South Padre rocks as spring break party peaks

By Christopher Sherman

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 13 2012 12:20 p.m. MDT

Cars and crowds start to fill up the beach as the morning fog starts to break up Monday, March 12, 2012 on Padre Island in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Michael Zamora, Associated Press

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — When guests at the party next door number about 10,000 and the sound system is rock-concert quality, older visitors and residents say their options during spring break are to flee, adjust or enjoy the spectacle.

At least a few chose each path as Texas week — the apex of South Padre Island's nearly monthlong festivities — bounced back from a chilly opening weekend and packed the barrier island with students freed from their studies.

Residents and guests at the staid Isla del Sol condominium complex — a Frisbee toss away from the main stage of the beach party — marveled Monday at the size of the gyrating, tangled mass just beyond their property, taking in the scene with binoculars, cell phones and video cameras.

R.G. Ketchum, a state park ranger from Oklahoma staying for two months at the Isla del Sol, found the high-spirited explosion of youth entertaining.

"It's OK. They quit at 5 o'clock. They don't bother us here," Ketchum said. "They're real polite to you if you walk out there. They know you're a senior citizen."

Ketchum watched the crowd control measures closely too, noting when paramedics hauled an incapacitated party-goer out of the crowd in the bed of a small four-wheel drive vehicle.

Still, the party has an undeniable impact. Ketchum said he and his wife rarely go out this week.

Driving on the island is not an attractive option.

Matt Smith, who along with his 90-year-old father are the only year-round residents at the 44-unit Isla del Sol, runs errands in the mornings while spring breakers sleep off the previous night's excesses. By afternoon, the main street splitting the sliver of land is gridlocked. Smith, 45, tells his dad there won't be any trips to McDonald's this week.

He did his own partying on South Padre Island back when the Eagles and Steve Miller Band were the Lil' Flip and Skrillex of the day, and he recognizes what a boon it is for local businesses. But the traffic and mess left on the beach are enough to make Smith consider making other plans in March.

"Every year, I think we should just pack up and leave for the month," he said last week.

One day before Coca Cola Beach's official kickoff last week, the bass was already thudding as Gregory LaVelle, 72, prepared to escape back to Minnesota. The music from the 50,000-watt sound system next door made his condo walls vibrate. "It's horrible," he said with a laugh.

The party behind the Isla Grand Beach Resort next door started in 1994. LaVelle, who's been coming down for seven years, said he usually leaves before the college hordes descend.

In general, Isla del Sol does not allow its condos to be rented to spring breakers. But there's an exception for owners' children and grandchildren.

Clayton Serafy, a 22-year-old student at Southern Methodist University, rinsed off a beach chair under an outdoor tap after returning from the party with several friends. A Brownsville native, Serafy said his parents have two units at Isla del Sol. Before moving on to the complex's pristine and uninhabited pool, he said the location offers the best of both worlds: access to the party and a refuge from it.

"We know that there are a lot of older people staying here too, so we try to be respectful," Serafy said.

Only one unit was giving Pito Cantu, the complex's on-site overseer, fits on a recent afternoon. His most time-consuming duty during spring break becomes blocking spring breakers who try to follow guests through the complex's locked gate. One young partier who appeared to be going to a unit rented in violation of condo policies actually hopped the wall after being denied entry at the gate and slipped around a corner with a beer funnel hanging out of his backpack.

But Cantu said most of the kids don't cause trouble. As proof, a passel of bikini-clad girls arrived at the gate, slapped high-fives with the security guard and warmly greeted Cantu by name.

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