By: Jack Roth
Mitch Varnes, the principal of Smooth Running, is a Brevard County native, a sixth-generation Floridian and a University of Central Florida grad. The company produces many of the Space Coast’s biggest individual sporting events such as the Melbourne Music Marathon, Cocoa Beach Half Marathon, USA Beach Running Championships, and the Ron Jon Beach ‘N Boards Fest. These events provide both residents and tourists with the opportunity to enjoy what the region has to offer, and they also represent a boon to local businesses.
Space Coast Born and Bred
Florida in general, and particularly near the beach, is a great place to grow up. I learned to appreciate nature and our area and was drawn to wanting to let others know just how great a place we have in the Space Coast. This led to my first career with NASA and, ultimately, to putting on many events centered on sports and our local amenities.
I worked in public affairs with NASA for 10 years and had the opportunity to not only work on events here at the Kennedy Space Center but also in Washington, D.C. and at other NASA field centers across the country. I was also on the event teams for astronaut appearances at the Super Bowl and twice at the Fiesta Bowl. The shuttle program was going full tilt and NASA was a big deal then, so as a 20-something guy interested in events, there wasn’t a better place to learn how to do them.
Smooth Sailing with Smooth Running
Smooth Running morphed into existence in 2007 from Board Sports Management, a company I previously owned. That company focused on surfing and athlete management. As I began to develop an additional interest in running and endurance events, the name change was a logical step. Under the Smooth Running umbrella, we’ve produced well over 100 surfing, running, triathlon and other board sports events.
The Sebastian Inlet Pro Surfing Contest was one of the first events we ever produced (and one of my favorites). It ran from 2005-2011 and is still the biggest and richest pro surfing contest ever held in Florida — and the second biggest ever held on the East Coast.
We’ve produced some events that have come and gone such as the Rocketman Florida Triathlon, which was held three times from 2013-2015. It was the only privately coordinated sporting event ever allowed at Kennedy
Space Center and was extremely complicated due to the security and bureaucracy that comes with dealing with the government. We had tremendous community support, from the mayor of Titusville to the Space Coast Tourism Office to U.S. Congressman Bill Posey, who attended the event each year. We’re hoping to bring the race back; it was not only a cool race for the entrants but also a good economic pop for Titusville and North Brevard.
On October 29, 2017, we’ll be hosting the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Half Marathon, a great community event with an “I Dream of Jeannie” theme. It typically draws more than 2,500 entrants from all over the United States. On February 10-11, 2018, we’re coordinating the Publix Florida Marathon & 1/2 Marathon Weekend, Melbourne’s signature sporting event and the first major running event we put together. It’s a weekend of fitness fun, and Melbourne and its residents have really come to look forward to and embrace it.
The Ron Jon Beach ‘N Boards Fest (March 11-13, 2018) is entering its sixth year and is the biggest pro surfing contest in Florida. It also includes wakeboarding demos, a high school beach volleyball tournament with 60 teams, the biggest kayak and stand up paddleboard fishing tournament in the state, stand up paddleboard races, a collegiate kiteboarding tournament and lots more. We produce it at the height of spring break, and it has quickly become the nation’s premiere active lifestyle spring break destination event, positioning Cocoa Beach as a Top 5 spring break destination.
Other upcoming events include the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Triathlon (April 9, 2018), east Central Florida’s biggest triathlon and one of the state’s earliest triathlons. This race is a favorite with first timers and experienced triathletes and draws entrants from all over the East Coast. The USA Beach Running Championships (May 6, 2018), going into its ninth year, has exploded with entrants and growth. We went from just over 400 entrants four years ago to more than 2,000 entrants this year. People have really gotten enthusiastic over running a half marathon or 10K on the hard-packed beaches
of Cocoa Beach.
We’re also currently working with the Space Coast Tourism Office on a large pro surfing contest for early next year, which would again bring Sebastian Inlet and the Space Coast back in the world surfing spotlight.
Giving the Local Economy a Boost
We work very closely with the Space Coast Tourism Office, a big supporter of our efforts. A neat spin-off benefit of our events is the boost they give to local restaurants and hotels. People travel from all over for races and surfing events, and they’re eating out, renting cars and staying in our hotels. That said, we also have great relationships with area hoteliers, cities and chambers. These things are good for all of us.
The Future Looks Bright
If you step back and look at Brevard County, it’s a special place with 72 miles of ocean and river frontage — more than any other county in the state. The Space Center is an area coming back pretty strongly, but there’s also tremendous growth and growth opportunity going on in Melbourne, where many of the big aeronautic companies are moving in and expanding their operations. I think a lot of people fall for the Space Coast once they spend a little time here and see what we have to offer in terms of a largely affordable lifestyle and housing markets.
My goals and those of our company are to keep having fun and showcasing our area. Every event we produce focuses on the good here, whether it be surfing, running on the causeways or beaches, or cycling down A1A. I’d like to see Brevard County continue its reasonable growth rate, paying close attention to not adversely affect our natural resources. I want us to remain a tight-knit community where one can’t walk into Publix without running into a friend or acquaintance.