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Float On

It’s No Utopia, But Isla Vista’s Floatopia Brings Out Community’s Best


Saturday was cold. But, even the cold can’t stop Isla Vistans in pursuit of pleasure. What can I say? We’re a tenacious bunch - after all, we have clawed our way to the top of Playboy‘s list of Top Ten Party Schools. And, success like that doesn’t come without some sacrifice.

That’s why, last Saturday afternoon, Isla Vista’s beaches were brimming over with scantily-clad coeds celebrating the annual affair known as Floatopia. Sure, the weather was more frigid than fun-in-the-sun, but that couldn’t stop the courageous crowd from soaking up what few rays managed to make their way out from under the fog. Sure, the water was like liquid ice, but that couldn’t keep the bravest beach-goers from enjoying the event’s titular attraction. And sure, the afternoon consisted of more cliches about Isla Vista life than even the thedarksideofucsb.com could come up with, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome.

According to an article published in the Daily Nexus about last year’s Floatopia, the event is believed to have originated back in the 1980s, but was recently revived by a group of engineering students two years ago. After they graduated, art major Alex Wasbin took it upon himself to orchestrate a Facebook event for the 2007 Floatopia festivities, and the event took off from there. While last year’s Floatopia brought out hundreds of people, The Nexus reported that 1,200 people RSVP’d to it on Facebook. This year, the event had 4,006 confirmed guests on The Facebook website, but the number of people on the playa looked more like hundreds than thousands.

Still, the beach was packed with partiers. Girls in bikinis showed off spring break tans, groups of friends bonded over the shared experience of trying to blow up any variety of floating objects while battling the diminished lung capacity that comes with spending a sun-soaked afternoon on the beach in I.V. Music blared from big speakers someone thoughtfully set out on the rocks above the sand, and a group of students handed out icy treats and voter registration forms. Beer and liquor flowed freely, as bottles, cans and pretty much every other possible receptacle made their way from one person to the next.

Everywhere you looked, people seemed determined to have a good time - talking, laughing, throwing balls and Frisbees and even horseshoes. A few especially-smooth guys cruised the beach with their puppies, scoring with the ladies in a way that even the best Frisbee thrower could only dream of. People wandered from group to group, gathering in one place and then dispersing to make room for a game of pick-up soccer. And, the whole thing was centered around the courageous crowd of people warm-blooded - or drunk - enough to actually find their way onto floats and into the ocean.

That’s right, an entire crowd of people actually braved the chilly waters and found their way into a giant circle of floating objects. People floated on surfboards, on rafts, inside giant blow-up pools, inflatable toys and even what looked like a giant, floating hamster-wheel. Pretty much, if it could float, it did. I even saw some people improvising their own floating devices from beer boxes and duct tape - the beer boxes I understood, but where they found duct tape on the beach will remain an eternal mystery.

What isn’t a mystery is what made Saturday’s floatopia so float-toastic. The answer to that is simple. For one afternoon, all of Isla Vista’s student population came together to fully embrace all the best stereotypes about our sweet little town. People were drinking, people were partying, the sweet smell of smoke filled the air and the booming bass of reggae reached all the way across the sand. Clothing was pretty much optional, and sharing - booze, sunscreen, spit, whatever - was most definitely mandatory. It was a scene straight out of worst nightmares of James Baron, a longtime critic of Isla Vista more indulgent tendencies.

And, the worst thing that happened is that one girl allegedly had to go to the hospital. Definitely not a negligible consequence, but not nearly the apocalypse that so many people seem to think the stereotypical I.V. party scene is certain to beget. In fact, if anything serves as a straight-up illustration of what happens when I.V. residents are allowed to revel without undue interference from outside forces, it’s Floatopia.

The event was organized entirely by a few people via Facebook, word of mouth and limited advertising on campus, the attendees were pretty much all I.V. residents and the police presence on the beach was limited. Everyone went out of their way to make sure that their bottles and cans found their way to the proper receptacles - or at least to the can collectors combing the beach all day - and people even stayed afterwards to clean up, purely for the satisfaction of seeing the beach left in the same state they found it.

All in all, Floatopia was a fantastic affair. Sure, the weather wasn’t ideal, but every other element seemed to fall into place perfectly. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Floatopia proved a pretty powerful point about this little place we call home - when it comes to creating the perfect party, Isla Vistans are more than capable of making it happen.

Okay, so utopia may still be a far-fetched ideal. But Floatopia, at least, can happen without a major hitch. And, in this crazy, cold-even-during-spring world, that’s pretty nice to know.

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