Sail Bay in north Mission Bay played host to an estimated 3,000 people dragging innertubes, rafts and floats into the water to legally drink a beer on the bay on Saturday, Aug. 9. The second year for the floating party, dubbed “Innertubapalooza 2009,” saw the crowd balloon from an estimated 1,500 people expected to attend to more than double, causing police and lifeguards to pay extra-close attention to safety issues.
The flotilla also effectively circumvented the two-year-old ban on drinking on the beach and bay sands.
The San Diego Police Department and lifeguards discovered the party a few days in advance, allowing some time to prepare, officials said. Police handed out approximately 50 citations and arrested six people while lifeguards had their hands full with approximately 18 water rescues, police and lifeguard authorities reported.
Northern Division Capt. Shelley Zimmerman said the police department and lifeguards are working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor any similar future events.
“While what they are doing, technically, is legal, we don’t advise people drinking and driving, drinking and swimming, drinking and boating or even drinking and floating,” Zimmerman said.
It’s illegal to have an open alcoholic beverage container on the sand but not on the water under certain conditions, Zimmerman said. All applicable laws including laws against public intoxication are still enforced.
San Diego Lifeguard boating safety Lt. John Sandmeyer said the magnitude of the event forced lifeguards’ resources away from other parts of the beach and bay.
A few accidents occurred throughout the day, including a woman who cut her hand on a stationary boat propeller and another woman who suffered injuries during a Jet Ski accident near the southern section of the Ingraham Street bridge, he said. Both victims were treated and taken to the hospital.
“Most of the [extra] lifeguards were off duty,” Sandmeyer said. “It definitely peaked out for us and created a big deal.”
He added that the floating party could also create a safety hazard by making it difficult for lifeguards to reach a person who needs help if they are in the middle of a large group of floats or rafts.
The floating party grew out of an annual summer party named Summerpalooza organized through social networking websites like Facebook and The Full Extension. The Full Extension social network boasts hundreds of members promoting a relaxed lifestyle reflected through summertime parties.
Some of the party’s organizers live in the Mission and Pacific beach communities, said Phil, a Full Extension representative who helped organize the flotilla. Phil, who preferred not to publish his last name for professional and liability reasons, said the party was not an act of rebellion against the beach alcohol ban.
“We’re not trying to stick it to the cops. We’re really just trying to get together and have fun,” Phil said. “Given what just happened, it came across as a party of rebelling against the alcohol ban, but we’re really just trying to celebrate what San Diego has: good weather and good times and good friends, laying back and being respectful of the environment.”
Private events that serve alcohol at city parks, beaches and bays, such as the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club’s Over-the-Line tournament, usually require the organization to go through the city’s special events permit process. But since drinking on the water does not violate the beach alcohol ordinance, the organization did not need or seek a special events permit, Phil said.
Organizers said they will work with lifeguard and city officials for better organized future events.
And at least a few neighbors didn’t seem to mind the thousands that floated along on the bay for Innertubapalooza 2009.
Jon Cunningham, a two-year Pacific Beach resident and president of the Sail Bay Scene Homeowners Association, attended the event and said it was “totally relaxed.”
“Everyone was having a really good time,” Cunningham said. “People have been drinking on the water for decades — that’s certainly nothing new.”
He said the “responsible crowd” was more reserved than a typical bar on Garnet Avenue on a Saturday night, adding that lifeguards and police did a great job with the crowd.
Cunningham has lived in San Diego for more than 10 years and said he voted for Proposition D, the beach alcohol ban, in recent years.
“I’m a dad of a 2-year-old,” Cunningham said. “As a homeowner, I’m in favor of upgrading the quality of the beach visitor and efforts to clean up the beach.”
District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer could not be reached for comment. Faulconer helped push the beach alcohol ban through city council following a fight involving hundreds on the sands of Pacific Beach during Labor Day weekend in 2007.
Tony Manolatos, spokesman for Faulconer’s office, said Faulconer received approximately three e-mails about the Sail Bay party but no calls.