What do you do if your yearly company get-together in Florida has to take a rain check because of a hurricane? If you're Costa del Mar, you come back a week later, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Costa's "Slack Tide" guide symposium, an ongoing yearly event designed to help foster support and expand skills of their network of professionals in the guiding industry was scheduled for September 12 -13 in Stewart, Florida, but threat of incoming Hurricane Irma forced a cancellation and rescheduling. After Irma passed and the extent of the damage to the middle and upper Florida Keys became apparent, Costa Guide Community Leader Peter Vandergrift marshaled every company resource available. After flying back from his home in Montana, he coordinated a convoy of trucks and trailers filled with food, 500 gallons of freshwater, 100 gallons of gas, portable generators and power tools and headed straight south from the company's headquarters in Daytona Beach.
Ground zero and the first order of business was to help get Costa Pro Staff guide Bruce Chard's home on Sugarloaf Key back in some semblance of order. When Vandergrift called Chard and told him they were en route, he was taken completely by surprise.Costa's work crew from HQ in Daytona Beach was one of the first to reach the Middle Keys. They started at the home of Capt. Bruce Chard and expanded their scope from there, helping many other guides and their neighbors.
"I was still away from my property after having been evacuated, and they told me they planned to come and help out", said Chard."I said there was no way they were going to work on my place without me, so I hooked up with them on the way down."
The Costa team was one of the first groups to be allowed back in the area after the closure from the disaster had been lifted. What they saw on the way gave them a hint that their effort was going to be needed. While the eye of the hurricane had passed almost directly over Sugarloaf, the eye wall—typically the area of highest wind velocity—had chainsawed through the islands to the east and northeast of the area. Trees were toppled on houses, power lines were down in pools of standing water, and the temperatures were stifling in what were now, ironically, breezeless conditions.
Arriving at Chard's base of operations, the group quickly stabilized the situation, clearing debris for utility services to be restored, and then began work on neighboring properties. The work crew rapidly began to grow in size and effectiveness with the participation of other homeowners, moving from house to house in a pack that eventually comprised over twenty people.
On September 21, local resident and guide Justin Rea posted his experience to Facebook. "Everyone has been asking what we need, and the love and support from Costa sunglasses was received big time!! Boots on ground with chain saws, water, food, is all we can ask for. When a group of people comes to your house and helps you do what would take you a week or more in an hour or two your attitude changes. Big time! Now the group gets bigger and on to the next house! The energy gets contagious and the work gets easier as the group grows! Amazing feeling! Loving all the camaraderie between all the fishing guides:) We will all be ready to fish our asses off next week. Booking a local fishing guide is the next best thing to getting getting your hands dirty. And way more fun for all of us:) The fishing is going to be incredible and we fishing guides are going to be so grateful!"
I spoke with Peter Vandergrift, and he was pretty was nonchalant about the matter. "You know, it was hard to just sit around and wait, we all felt that we had to do something. Our president saw the situation and said, "Well, I don't think we can stop you, so you better just go." And while this company prides itself on doing the right thing, this wasn't a press opportunity—we didn't want to show up and be in the way. We just came with the attitude that we would help however was needed. What impressed me most was how quickly folks just jumped in and how fast we were able to knock a lot of work out, not that this is finished by a long shot. There are people down there—guides like Bruce Chard, Will Benson and Shane Smith—who are still working in areas that are nowhere near their own properties, almost a month later."Peter Vandergrift (with chainsaw) and his coworkers brought trucks and trailers of food, 500 gallons of freshwater, 100 gallons of gas, portable generators and power tools, and plenty of elbow grease.
Costa's past participation along with Yeti, Klean Kanteen and Worldcast Anglers in visionary programs such as the "Kick Plastic" campaign—designed to eliminate single use water bottles from the guiding industry—puts them at the leading edge of corporate environmental stewardship. By setting policy benchmarks for much larger companies working towards sustainability, Costa and it's partner organizations are helping to ensure that outdoor resources will still be around for anglers in the future.
Vandergrift summed things up this way, "If people really want to find out the best way to help this situation from afar, there's one easy thing they can do: Book a trip in the Keys. Once things get back in order on land, I can guarantee you that these guides are going to be itching to get back on the water and show you a good time."
In a season where unprecedented natural disasters have been unfolding from the Gulf coast to the Pacific Northwest, Costa del Mar and the guide community in the Florida Keys continue to be a great example of leadership and social responsibility.