For the last seven years the February skies over San Pedro have been decorated with the colourful parachutes of the Boogie in Belize contingency. Organized by Richard Grimm of Tsunami Skydivers, the annual event was one that the residents of San Pedro, and certainly the skydiving thrill seekers looked forward to each year. Unfortunately this yearly tradition has come to an end with the Boogie now moving to a more accommodating Nicaragua.
According to Richard Grimm, holding the popular event in Belize, which attracted over 200 participants from around the world each year, was anything but easy. “Hosting eight events in seven years was a struggle for me. The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) didn’t do much to help out. They would sponsor the welcoming dinner at the Blue Water Grill each year but that was pretty much the extent of their assistance,” stated Grimm. Organizing the Boogie from his home in San Diego, California USA, Grimm often found the process a challenging chore. “There was no one in the BTB that would assist me with any of the logistics. I had to secure a fuel truck, and then barge the fuel out to the island. I needed a boat to transport the jumpers back from the landing area. It was an incredible hassle to get our jump plane into Belize last year. A civil aviation officer didn’t let the control tower even know our plane was coming to Belize. They didn’t want to let them into Belizean airspace. Once our pilot talked his way into the country we had a six hour ordeal to get checked into the country and do the paperwork. We were hassled every time we tried to fly somewhere in the country to jump. I always asked BTB to help us with the process but no one ever did. Anthony Mahler actually helped out the most when he was with the BTB. He did a fine job helping me coordinate things the first year. Customs at the airport was brutal to some of our group. Every year they would bring a lot of school supplies to donate to the San Pedro schools or items for other San Pedro non-profits. Let’s just say the way my people were treated was less than professional. All I wanted was for someone in the BTB to step up and help out.”
Safety also became an issue, “The landing area (in San Pedro) was always a mess. Each year I would have to pay to have it cleaned up. Last year the town actually stepped up and helped out with grading it. With a new bar opening in the area it also cut off a bit of the safety factor since it had a wooden fence with sharp ends all around it. It’s just too small now to bring all levels of skydivers to the island and land there,” explained Grimm. Frustrated with organizing every detail of the event and with little to no help in identifying a new landing area, Grimm began looking for a different place to hold the popular skydiving extravaganza. According to Grimm, “International skydiving events that are held around the world always do it with major financial and operational assistance from the host nation…always.”
After contacting the Nicaragua Tourism Board (INTUR – Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo), Grimm was flown there (compliments of INTUR) in May 2011 to discuss bringing the Boogie to Nicaragua. In October they flew Grimm and fellow skydiver Lyal Waddell back to Nicaragua to skydive at a local festival. During that time INTUR assigned them a tour guide, a driver and paid for all of their expenses. Grimm stated, “They even took us all around Nicaragua to see where our Boogie participants would like to tour while they are here during the event.” Grimm went on to tell The San Pedro Sun that, “INTUR also agreed to cover 5,000 gallons of fuel and the fuel truck. This is a tremendous gesture on their part. They see the value in having over 200 people come skydive and spread their photos on all of the social media sites. INTUR has also assigned three people from their office to assist me. They are doing all of the ‘leg work’ for me. They are working with civil aviation to ensure a smooth operation. If I need anything done, they get it done, right away. We will be staying at a 288-room all inclusive resort with a runway next door which is a big plus. For roughly US$100 more than what the participants paid in Belize last year they will be getting an extra night and five more jump tickets. Since the resort is all inclusive they will also save a lot on food and drinks. We have 207 participants this year and INTUR is also advertising this as national “Skydive Week.” They are running ads on national TV and we will be doing demo jumps in Managua, San Carlos, Gran Pacifica golf course, Granada and Pochomil Beach. The Managua demo jump will be into a giant shopping center where they expect close to 20,000 spectators. INTUR representatives are welcoming each participant at the Managua Airport and they will be assisting everyone through customs and guiding them to the shuttle bus.”
At the 2011 Boogie in San Pedro, Grimm told The Sun, “My goal for this event is not just to bring people here to skydive, but to have them enjoy a true Belizean experience. Many of them have come back during the years and have also sent many friends to Belize for a vacation. We always want to leave the island with a smile on our face, a sunburn on our nose and longing to return.” And although they do long to return, last week Grimm commented, “It’s sad we aren’t coming back, but without cooperation from the Government of Belize we won’t return. I really love San Pedro and am sad we aren’t there. Jumping over San Pedro is incredible. To bring this event back I would need a lot of help. We could jump each day over on Caye Caulker at the airstrip and we could base everyone on Ambergris Caye for the accommodations. I would need a US$40,000 commitment from the BTB and a lot of logistical and civil aviation help. The business community would have to step up like they always do. We would shuttle everyone over in the morning and back at night, with a few trips every couple of hours back and forth for folks that didn’t want to stay all day.”
In closing Grimm said, “I want to state once again that so many local San Pedro business people helped out tremendously over the years. Without their help it would not have been a success. Tropic Air, the Blue Water Grill, BC’s, Sunbreeze Hotel, Pedro’s Inn, Caribbean Depot, and a LOT of other generous folks helped us BIG TIME. There were many businessmen and women that helped out tremendously in San Pedro and Belize City. They saw the value of the event and graciously donated time, money and effort. I figured out that over the eight events I have brought close to 1,000 people to Belize. The economic impact was immense. I estimate that the skydivers spent over US$2 million while they were there. Their donations to various charities on the island were very significant and they would also travel around Belize and stay much longer than the Boogie dates.”
It is hard to estimate just how much revenue San Pedro will be missing this month without the skydiving group, but you can be sure that many establishments will feel the loss. February on La Isla is not the same without the distinct sound of their jumping plane as it climbs to altitude or the kaleidoscope of colorful parachutes raining upon us. We will also miss the gregarious group at our local restaurants and bars and no doubt the non-profits will miss their generous donations. It is the hopes of The San Pedro Sun that in the future the BTB and the Government of Belize will be quick to extend the welcome mat and be more accommodating the next time an organization looks to Belize as a destination.
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