By Doug Dodson |
If you’re a fireworks enthusiast and you live in the Cape Fear region, you are probably familiar with the big July 4th displays put on by Southport and Wilmington along their waterfronts. These professional shows draw big crowds and they certainly deliver the goods, but there is another fireworks show of a more informal nature that I’ve been attending for years which has its own special charms. My family has a house on the Intracoastal Waterway at Holden Beach, and every year on Independence Day we climb into our small fishing boat and venture out to watch the show put on by some of the people with homes along that busy aqua-highway. The first pleasure we experience is being on the water on a hot July day with an outboard motor-induced breeze in our faces. As the darkness grows, we start to see the occasional plume of light off in the distance. When we reach the area where the most fireworks are launched and the most boats congregate, the show begins in earnest.
When I was a kid, the only fireworks we could get our hands on where sparklers, bottle rockets and roman candles. These were fun, but hardly worth viewing by a large group of strangers. The fireworks you can buy now are full-on, “ooh and ah” worthy, professional-grade stuff that you shoot from mortars high into the sky. This is the type of weaponry wielded by the folks on the docks of Holden. I’m amazed that we have yet to see anyone blow off a body part while lighting these cannons. The Fireworks brigade has consumed multiple adult beverages by this time of the evening, and we have seen some close calls involving errant blasts heading sideways instead of up. Luckily nothing has landed in a boat, as far as we know.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t it illegal for private citizens to discharge fireworks in North Carolina?” You’d be right about that. The Holden Beach Police take a dim view of this yearly ritual, and they come out in force in an attempt to nip it in the bud. I say “attempt,” because they do not succeed. The people who shoot fireworks on the island side of the waterway have developed a complex system of look-outs and flashing car headlights to warn those nearby to scramble when the constabulary approaches. Watching this ballet of scofflaws is almost as fun as the fireworks themselves.
The flotilla bobbing in the waterway is made up of many types of boats and various kinds of celebrations, from outright parties to more subdued assemblies. It’s a friendly congregation, with lots of waving and cheers for the best fireworks displays. One of the benefits of having water surrounding you while you watch fireworks is the reflection of the multi-colored light in that dark, mirror-like surface. It’s like two explosions for the price of one, which is cool, even when that price is zero.
At the peak of the show there are bursts going off all around and for miles in the distance. You can even see the Southport fireworks about fifteen miles away as the crow flies. (Which they shouldn’t be doing during these events.) But unlike those big, crowded celebrations, we don’t have to fight for a good vantage point or search for parking that’s not a major trek away. Along with hot dogs, burgers and time with the family, the Holden Beach waterway fireworks extravaganza is one of my favorite things about Independence Day.