Tilt-a-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida, 2012
While I often go back to areas that I have photographed before, the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach is one that I have not been to in a few years. In the mid to late 1980s, when I was studying photography at what is now Daytona State College, I would often come to the Boardwalk to do what I thought of at the time as Garry Winogrand inspired “street photography.” I could count on the Boardwalk to offer a menagerie of people ranging from bikers, to college students, to retires, to homeless people, and to tourist. In the week after Bike Week and the week before Spring Break there would be bikers in the southern, older end of the boardwalk. This was popular with them as the pizza was cheap and the beer flowed freely. As you went north there would be an infusion of college students who, flush with their parents’ money would be staying and playing at the higher end hotels located toward the amphitheatre where there would be an assortment of contests including the ever popular, (at least with the males, but with the willing participation of the females) wet t-shirt contest. Both of these groups took advantage the warmth of spring and the fact that they were far from home.
Over the years the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach had gone through several upgrades. It has long ago, even before I started to go there, lost it’s wood planking, replacing it with colored concrete imprinted with relief sea gulls and pelicans on the walkways that took you from the pier to the south and the amphitheater to the north. Despite these occasional upgrades, there was always a sense of tackiness and history to the place. Over time I photographed unsuccessfully the famous diving woman that was atop the swimsuit shop. There, as it had been for many years the saltwater taffy machine churning, what I can only guess, the same blob of taffy as I saw all those years ago. Many windows would be covered from floor to ceiling with tee shirts printed with sayings that one would not wear in public, except in Daytona Beach. Then there were the arcades with games that were so old they were last popular before the days of video games, offer tests of skill and manliness to those looking for an ice cream, hot dogs and a beer. However, for all its tackiness and questionable cleanliness, there was also a sense of tradition and history to the place. So despite its rather sorted charm, it was a popular location for both grizzly bikers and families with kids.
The boardwalk always seemed somewhat sad to me. Here was a place to be a haven for fun in the sun, but no one seemed that happy. Workers seemed bored, fathers and mothers where short with their children, and teenagers trying to look cool in this somewhat seedy environment by trying to look both hip and aloof. Still it is my guess that they will go home happy with stories of time in the waves and with t-shirts that they cannot nor will not wear when they return home. I too came home feeling happy that I was still able to get some photographs as I did in 1986. In the end, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk was in many ways like my memory of it, some things the same and some of it missing, but still with a sense of what it once had been.