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Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta: On the rivers and slopes

Three Rivers Regatta rumbles with new attractions, including skateboarders and car cruisers

Friday, August 09, 2002

By Sarah Lolley

This year for the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta you won't have to stare at the water to catch the action planned for the event's silver anniversary. Attractions are coming from the air, from the roads, from half pipes and from portable snow slopes.

(Illustration by Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette)

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The rivers will be flooded with powerboat action and water acrobatics, the shores will be filled with classic cars, the air will belong to hand gliders, and the parks will be inundated with professional skaters and snowboarders. Leave anything out? Oh yeah, the Children's Village, the Regatta Thunder, the Sports Zone, and the Creation Station mural. If there was never anything that interested you about previous regattas, take a look at this year's feats. The coordinators have outdone themselves with new attractions and entertainment. It is, after all, an anniversary and the regatta has come a long way, baby.

"This is the largest number of new events this year," says Ida D'Errico, executive vice president of U.S. Events and Marketing Inc., manager, and operator and producer of the regatta. "Every five or six years we eliminate a program and introduce new events." Because this is the 25th anniversary, the schedule received a thorough overhaul.

With the race for sponsorship and funding behind them, D'Errico is confident this year will be extraordinary. "We keep it fresh. People can't make the excuse 'I don't need to go to the regatta this year. I went last year; it's all the same stuff.' " Five fresh events have been sculpted for the 1.5 million people expected to attend.

By car

More travelers are expected to arrive on Sunday when the North Shore Riverfront Park will open to AAA Classic Car Cruise, which is the biggest attraction the company has sponsored for the regatta.

"We thought it was a nice tie-in with the regatta because it is our 100-year anniversary," says Bevi Norris, director of public relations for AAA. "The cruise will take place simultaneously with the boat race." A view of the Grand Prix will be visible from the North Shore.

Registration and admission is free, along with entertainment by Leon Daniels and the El Venos. Nothing is being spared for the newest regatta attraction. "Nostalgia is the whole reason why people love the old car cruises," says Norris, who plans to look for her first car, a '64 Skylark convertible. More than 200 cars ranging from street rods to vintage autos are expected to show up for the rain-or-shine event.

By snowboard

What if it snows? Well, if it doesn't, that's still OK for the Max-Air Production professionals who have built a four-story ramp to reach speeds of more than 35 mph. The Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va., is the sponsor of this attraction that capitalizes on the popularity of the Winter Olympics.

Daily synchronized trampoline routines, rapid-fire jumps, and snowboard aerials will be performed by four teams of six professionals who train in places such as Lake Placid, N.Y., and Whistler, Canada.

Where does one learn the skills to become one of these daredevils, you might ask Craig Peterson, Max-Air founder and president?

"The circus," he replies and adds that his first snowfly feats were performed with the Ringling Brothers Circus here in Pittsburgh.

The company was founded in 1985 in Orlando, Fla., when Peterson was working with the Cypress Gardens waterskiing acrobats, who are also performing for the regatta. The popularity of snowboarding has bolstered the company's popularity and now it's based in Salt Lake City.

"This show is a high-energy, family-oriented thrill show," he says. "It's a hit with a wide demographic. [People are] very impressed we can do these things without water." Skiers slide down at a 40-degree angle and hit a 60-degree kicker to simulate the winter slope heights. On either side of an inflatable air-bag, trampoline artists strapped to boards heavier than most normal snowboards perform tricks.

"It's a good life," Peterson says. "I get paid to play."

By skateboard

Skateboarding is the fastest-growing sport in the nation this time of year. Skateparks are opening around the country and Pittsburgh is no exception. The Regatta Stunt Skatepark will be the aerial playground for the ASA Demo Team Exhibition, which travels throughout the summer with ESPN X Game professionals like Cesar Mora, a former X-Game World Champion, and Mark Englehart, who won the gold medal in the Gravity Games last week.

"Kids today are disconnected with the cynicism and hypocrisy in mainstream sports," says Rick Bratman, president of Aggressive Skaters Association. "They can't relate to athletes who are making millions."

Skateboarding, BMX bike riding and inline skating are growing sports between the ages of 6 and 17. "It really makes sense. Kids today are much more free-spirited and style-oriented than they were 20 years ago. If you want to be a skateboarder, you do it whenever you want."

The ASA has set up a half pipe that Bratman says thrills kids and their parents with the "wow" factor. "There are very few sports where kids bring their parents and their parents want to go. We're hoping people embrace the event and we can bring a competition to the Pittsburgh Regatta."

By water

The Grand Prix, however, still remains the event's largest attraction. "People travel from very long distances to see power boat racing," says D'Errico. In fact, more than 300,000 spectators come out for the two-day event and is the single-largest powerboat race in the world.

The waters won't be as churned up when craft of all descriptions putter along by any means possible during the Nationwide Anything That Floats Race. Teams of 10 to 20 people create the vessels, which will remain on display at Point State Park until the race begins Sunday at 10:30 a.m. A Dixieland band will accompany the racers when they enter the Allegheny waters. Yes, many entrants end up very wet.

By air

Tired of the glare of the sunlight on the water? Then look up. Hang gliders and stunt kites will join the water-skiers from Florida's Cypress Gardens and Sea World for an aqua-air ballet of jumps and loops.

If you happen to be staring there on Saturday, sky trackers will be making preparations for Regatta Thunder, a celebration of fireworks. This year's theme is appropriately "Freedom," a patriotic response to Sept. 11. Fred Rogers reads the Pledge of Allegiance and Gov. Mark Schweiker will read "I Am The Nation," an essay written in the point of view of the American flag, on a taped recording. The Star and Stripes are to be flown above the crowd on a special Schnook plane.

By stroller or cane

Community- and family-oriented activities have always played a big part in the planning of the regatta. When Alcosan was asked to participate, it decided to play a bigger role and sponsor the Creation Station. People are invited to paint the large mural of the three rivers and the skyline.

Alcosan spokesperson Nancy Barylak says people from 2 to 99 are encouraged to enjoy the tent set up just past the footbridge. "That was very important to Alcosan that anyone who wanted to come and participate could. We've seen in the past adults loved to play the pollution prevention game."

Because the agency treats up to 225 million gallons of wastewater daily, keeping the rivers clean is an important part of the company's mission. "When you flushed your toilet, it used to go straight to the rivers," she explains. The company began in 1959 to remedy the destruction of the waters. Visitors to the station can also make boats and hats with a water theme.

The largest inland regatta may have secured its future with new events and expanded business support. For this year's regatta, Downtown better brace itself for the crowds.

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