Early Saturday morning, many Ashevilleans were awake and putting the final touches on makeshift rafts — crafting colorful and creative buoyant devices to float themselves down the French Broad River.
The 22nd Anything That Floats Parade, put on by local nonprofit RiverLink, is part creativity competition and part group river-rafting experience. Judges announced competition winners at 5 p.m. for four categories: most creative, “green machine” (best use of recycled materials), funniest and judges’ choice (the overall best in parade).
“Raft ‘races’ like this have been going on in other cities for years,” says Dave Russell, RiverLink’s director of volunteer services. “And RiverLink thought a city as creative as Asheville would embrace it.”
By 10 a.m., trucks were unloading these creations at Hominy Creek River Park, and one-by-one, contestants were judged, photographed and launched into the river.
And with 31 registered rafts this year, Russell says he thinks this year might be a record-breaker, as far as participation goes.
The day before the event, with clouds darkened and showers drenching the city, many were unsure whether Aug. 9 would provide good enough weather for the outdoor event. “Obviously, we’d rather have blue skies, sunshine, 72 degrees with a slight breeze,” Russell said on Friday. “But RiverFest and the Anything That Floats Parade will go on rain or shine. At this point, only a wild deluge that would make the river too dangerous for homemade watercraft would lead to us canceling the raft parade.
“And you never know with mountain weather. It could be pouring in Montford and clear in Oteen. It can rain cats and dogs for 20 minutes and then be sunny for hours.”
Luckily, the clouds cleared and revealed blue skies for the rafters, as float after float emerged on the banks of the French Broad. “Big Foot” certainly gave the judges a laugh, crafted from a giant foot with pink toenails and flamingos, strapped between two canoes. Another favorite was the Orange is the New Black raft, based on the popular Netflix show, floating on barrels topped with an overcrowded makeshift jail cell. The rafters were dressed as inmates and even had their own prison guard on board.
The entire cast of The Wizard of Oz also graced the parade in decorated canoes, complete with Dorothy, a Willie Nelson-style wizard, the Scarecrow and Tin Man — with some rafters even dressed as the rainbow, a field of poppies and a flying monkey — the yellow brick road trailing behind every canoe.
Even Xpress set sail down the French Broad in a blow-up raft with a “sail” of old T-shirts.
Russell says two of his favorite rafts from competitions past was the Flintstones raft and a turtle raft put together by the Division of Water Quality a few years back that he describes as “dynamite.”
At 5 p.m. at the French Broad River Park, winners were named by Anything That Floats Organizer Barb Korb, who had some special mentions about several of the rafts. One group, “Little Bud” — the boat covered in Budweiser cans, inspired a spontaneous category addition of “Longest Distance,” as the pair had traveled from Pittsburgh to participate in the parade. The can-based boat took them an entire year to build.
Korb also mentioned the group dressed as characters of Wizard of Oz, team name “River Skunk,” has been active in the parade for eight years. And that the girl aboard the “Frozen” raft, dressed as Elsa from the movie, won the judges over with a song.
Judges named two winners per category — a regular winner, and a “youth” winner for young participants.
Anything That Floats 2014 winners:
Most Creative: River Skunk (Wizard of Oz group)/ Youth: Castaway (raft based on the movie)
“Green Machine:” Little Bud (Budweiser can raft)/ Youth: Putt & Paddle
Funniest: Orange is the New Black/ Youth: “3 Girls” (swan float)
Judges’ Choice: Zome Voyage (carpentry float with deck and dome)/ Youth: Frozen (based on the movie)
Bryan Lemmel and his neighbor Andrew Crosson were aboard the “Zome Voyage,” which won first place overall in the competition. They arrived with two others (Thomas Humphrey and Dave Feldman) at 10 a.m., and launched around 12:30 p.m., taking over two and a half hours to build the “zome” on site.
“It breaks down into 54 diamonds,” explains Lemmel, who works as a carpenter at his company Balanced Carpentry. Lemmel says that he already had the zome set up in his backyard, but hatched the plan to enter it in the Anything That Floats Parade while chatting with Crosson. “We just said, ‘Let’s build a float around the zome,” Lemmel says.
“And it just kind of went from there,” Crosson finished.
“I was really excited about it the whole time,” Lemmel says. “I was thinking we had a good chance because we put a lot of effort into it. It was a lot of work. This morning putting it together was a lot of work, and the weeks leading up to it was a lot of work. And it was good to have it pay off.
“Afterward we could just sit and enjoy what we had done. The river was up and moving today. We didn’t really have to do anything.”
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