As word and disappointment of its cancellation spread across social media, several residents took action to save one of the Laguna Madre region’s most beloved traditions: The Christmas Boat Parade.
For years, the event had been hosted and sponsored by the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce, but just a few short weeks ago, the Chamber announced it was canceling the event for at least one year in order to regroup and research how to increase boat participation and make it more successful.
A Facebook post announcing the cancellation garnered dozens of comments expressing disappointment from locals, as well as visitors who had planned to attend.
Enter Elma Ruiz, a local teacher and part owner of Will and Jack’s Burger Shack located at the Lighthouse Square in Port Isabel. Ruiz, along with her friend Lucy Cavoly, and a growing list of volunteers, decided to take action to save the parade. Within a week, the duo had secured participation of several boat owners, charter captains, and local businesses.
“We said, ‘you know what? Let’s just step up,” Ruiz said of her decision to host a community has been overwhelmingly positive, Ruiz said, with numerous volunteers stepping forward to ask how they can help. “They’ve all been, ‘We’re so glad you’re doing this, (that) somebody has stepped up to spearhead it. What do you need from our help?” she said.
So far, at least 10 boats have pledged commitments to participate, as well as least four charter captains, who will pilot boats loaded with passengers along the parade route.
The South Padre Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) stepped up to offer prize money, as well. “We value the boat parade,” said CVB Director Keith Arnold Wednesday. He spoke of the event’s importance as a tourist draw, which helps the local economy through hotel stays and patronage to local restaurants and businesses.
The CVB’s decision to help was an easy one, he added, saying its promotion is in line with the Bureau’s efforts to increase off-season visits to the area. “Our whole thrust right now really is to work on the off-season… what we’re trying to do is develop more weekend special events,” he said.
The Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce has been doing all it can to help the boat parade’s community organizers, as well. Betty Wells, Chamber director, said her organization has been helping to provide images for use in promotional materials,” We know what’s involved in putting on an event of that magnitude and we’re glad they picked up the ball,” Wells said.
“People are really coming together to embrace it,” Ruiz said.
The boat parade will take place on Sunday, Dec. 18 beginning at 6:00 p.m. The parade route will begin at Southpoint Marina in Port Isabel before making its way through the channel, underneath the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway, and along the South Padre Island coastline to Jim’s Pier, where judging will take place. The awards ceremony will be held at Louie’s Backyard.

By Dina Arevalo