Scanning the roster of upcoming high-performance powerboating events this weekend, I spy three “major,” a subjective descriptor to be sure, poker runs. And given this summer’s crazy event schedule, three poker runs make for a fairly light weekend. On the other hand, no trio of happenings on the same weekend this summer will offer more vastly different experiences, at least from the perspective of waterways—Lake Erie in New York, the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and California’s Sacramento River Delta—to be traveled and experienced.
Let’s start with the Big Cat Poker Run. (Why not? It’s close to my home in Northern California, offshoreonly.com columnist/speedonthewater.com co-publisher, Jason Johnson and photographer Erick Bryner will be there and I’m completely biased.) Based out of the performance-boating hotbed of Discovery Bay, about an hour inland from San Francisco, the Big Cat Poker Run plies the Sacramento River Delta and its connecting canals, which make for one of the more unusual poker run environments.
The canals snake their way through lush Central Valley farmland, so when you’re running the Big Cat you feel as if you’re in the middle of low-lying nowhere, which you pretty much are. Last year, the event pulled in 92 boats. This year, Glenn Hoffman and his fellow organizing team members are hoping for 100 entries. Last but not least, thanks to the good people of Discovery Bay the Big Cat Poker Run is among the most welcoming and inclusive events of its kind.
Having been to Destin, Fla., at least a dozen times since I started covering this strange little go-fast boating world in 1994, I have a confession to make: I have not been to the Florida Powerboat Club’s Emerald Coast Poker Run, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. But here’s what I do know: The Emerald Coast Poker Run takes its name from the most breathtaking saltwater environment—yes, that includes the Florida Keys—I’ve seen in this country, and it’s the only major Florida-based poker run of the summer. Year in and year, out, the Florida Powerboat Club and Emerald Coast Foundation folks team up to make sure this one a success. That said, dockage always presents a challenge at this event, which can attract close to 200 boats, and if you haven’t registered already you’re on your own. You can expect a similar challenge with lodging if you haven’t booked your rooms.
Last but far from least, you can get the Lake Erie experience at the Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run in Buffalo, N.Y. Renamed this year for a local go-fast boat owner who helped put it on the map, this event doesn’t offer the most breathtaking waterways and scenery, but no group of individuals is more welcoming and down to earth that the members of the Western New York Offshore Powerboat Association. The WYNOPA group no longer runs the event—they turned it over to Anthony Scioli of Elite Poker Runs this year—but they’ll still be out in force. As for Scioli, he was the poker run’s lead organizer for several years so he knows what works when it comes to providing a relaxed, service-oriented atmosphere and this year’s event won’t be any different. Scioli said he’s expecting 60 to 70 entries this weekend.
Of course, you can’t be in two places at once, much less three. If you’re signed up for one of these events, proximity to home likely played the biggest role in your decision. But regardless of whether you’re part of the pack in the Big Cat Poker Run, Emerald Coast Poker Run, Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run, your excellent odds of having a great time are similar, despite that the waterways involved couldn’t be more different.
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.