Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Floatopia is a UCSB variation on the Beach Party. 2009 is the third (or perhaps fifth) year that Floatopia has been held, but it's the first year that it became big enough for outsiders to notice. Participants at Floatopia are encouraged to bring boats, rafts, surfboards, or anything that will float, and party all day just outside the surfline at the Isla Vista beach. Others just party on the beach. This year the attendance at Floatopia was estimated to be 12,000. (By way of contrast, last year's party attracted about 4000, and the year before a mere 300.) The Independent reported it like this: "On Saturday afternoon, April 4, nearly 12,000 partygoers convened on Isla Vista’s narrow coastline to partake in this quintessential beach bash. From Devereux Beach to Campus Point, masses of college students swarmed for a spot on the half-mile stretch of sand to drink, dance, and float among the waves. Homemade rafts and store-bought inner tubes, filled to the brim with beer-toting celebrants, spilled across the sea side-by-side like bowls of cereal floating in a milky ocean. Hundreds watched from their balconies on Del Playa’s cliffs as deejays set up camp every quarter-mile, setting the tone for the thousands of beachgoers."

There were a few injuries: twelve people taken to the hospital, a couple fell off the cliff, and a number of people cut their feet on broken bottles. Sixty-nine were cited for various violations (mostly minor in possession of alcohol). Lots of trash was left on the beach. Some was picked up over the next few days during cleanups organized by A.S., but much of it was washed out to sea. Authorities were quick to label the event an "environmental disaster." (How much urine do 12,000 beer-drinkers produce in the course of a day?)

Students (and some alumni) painted a more positive picture. Fresman biology major Farley Connelly told the Nexus that the event was positive because it brought together two fine activities: drinking and floating. “It’s one of those things you can only do at UCSB,” Connelly said. “I don’t think at any other school you could drink beer all day and float on rafts. Floatopia takes floating and drinking to a whole different level.”

One of the interesting things about Floatopia is that because it is publicized almost exclusively on Facebook, there basically are no organizers. In this respect it's more like a flashmob than a regular event. All this drives authorities (in this case, the County Board of Supervisors and the County Sheriff) crazy. People have the right to peaceably assemble, and they also have the right to access and enjoy the beach.

Already Floatopia II is being announced on Facebook for this coming weekend, and the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an emergency ordinance banning alcohol on IV beaches. There was a lot of talk about how many young people were in danger of drowning at Floatopia I, although in fact there were no drowning incidents at all. But the Supervisors felt a need to protect those fragile young people from themselves. In reality, sanitary facilities and beach cleanup are what are needed, but the Supervisors don't feel a need to provide those...

The proponents of Floatopia might want to take a look at what some other large, anarchistic, and unsanctioned parties do as regards organization. The Rainbow Gathering has been going on for several decades now, and their people have gotten really good at sanitation and cleanup. Burning Man is another example. There are serious issues that must be addressed whenever large groups gather together. I for one hope the students can make this party work without being subjected to draconian regulation from officials whose main goal in life is control.

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