Don’t make the mistake of asking Ed Caum if spring break on South Padre Island helps his new job as the South Padre Island CVB’s executive director. “We only have two weeks of spring break here, so there’s 50 weeks without spring break,” Caum says. “It’s a very, very small blip on the radar of the entire time.”
Yes, the Gulf of Mexico location at the southern tip of Texas is one of the top destinations for the annual college student’s rite of passage. It’s also a world-famous area for birders and is known for its fishing, which attracts tournament events.
But the equally famous aspect of SPI is its steady wind—for almost 10 months a year it averages 12 miles per hour—and it’s what Caum came for. Though he oversees all aspects of tourism, the former wrestling coach’s passion is sports tourism, and specifically at SPI, wind sports—parasailing, kite boarding, windsurfing. On June 1-2, SPI hosted jet skiers for a Pro Water Cross Tour stop.
After project manager and deputy director stints in tourism in Pasco County, Florida, and Naples, Florida, respectively, Caum was ready to captain a ship. He won the SPI job in early 2019 and began in March. While he’ll be trying to attract events to the 45,000-sq.-ft. convention center, he’s giddy about guiding the development of a wind sport center adjacent to the convention center, and making SPI a major player for professional wind sport events. “Anything that has to do with wind is huge for us,” says Caum. “The wind is just perfect.”
What gives SPI such great wind sport potential?
Because of our location on the Gulf, we are known as one of the best wind destinations in the country. Just like the Carolinas are known for constant wind, we have constant wind on the Laguna Madre inside the gulf barrier island or out on the open water. Right behind the convention center, we have kite boarders and wind surfers every day.
The wind that is generated going up through the bay also goes over and around our causeway which is 2.5 miles long, so that creates a series of wind currents in and of itself. The pelicans love coasting all around the causeway trying to catch wind. We’re a causeway that has flashing lights that say ‘Beware of pelicans,’ which is pretty funny as you go back and forth.
What can you share about the water sports recreation center you’re planning?
It’s going to be a place where there’s going to be parking and restrooms and viewing for the wind sports that happen on the flats on the Laguna Madre. We actually have a venue tax now, and the planning for this park has been going on for three years. Currently the water men and women park in our parking lot and they take their backpacks down to the beach and they unfurl their gear. We’re breaking ground in 18 months.
What other island traits can you leverage?
We are a surfing destination because we do have constant offshore wind. In most of the places on the Gulf, you don’t have waves big enough to do that. We have 3-to-5-foot waves on a regular day and 8-to-10 sometimes. There are surfing lessons taught on the island year-round. We have lifeguard competitions. We have fishing tournaments here year-round. Some of the best fishing on the gulf happens right here. We sponsor three fairly large tournaments here, including the Texas International Fishing Tournament, which has about 3,000 competitors.
The convention center hosts many youth sports events. How will you manage balancing both youth sports and pro sports?
This is a great place to come because of the amount of amenities on the island. There’s the beach, the entertainment district, a bungee jump and a Ferris wheel, just a whole bunch of things for families to do. We have to go after it with a right-sized approach, more like regional sports. Youth sports will be around three-day weekends, specifically cheer and dance and basketball. Pro sports will be strongly beach related and year-round.
I saw potential with both and with my experience in sports marketing I thought it would be a win-win. I really felt like I was ready to have my own convention center—that’s the sales program, the sports program, and leisure program wrapped up into one. Sports is in my blood, and we’re bringing that back to the island.