Herding Cats

Skaterfest is a lot more than an owners rendezvous or rally. Photo by Chip Miller.

Skaterfest is a lot more than an owners rendezvous or rally. (Photo by Chip Miller.)

Call them rallies or rendezvous, by any name brand-specific gatherings are a staple of the high-performance powerboating world. But more often than not, they are organized and hosted by the boat manufacturers themselves or one of their key dealers, such as the recent Cigarette Racing Team event at the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri handled by Performance Boat Center, or the upcoming DCB event on Arizona’s Lake Havasu.

There is at least one rendezvous—or at least one that captures national participation—hosted and organized by a very happy customer. And if you have even a passing interest in the go-fast boating world you probably know it’s called Skaterfest and that man is Ron Szolack. A nightclub owner who bounces between homes in Harrison Township, Mich., and Pompano Beach, Fla., Szolack estimates that he has owned 30-plus Skater cats, about the same number of the coveted custom boats he is expecting to show up for Skaterfest 2016, Aug. 4-7 near his Michigan digs.

Szolack’s current Skater count—a 32-footer and a 36-footer—is on the low side. For him. As a hobby, he buys and sells Skaters, often before he’s even ridden in them. If they don’t sell immediately, he runs them a bit until they sell. But they usually sell quickly, for Szolack has a knack for knowing what will appeal to his fellow well-heeled Skater fans.

Buying and selling Skater cats, however, is far from a living for Szolack. That comes from his nightclub, where most of the participants in his sixth annual upcoming event will end up on Friday night.

“We rent a bus so no one has to drink and drive,” said Szloack. “Everyone stays at the Holiday Inn Express. The next day, same thing as usual, we have breakfast. Then we go. There’s no set time to leave, we just wait till everybody shows up.

Szolack paused and chuckled. “After Friday night in the club, people tend to show up a little late,” he said. “We run down to the Ambassador Bridge and check out the Detroit and Windsor skylines. Then we get into the shipping channel and head up to Pepper Joe’s in St. Clair for lunch. It’s an easy 80-mile run.

“That night, we come back to my friend Jim Ratza’s house, which is where everything off the water is being hosted, near Metro Beach,” he continued. “The chef from my nightclub cooks dinner for everyone. For the people who want to go out again on Sunday, we do a lunch run. I have a Formula 40SS and this year photographer Jay Nichols and videographer Victor Nappe, who’ll be shooting from a helicopter on Saturday, will be on board on Sunday.”

As in years past, Peter Hledin, the owner and founder of Douglas Marine/Skater Powerboats, will be on hand to mingle with devotees of his brand—and they don’t all include Skater owners. Floridians Greg Harris and Yvonne Aleman, who own 37-foot Active Thunder V-bottom, will come from the Fort Lauderdale area to be there, as will Texan Kenny Armstrong, who owns a 52-foot MTI catamaran. Past SkaterFest events have attracted everyone from Todd Werner of Statement Marine and noted engine builder Mike D’Anniballe of Sterling Performance to insurance man Devin Wozencraft and retired offshore racing great Jerry Gilbreath. (According to Szolack, D’Anniballe and Wozencraft—both proud Skater owners—will be back this year.)

And then there are the well-known, longtime Skater owners such as Jim Lee and Tyson and Tristan Garvin who always make it to Skaterfest to help Szolack and his other guests celebrate the brand. Also planning to show up this year is Mike Griffiths of Mercury Racing, which makes sense as Griffiths is closely involved with most new Skater catamaran setups as his employer builds most of the power that goes into Skater cats.

In short, Skaterfest is a lot more than an owners rendezvous or rally. It’s a happening—and it’s happening in less than two weeks. You don’t need a Skater catamaran to be part of it, although you might want to bring your own (if you are so blessed) or at least secure a ride in one if you plan to do the lunch run. You just need to love the brand and want to spend time with folks who share your passion. But if you can’t make it this time around, there’s always next year because Szolack plans to keep it going.

“Why would I quit?” he said. “It’s too much fun.”


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.



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