ten-day festival is planned, organized and staffed by the local citizens of Beaufort. At the head of it all is the Water Festival Commodore. The commodore is the president of the Water Festival Committee and is selected by all the commodores who served before. Les Brediger, this year’s commodore, and his wife, Carol, have volunteered with the festival for the past 24 years. It was an honor, he said, to be selected as this year’s leader. An honor and also a lot of work. It is the job of the commodore to determine the theme of the festival as well as to set the budget, select coordinators and oversee all the events. The whole Brediger family was involved. Les and Carol’s children, Elizabeth and Holden, came up with the design for this year’s festival T-shirt. Ross Mosteller at Banana Joe’s tightened up their sketch of a warm red hammock nestled beneath two palm trees while an egret struts his stuff nearby. Overhead, two jets are silhouetted like black birds against a Carolina sky over the Beaufort River Bridge and a shrimp boat with bright red trim slowly enters the scene. “People tell me it just captures Beaufort,” Carol said. And it does. Carol, the First Lady of this year’s festival also served for many years as the director of the “Pirettes,” the festival’s young female ambassadors.

The Pirettes are selected as rising sophomores from every high school, private and public, north of the Broad River. “It’s so much fun,” Blake Banner said when asked about participating. “You get to meet girls from other schools that you normally wouldn’t meet and we do a lot of things together, like volunteer work and community service. We’re like sisters. It’s a good way to get involved in your community. My aunt was a Pirette when she was my age and she said it was great.”
Becca Little added, “My family has volunteered with the Water Festival all my life, so I thought I’d apply. I mean, everybody on the committee is like family. I’ve known them all my life. Besides, it looks good on my resume!” The Pirettes do everything from rolling T-shirts to staffing children’s day events, and they represent the festival at community events throughout the state. They’re comfortable, smart, beautiful and articulate. And they get to wear cute clothes.

“A lot of these kids grew up around the festival,” Rusty Simpson said. He was Commodore in 1988. He remembers the hard work and the tremendous amount of details. When asked about the changes over the past 20 years he said, “The budget certainly has changed!” But the sense of camaraderie endures. “You can’t control the weather,” he said, “and a million things can go wrong, but when you walk through the park and you see all the events and the sponsors and the concessions and the people having a good time, and you know that everybody came together to make that happen, that’s the high point. That’s when you know it’s all worth it.”

The Festival originated many years ago with sailboat races along the Beaufort River. Families would come to watch and participate and would picnic along the river’s banks. With the passage of time, what started as a local tradition developed into a nationally renowned festival. But it’s never lost its hometown feel. For the past 53 years, the festival coordinators and commodores, neighbors, co-workers family and friends have come together to celebrate the Water Festival. Bands are hired; lights are strung; vendors sell their wares and hundreds of people come to play by and on the water. There is something for everyone, and it’s great fun. But it’s not about the water. It’s about family and community. It’s about growing and working together, surrounded by sun and sand and sea. And that’s “Livin’ a Coastal Dream.”

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