In an effort to make the 25th anniversary of the Emerald Coast Poker Run in Destin, Fla., even more meaningful, the organizers behind the cornerstone event of an entire week of boating fun along the Florida Panhandle’s Emerald Coast are hoping to reach the $3-million mark in total donations given to local children’s charity over the past two and a half decades.
According to Stu Jones, the president of the Florida Powerboat Club who helps organize the event with the not-for-profit Emerald Coast Foundation, reaching that level would be an amazing achievement and is very possible if the event has another “good year,” meaning somewhere in the ballpark of its average of $125,000 to $150,000 donated back to the community through the foundation.
For that to happen though, Jones stressed that people need to sign up in the next two to three weeks as the event (Aug. 8-13) is less than four weeks away, and there are no guarantees you will find docks, lodging, etc., the longer you wait to register for the poker run, which features two classes—an Emerald class for boats 27 feet and larger with twin engines and a Ruby class for single-engine boats 26 feet or less.
“I think people need to understand that if they want this poker run to continue to be one of the best events of the year and one of the largest fundraisers of its kind in the country, they need to sign up and register ahead of time,” said Jones, who has been involved with the run for nearly 20 years. “This is a charity event, more so than any other one we produce, so the more people who pre-register, the more we can donate back.
“Between the parties everyday, the safety management, the two different poker run headquarters—one at the Emerald Grande and the other at the Ramada—the three different drivers’ meetings and the different stops for the longer and shorter poker runs, there are so many moving parts for this event and a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes planning that goes into it,” he added.
“That’s the main reason it helps when people register ahead of time. It’s not hard to sign up either—just pick up the phone and call our office. We have real live people here Monday through Friday and we can get you signed up and take care of anything else you need from docks to accommodations to advice on what to do on the days leading up to the poker run.”
Once again, this year’s event kicks off with the Emerald Grande Mardi Gras Parade at HarborWalk Village on Tuesday with a dozen or so boats throwing out beads to an estimated 5,000 spectators on the short parade route. On Wednesday, the new AJ’s on the Bayou is going to host the Blues, Brews and BBQ poker run kick-off party in the evening and the next night the Miss Boat Week Party bikini contest is being held at The Block in Fort Walton Beach.
Friday’s festivities include a fun run to Juana’s Pagoda in Navarre Beach with a barbecue sponsored by local performance boater Hugh Patroni Sr., followed by the Rockin’ the Docks captains’ party that evening at AJ’s in Destin. Of course, the poker run, which includes short and long (approximately 120 miles) courses, opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday and wraps up with the over-the-top poker run party featuring poker, blackjack, a silent auction and an all-you-can-eat dinner and an open bar until 9:30 p.m.
The following day, anyone left standing is welcome to attend the “Crab Island Round Up,” which is an all-day gathering at the local hot spot.
When it comes to an event lasting a full week, the Emerald Coast Poker Run and the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Missouri are pretty much the only events that could rival the end-of-the-year gathering in Key West, Fla., which goes from Sunday to Sunday combining the FPC’s longstanding poker run and the Super Boat International offshore racing world championships.
“I can’t stress enough that if you want to come be a part of the Emerald Coast Poker Run, register for the event and pay the $650 for your boat and four people,” said Jones, who thanked the many event sponsors, which include IP Casino, Hub City Ford, Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson, Mercury Racing, Deep Impact, Midnight Express, Nor-Tech and more. “That covers everything, including an amazing party at the Emerald Coast Convention Center. If you just show up without registering, not only are you jeopardizing the safety of others by not understanding what’s going on, you are undermining the entire model of the event, which is the more people who sign up the more money we can give back.”
Former Powerboat editor Jason Johnson was an integral part of the magazine staff from 2005 through 2011, utilizing journalistic integrity and experience in and around performance boats to report on all aspects of the go-fast lifestyle. The award-winning writer resides in Southern California and is the executive editor and co-publisher of speedonthewater.com.