It’s often said that winter is the time of year when business is dead in Langley. But this weekend, a flood of nearly 1,000 people passed through the Village by the Sea in search of a token to take home.
What were they searching through every shrub, blade of grass and inch of water for despite near freezing temperatures? Small, colorful and ornate glass orbs. And there were many of them, some harder to grab than others.
“I saw one in the water that had a glass star attached by a string that weighed down the sea float so it didn’t drift away,” Admirals Cove resident Bonnie Nichols said. “It was beautiful, so I had to jump in to grab it. It was worth the swim.”
The sea floats have brought hundreds of people from the surrounding area to Langley for the past five years during the annual Sea Float Scramble. Event organizers hide the decorative spheres and glass wishing stones across Seawall Park, and in Langley Park for the under-six scavenger hunt, on the first Saturday of the new year for anxious visitors to grab. Scavengers wait near entrances to Seawall Park, waiting for the countdown to begin. When the ribbon drops, people young and old dart into the park with their eyes peeled for the shimmering spheres.
Within 10 minutes, the sea floats have all but vanished. If anyone blinked, they likely missed their chance to walk home with a token.
Although it can seem like eagle-eyed adults have an advantage over the young ones, there are pros to being low to the ground. Many adults don’t see the sea floats that kids can see, according to six-year-old Freeland resident Kaia Prael.
“Everyone passed the one that I grabbed,” Prael said. “It was by my foot and nobody saw it, so I took it.”
Twice as many sea floats littered the park this year. The scramble’s rising popularity has brought an exponentially increasing amount of visitors to Langley over the years, so glass artist Callahan McVay decided to crank up production and churn out 500 sea floats in anticipation of a larger crowd. It was a good call, as nearly twice as many people attended the scramble this year. Making the sea floats required six months of sparse work during down time to produce that many glass orbs. For McVay, it’s worth putting in the effort since he sees the scramble as more than just a festive event.
“It shows that Langley can produce business in the off-season,” McVay said. “We’re a real destination and people just need an excuse to come here. To see nearly a thousand people show up in the freezing cold to get a piece of glass shows how much of a destination Langley is.”
To get an accurate grasp of attendance and where people were traveling from, Langley Main Street Association counted the visitors and their zip codes. Program Manager Lorinda Kay said about a third of the scavengers were from South Whidbey. But visitors this year came from farther than ever: Florida, Pennsylvania and Louisiana among other states on the West Coast.
Although rising attendance, more money circulating through South Whidbey and the success of this year’s event are all exciting aspects for organizers, Kay’s highlight from the Sea Float Scramble remains more or less the same.
“There were some little kids that were so proud of their sea floats and wishing stones, and they just had the biggest smiles on their faces,” Kay said. “To see the joy on their faces is always the highlight.”