A festive wonderland has returned to the Santa Cruz beach this winter. Boardwalk Holiday Ice is underway! In addition to ice skating, family and friends can gather around fire pits and sip hot chocolate and special holiday drinks, eat s’mores, whirl around on the Looff Carousel, watch holiday movies, and even ride the Holiday Lights Train! The fun and frolic will last until January 6, 2019.
If winter ice skating by the beach seems bizarre to some, how about summer ice skating? Now there’s a real contradiction in terms! But it happened twenty-three years ago and in a very big way.
In the spring of 1995, Boardwalk publicity director Ann Parker thought her friends might be playing a trick on her as she listened incredulously to the caller at the other end of her phone line. He was talking about building an ice rink on the beach in July and charging people to come and watch Olympic skaters. Ann was understandably slow in embracing the concept. Turns out, though, that’s precisely what Bill Graham Productions Executive Producer Stan Feig wanted to do.
It took a little time for all of us in management to get our heads around the idea. There were two rinks being considered – one on the beach and a much larger one in the River Parking Lot. Clearly, the publicity factor was huge, but so was the additional workload on Boardwalk operations, maintenance, security and support staff. Parking loss for an arena posed a significant hurdle. The figure skating spectacle promised to be an extraordinary event, a feature film and a media event rolled into one. As Boardwalk managers kicked the idea around, it became less and less crazy.
The first team meeting between Boardwalk and production staff occurred in April 1995. The major-in-season event came with a myriad of details. It seems Bill Graham Productions staff had settled on Santa Cruz as their first choice after considering many possible coastal locations for a one-of-a-kind major TV summer show and ultimately they convinced us to partner with them.
The big TV-taping night was set for Tuesday, July 11, 1995. Multiple planning sessions occurred over the weeks leading up to that day. The risk of dense fog on taping night remained a big unknown. Planning and operational details were identified, and solutions found. The production crew proved highly professional and competent at their tasks. The Boardwalk had a great promotional partner.
Production equipment load-in began July 5, one day after hosting our peak 4th of July holiday crowd. About 120 technicians of all trades immediately set about the erection of a 160-ft by 60-ft ice rink and accompanying backstage area in the Boardwalk’s River Parking Lot. The activity took over 300 parking spaces, necessitating a visitor shuttle to and from off-site parking. Grandstand seating for 3,500 spectators, multiple towers for camera and lighting gear, equipment for temporary food concessions, and the necessary porta-potties soon followed. A smaller 40-ft by 40-ft ice rink was set up on the beach close to the water line for background filming.
Then stars appeared – the human kind! Arriving at the beach were Olympic gold medalists Oksana Baiul and Viktor Petrenko, Olympic silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan, World Champion Elvis Stojko, French skating star Phillipe Candeloro, US Skating Champion Nicole Bobek, Canadian ice dancing team of Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, a young Michelle Kwan and few other lesser knowns at that time. 1984 Olympic standout Scott Hamilton was here, too, pegged to be the announcer for the big night’s event.
TV crews set about capturing summer beach and Boardwalk ambiance on film. The day before the big event, multiple camera crews recorded Olympic stars in conspicuous beach attire in a whirlwind of Boardwalk and beach play. Many dreamy-eyed young teens and wannabe Olympians sought autographs and photos of their heroes and heroines. Crowds watched Elvis riding the Giant Dipper and Nancy playing Killer Beez. Oksana took surfing lessons. Ice stars played volleyball on the beach. Several boarded the Chardonnay II for b-roll shots from the water. Elvis and Phillipe rode jet skis. Taping crews caught it all!
Most of the performers took a turn on the small skating rink on the beach under the gaze of TV cameras. 13-year old Tara Lipinski was filmed in a night skating sequence on the little ice stage. Scott Hamilton and Elvis Stojko hammed it up on that rink and from the top of the Giant Dipper lift hill. Visit YouTube to see a video clip of their beach performance and Elvis on the big ice that night. Awed spectators kept their eyes peeled for all of it Boardwalk maintenance, operational, security, and technical personnel maneuvered around assisting and meeting on-the-spot production crew requirements while tending to regular Boardwalk affairs.
Then, as the sun set over the Boardwalk on Tuesday, July 11, 1995, the stars came out and the ice sizzled. One newspaper account referred to the spectacle as “glamour, guts, sequins, and style!” A full moon rose high above perfectly clear skies! Ideal weather! As beach-themed music played, one by one, and occasionally in pairs, ice champions skated to the audience’s boisterous delight and thunderous applause. Nancy Kerrigan tossed frisbees and several beach balls into the audience. Phillipe Candeloro dosed front-row spectators with water. Enthusiastic audience cheers ensured all the stars energetically responded throughout their routines.
Lighting dramatically silhouetted the Giant Dipper structure as a backdrop to the river lot rink. Five bright searchlights crisscrossed the night sky with streaks of light like a Hollywood premiere. Tracer lights surrounded the arena itself. Follow spots tracked every skater’s movements. A festive and unforgettable spectacle had been staged for the TV audience, and the cameras soaked it all in. Local attendees immersed themselves in the spirit of the night, too. In the stands with her mom and friends, a young Boardwalk Art Director Sarah Curry remembers the lights and music as “big, important and flashy!”
A national TV audience saw a resurgent Santa Cruz when CBS Sports aired the 2-hour, primetime “Too Hot to Skate” broadcast on September 21, 1995. Executive Producer Stan Feig was quoted as saying the show contained some of the “most spectacular ice skating footage ever shot.”
I remember getting a phone call from Florida the night it aired. A former Beach Street business owner could hardly contain her enthusiasm for the program and how great the backdrop of the beach area appeared. The Boardwalk family was understandably just as proud to have been part of such an unusual once-in-a-lifetime telecast.
Were you there? Got any memories to share of that big night’s live performance or watching it all on television?
‘till next time,