“This is like Halloween in the spring.”
With an estimated 12,000 attendees, this description of Saturday’s Floatopia – made by a drunken beach-goer – appears accurate. A product of Facebook planning and word of mouth, Floatopia transformed Isla Vista’s narrow stretch of coastline into a half-mile long beach party. But as with October’s debauchery-filled holiday, the rapid growth of Floatopia has law enforcement agencies up in arms, questioning whether such events such should be allowed to continue.
“This is an unsponsored event where thousands of people are drinking alcohol; it was irresponsible,” Lt. Brian Olmstead, of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, said. “This is worse than Halloween because there’s the added danger of the water. People can drown. I could see something happening [to stop Floatopia] because of the dangers involved and the resources required to keep bad things from happening.”
A relatively new phenomenon, Floatopia’s popularity has ballooned in recent years, with two to three times more people attending this year than in 2008. Additionally, the larger crowds include a growing number of out-of-towners and the arrival of sponsored tents on the beach.
In all, though, most attendees interviewed thought the event was a success.
“I was here for Floatopia in 2006. This was way bigger and way more fun,” Rick Wertheim, a financial consultant who graduated from UCSB in 2006, said. “I literally had the time of my life.”
From the standpoint of county officials and local law enforcement, however, Saturday was not the great day Wertheim referenced. With 13 physical bookings, 13 medical emergencies – including two people who fell off the bluffs – and nearly 70 citations, Saturday was an exceptionally expensive day for the county.
“If you look at the cost, Floatopia probably cost the county tens of thousands of dollars,” Olmstead, who spent much of the day filming the festivities, said. “With decreasing county budgets, this was not a positive event for the community or its finances.”
Among the costs was an active presence by search and rescue teams who were constantly on guard for possible drowned persons amid the community of rafts. According to Olmstead, the fire department deployed water rescue teams on jet skis to assist intoxicated people in the water and a helicopter was sent out to patrol the scene after they received a report of a possible drowning victim.
Additionally, rescue workers responded when two people fell off the bluffs, which left one of the victims with a serious head wound. One woman was struck in the head with a glass bottle flung from a Del Playa balcony above and several others had deep cuts in their feet from stepping on broken glass bottles. In all, 13 individuals were transported to the hospital via ambulance.
Furthermore, Olmstead pointed out, the revelry took a large toll on the beach – normally a point of pride for environmentally minded students and professors at UCSB.
“The beach was a mess [at the end of the day],” he said. “Food, glass bottles, trash, inflatable floats and homemade rafts were all just left on the beach to wash into the sea. I’m disgusted at how the students disrespected their community, particularly on a campus that claims to be so interested in environmental causes.”
Mario Kiesich, another former UCSB student at the beach Saturday, said that although the scene was far from G-rated, “nothing too outrageous” occurred.
“Pretty much everyone was really hammered, and falling over,” he said. “There were passed out people lying on the beach and on rafts, getting sunburned, but there was nothing too crazy. It was like Halloween, but on the beach, with people shoulder to shoulder in bikinis. It was a bunch of fun debauchery.”