Spring Break marks the traditional start of the season for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Although the park has added many winter events over the years, with Spring Break the promotion of the Boardwalk begins in earnest. Off-season rehab of rides and winter maintenance programs are completed, and the park is ready for the new season. New rides and attractions are introduced, and a new advertising campaign launched.
In the early 1980s I joined the Boardwalk to oversee promotions and events. Unlike our competitors, the Boardwalk did not add a new ride or attraction every year. We competed for news media attention in those pre-social media days. In the absence of a new ride, special events and a promotion could get us that attention. Partnering with radio and TV stations, we brought in costumed characters and entertainment, offered contests and special discounts…everything from a Soap Opera Festival and appearances by Transformers TV cartoon characters to win-a-car contests and wristband discounts.
Of all the promotions offered, my favorite was a long-established event, the Easter Egg Hunt. It was exciting and rewarding but in some ways one of the most challenging events to run.
The Boardwalk has hosted an Easter Egg Hunt since the 1930s and by the 1980s the Egg Hunt was a well-established event. It was held on the beach in front of the Boardwalk, with three roped off 50’ x 100’ egg hunt areas for children of different ages (5 and younger, 6 to 8-year-olds and 9 to 12-year-olds). The event was held on the Saturday prior to Easter Sunday, because years earlier, as I was told, the pastors of a few local churches requested that the Boardwalk not hold the hunt on Sunday as it was conflicting with Easter Services and their attendance was dropping.
Preparation started early. Prior to sunrise, I met with the head of the Boardwalk’s maintenance department. He had the park’s beach tractor hooked up to pull the custom built (by our maintenance department) egg planting machine. It looked like a vintage farm seeder, but with a large basket for hundreds of colorful little prize eggs, tubes that would drop the eggs below the sand and a seat for a person to drop egg after egg after egg. I rode on the egg trailer and on each side of me would be two egg-sized tubes that burrowed at various depths below the beach surface. I randomly dropped the eggs into these tubes and the eggs would be buried. As we moved through the area, the planting trailer smoothed over the sand behind us. Once the egg laying was completed, barricade flags and posts were placed around the area and security positioned to keep the public out until the hunt began.
During the week prior we would print and place in little prize eggs coupons ranging from free salt water taffy and food items to free ride and game tickets. A number of “Golden Eggs” were also buried containing certificates that could be redeemed for major prizes.
The crowds would gather around each of the areas, 2 deep… 4 deep… larger and larger crowds surrounding the areas as we got closer to the start. My thought each year was always the same: “I didn’t make the area large enough, next year make it much larger!”
From the beach bandstand the MC would start the event with a countdown. With the start, the barricade flags were dropped, and the crowd would pour in from all sides. Hundreds of children rushed in, diving down, digging and throwing fistfuls of sand into the air. Screams of joy as egg after colorful egg were found. It was a frenzied swirl of children, parents, sand, and prize eggs.
It was all over in 10 minutes. The shouts of joy from finding the prize eggs slowly died down and I would start hearing cries from the few children who did not find an egg. My pockets were filled with a supply of prize eggs for just that situation and the tears would soon be replaced with smiles. The real challenge was when parents of a child who didn’t find any eggs tried to convince another child who had a large collection of eggs that they should give some of their horde to their child. Opposing parents would get into heated arguments regarding the fairness of sharing vs the rights of finders’ keepers. I found myself mediating those disagreements. I learned to carry many more prize eggs to give away.
The Easter Egg Hunt was a wonderful event. It was a joy to watch so many people enjoy a child-centered activity, offered free to the community.
Unfortunately, due to crowd size, safety and liability concerns, the egg hunt was discontinued in the early 1990s. It’s been more than 30 years since the last egg hunt at the Boardwalk, but each year at Easter time, I think of the egg hunt, the early mornings burying eggs and the rush of joyful children digging for buried treasures.